The latest skirmish in the bitter war of attrition between librarians and commercial publishers has resulted in the University of Montreal cancelling its subscription to more than 1,000 journals published by Wiley-Blackwell.
Montreal previously subscribed to the publisher’s “big deal”, which provided electronic access to its entire journal collection for a fixed fee.
But an announcement on the university’s website, posted on 14 January, says that many years of above-inflation journal price rises, combined with recent cuts imposed by the Quebec government, had forced it to make a stand and decline to go on reducing monograph acquisition to sustain journal access.
Many libraries have threatened in recent years to cancel big deals, but few have followed through.
In 2011, Research Libraries UK refused to renew big deals with both Wiley-Blackwell and Elsevier unless they made significant real-terms price reductions. Before the stand-off was resolved a few months later, RLUK suggested that its members could restrict their subscriptions to the publishers’ journals in the highest demand from academics, accessing the others via inter-library loans.
This is the approach that Montreal will adopt. Of Wiley’s 1,510 journals, the university will subscribe to just 368 – although these accounted for 71 per cent of its academics’ total usage in 2012. Echoing widespread concerns among librarians about the lack of consistent and transparent pricing by publishers, Montreal notes that the price it will pay for the reduced package is as much as neighbouring McGill University will pay for its entire Wiley-Blackwell big deal in 2014.
“The publisher refuses to grant us the same conditions on the pretext that McGill has subscribed to the Wiley Online Library longer,” it explains, adding: “The unique characteristics of each periodical allow publishers to hold their university customers captive. They can set prices at will.”
But Louise Béliveau, Montreal’s vice-president for students and sustainable development, said she hoped that the university’s academics would support its stand and that other institutions would join it.
“A strong mobilisation of all stakeholders – funders, universities and researchers – is mandatory if we want to escape this trend [of high price rises],” she said.
A spokesman for Wiley-Blackwell said: “Wiley has been working closely with Montreal to address its very challenging budget conditions.
“We realise the marketplace is changing and, more than ever, flexible licensing and access options are needed. We are actively engaged in developing and testing new models.”