Journal pricing standoff at UC system

Via Scholarly Communications at Texas A&M, the Chronicle of Higher Ed reports on the University of California system’s bold step of threatening to boycott the Nature Publishing Group (NPG), a leading commercial scientific publisher that produces the journal Nature, among others. The UC system, through its California Digital Library, made the move after the publisher hiked journal subscription prices by 400%.

UC has said it will not pay the increased fees, which take the average cost of an NPG journal from $4,465 to around $17,000. On top of that, the system has sent a letter to UC faculty enlisting their help in a boycott of NPG journals if the publisher won’t negotiate. The boycott would take the form of UC researchers opting not to contribute papers or review manuscripts for the journals.

The incident highlights the difficult position of libraries vis-à-vis large academic publishers that bank on libraries’ willingness to pay very high subscription costs for big-name journals, often requiring the sacrifice of other journal and book purchases. UC seems to be banking on its own prestige as a research institution, and the willingness of its faculty to go along with a boycott, in order to force NPG into negotiations.

It’s a scholarly communications standoff worth following, especially as higher learning institutions around the world begin planning for Open Access Week in the fall. In a world where more and more research is freely available, will NPG’s gamble on its own prestige still fly? One scholar quoted in the Chronicle article says things have changed, saying that while researchers may still have strong ties to journals like Nature, “In many ways it doesn’t matter where the work’s published, because scientists will be able to find it.”

NPG has responded to the UC system announcement, saying that the price increases merely bring California’s (previously discounted) subscriptions in line with other institutions. You can read the NPG response here.

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