apathy in our fourth (fifth?) decade of the serials crisis

The 2018 periodicals price survey has been published, and it’s not going to tell you anything you didn’t know already if you have been paying any attention to the scholarly publishing industry. It is a gratifying read only in that it conveys the mix of pessimism, despair, and apathy that I feel at this point when we talk about the unsustainable pricing models for subscription resources in libraries. Or when I am using this data to support our annual budget request that I know will not be enough even if they grant it.

Sometimes I want to burn it all to the ground. Cancel everything with a price increase above CPI-W. But I can’t, because the only people it will hurt are students (faculty can and do get copies of anything they want from colleagues elsewhere). And the publishers know this. And they gleefully take more money from us.

NASIG 2010: It’s Time to Join Forces: New Approaches and Models that Support Sustainable Scholarship

Presenters: David Fritsch, JSTOR and Rachel Lee, University of California Press

JSTOR has started working with several university press and other small scholarly publishers to develop sustainable options.

UC Press is one of the largest university press in the US (36 journals in the humanities, biological & social sciences), publishing both UC titles and society titles. Their prices range from $97-422 for annual subscriptions, and they are SHERPA Green. One of the challenges they face on their own platform is keeping up with libraries expectations.

ITHAKA is a merger of JSTOR, ITHAKA, Portico, and Alkula, so JSTOR is now a service rather than a separate company. Most everyone here knows what the JSTOR product/service is, and that hasn’t changed much with the merger.

Scholar’s use of information is moving online, and if it’s not online, they’ll use a different resource, even if it’s not as good. And, if things aren’t discoverable by Google, they are often overlooked. More complex content is emerging, including multimedia and user-generated content. Mergers and acquisitions in publishing are consolidating content under a few umbrellas, and this threatens smaller publishers and university presses that can’t keep up with the costs on a smaller scale.

The serials crisis has impacted smaller presses more than larger ones. Despite good relationships with societies, it is difficult to retain popular society publications when larger publishers can offer them more. It’s also harder to offer the deep discounts expected by libraries in consortial arrangements. University presses and small publishers are in danger of becoming the publisher of last resort.

UC Press and JSTOR have had a long relationship, with JSTOR providing long-term archiving that UC Press could not have afforded to maintain on their own. Not all of the titles are included (only 22), but they are the most popular. They’ve also participated in Portico. JSTOR is also partnering with 18 other publishers that are mission-driven rather than profit-driven, with experience at balancing the needs of academia and publishing.

By partnering with JSTOR for their new content, UC Press will be able to take advantage of the expanded digital platform, sales teams, customer service, and seamless access to both archive and current content. There are some risks, including the potential loss of identity, autonomy, and direct communication with libraries. And then there is the bureaucracy of working within a larger company.

The Current Scholarship Program seeks to provide a solution to the problems outlined above that university presses and small scholarly publishers are facing. The shared technology platform, Portico preservation, sustainable business model, and administrative services potentially free up these small publishers to focus on generating high-quality content and furthering their scholarly communication missions.

Libraries will be able to purchase current subscriptions either through their agents or JSTOR (who will not be charging a service fee). However, archive content will be purchased directly from JSTOR. JSTOR will handle all of the licensing, and current JSTOR subscribers will simply have a rider adding title to their existing licenses. For libraries that purchase JSTOR collections through consortia arrangements, it will be possible to add title by title subscriptions without going through the consortia if a consortia agreement doesn’t make sense for purchase decisions. They will be offering both single-title purchases and collections, with the latter being more useful for large libraries, consortia, and those who want current content for titles in their JSTOR collections.

They still don’t know what they will do about post-cancellation access. Big red flag here for potential early adopters, but hopefully this will be sorted out before the program really kicks in.

Benefits for libraries: reasonable pricing, more efficient discovery, single license, and meaningful COUNTER-compliant statistics for the full run of a title. Renewal subscriptions will maintain access to what they have already, and new subscriptions will come with access to the first online year provided by the publisher, which may not be volume one, but certainly as comprehensive as what most publishers offer now.

UC Press plans to start transitioning in January 2011. New orders, claims, etc. will be handled by JSTOR (including print subscriptions), but UC Press will be setting their own prices. Their platform, Caliber, will remain open until June 30, 2011, but after that content will be only on the JSTOR platform. UC Press expects to move to online-only in the next few years, particularly as the number of print subscriptions are dwindling to the point where it is cost-prohibitive to produce the print issues.

There is some interest from the publishers to add monographic content as well, but JSTOR isn’t ready to do that yet. They will need to develop some significant infrastructure in order to handle the order processing of monographs.

Some in the audience are concerned that the cost of developing platform enhancements and other tools, mostly that these costs will be passed on in subscription prices. They will be, to a certain extent, only in that the publishers will be contributing to the developments and they set the prices, but because it is a shared system, the costs will be spread out and likely impact libraries no more than they have already.

One big challenge all will face is unlearning the mindset that JSTOR is only archive content and not current content.