UC libraries, faculty protest planned price hike by Nature publisher
The UC Libraries, the California Digital Library and a systemwide Academic Senate committee are taking a stand against the Nature Publishing Group (NPG), publisher of Nature and 66 other science, academic and specialty journals, over its intent to increase the price of UC’s online subscription by 400 percent. That would effectively raise UC’s cost to more than $1 million a year.
“While Nature and other NPG publications are among the most prestigious of academic journals, such a price increase is of unprecedented magnitude,” said Laine Farley, executive director of the California Digital Library; Richard A. Schneider, chair of the systemwide Academic Senate Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication; and Brian Schottlaender, chair of the University Librarians Council, in a joint letter June 4 to all UC faculty.
To bargain for the best prices, the California Digital Library (CDL) negotiates with publishers for multi-campus online subscriptions on behalf of all UC libraries. In many cases, online subscriptions, which are more accessible to users, have supplanted print subscriptions because budget constraints have not allowed UC libraries to offer consumers both.
If NPG does not back down from its plan to raise the cost of an institutional subscription beginning in 2011, UC Libraries will not be subscribing to any new NPG journals and may reduce its current subscriptions. “If it got really nasty, we could decide to walk away entirely. But we’re hoping not to have to do that,” said Schottlaender, who is the Audrey Geisel University Librarian at UC San Diego.
In a public statement issued Wednesday, June 9, NPG fought back, accusing the California Digital Library of “sensationalist use of data out of context” and “misrepresentation of NPG pricing policies.” The CDL has had “a very large unsustainable discount for many years,” the statement continued, “to the point where other subscribers, both in the U.S. and around the world, are subsidizing them.” The CDL has responded to these charges.
The price hike has so incensed some UC faculty that they are now organizing a possible systemwide boycott, led by Professor and Executive Vice Dean Keith Yamamoto of UC San Francisco, calling on all UC faculty to stop submitting papers to NPG journals and to cease reviewing manuscripts for them and serving on editorial and advisory boards.
Both the UCLA and systemwide Academic Senate faculty committees on Library and Scholarly Communication have indicated they would support such a boycott even though there would be serious ramifications, especially to young faculty who are trying to publish and get tenure.
“If it comes to canceling subscriptions, we’re all going to face a major task in trying to mitigate these effects,” said Professor of Classics Shane Butler, chair of the UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication. “It’s wonderful to say, ‘There are principles at risk here. Let’s boycott.’” But for junior faculty who are trying to publish, he added, “they face a difficult choice.”
While Nature is prestigious, it is not the only journal that has what academics call a "high impact factor," added Schottlaender "So do other publications, which are more reasonably priced."
In fact, the junior faculty Butler said he has spoken with “are almost to a person gung-ho for moving forward with the boycott.” The issue is so significant to the future of science and scholarship that they are willing to support a boycott. “So there’s a groundswell of indignation among faculty about this,” he said.
The bottom line, Butler said, is that UC cannot afford to pay NPG’s asking price. “To actually pay this would mean cancelling scores of other journals.”
Ironically, many UC faculty contribute to NPG’s success. UC is not only the world’s largest consumer of such digital content, but UC faculty are leading contributors to scholarly journals, Butler noted. They also peer-review manuscripts to help journals determine what’s worthy of publication and serve on editorial and advisory boards for NPG journals.
Over the past six years, UC faculty contributed 5,300 articles to NPG journals, 638 of them in its flagship journal Nature. An analysis by the California Digital Library suggests that those UC articles published in Nature have contributed at least $19 million in revenue to NPG. In its response, NPG said it recognizes the value of faculty contributions “as critical to our existence.” However, the publisher said it is “utterly confused” by UC’s claims of a contribution of $19 million in revenue.
In an open letter in 2009, UC Libraries asked publishers from whom they license electronic content to come to the table and negotiate in light of UC’s and the state’s economic problems.
Such talks with many publishers and content providers have helped lower UC’s cost for electronic journals by about $1 million a year. “Capitulating to NPG now would wipe out all of the recent cost-saving measures taken by CDL and our campus libraries to reduce expenditures for electronic journals,” said Farley, Schneider and Schottlaender in their letter.
This is not the first run-in UC Libraries has had with NPG over a price hike. UC Libraries had previously decided to cancel an online license to Scientific American when it expired last month after NPG, which acquired the journal, doubled the institutional license fee and raised the price of an institutional print subscription 700 percent. The number of print subscriptions was also reduced.