The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 26, Number 1
Jun 2002

Prices of Scholarly Journals Triple; How Does This Affect Preservation?
And What Will the Outcome Be?

By Ellen McCrady


Monograph and Serial Costs in ARL Libraries, 1986-2000

For the last 10 or 15 years, the Association of Research Libraries has been tracking the conflict between commercialized publishers of research journals and the scholarly community's need for free access to information. Although libraries have been promoting open access and opposing the restrictive measures of the commercial publishers for years, the statistics gathered by ARL and its allies since 1986 give the impression that serial publishers are in complete control.

Serial expenditures have doubled since 1986, while expenditures for monographs have closely tracked the increase in the Consumer Price Index.

The disparity is made clear by the graph that appeared in the October 2001 issue of ARL: A Bimonthly Report as part of the article entitled "The Impact of Serial Costs on Library Collections," by Mary M. Case. It is reproduced here. (Note that the consumer price index rose only 57 percent or 4 percent per year between 1997 and 2000.)

The largest price increases for 1997-2001 were in journals in the fields of food science, business and economics, sociology and political science. All increases in these fields were over 50%. The most expensive category was physics (average price $2,011 per title).

Mary Case concludes by saying, "Every year, journals eat up more and more of the libraries' acquisitions budgets. A straight-line projection suggests that the average journal title, which cost $125 in 1986, will cost $1,158 in 2012. Simply to maintain serials collections at present levels, the average journals budget, currently $4 million, would have to increase to $14.28 million by 2012.... Clearly, this price tag is not sustainable by the library market."

The lead article in that same issue (ARL: A Bimonthly Report #218, Oct. 2001) is a seven-page analysis of today's scientific publishing issues. It was written by Jean-Claude Guédon, a science historian who is currently Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Montreal. The full paper from which this seven-page article was drawn is entitled In Oldenburg's Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing. It is available on the ARL website, <>, and in print from ARL Publications <>. It is 70 pages long and costs $15.

(ARL: A Bimonthly Report devoted its entire February issue to the topic of open access.)

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