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UC fights $1 million increase in license fee for Nature and affiliated journals

By Dave Jones on June 11, 2010 in University News

UC library leaders are seething over what they described as a 400 percent increase in the license fee that Nature Publishing Group charges UC for online access to 67 journals.

And, as faculty begin talking about a systemwide boycott of NPG, the publisher is fighting back.

The increase due to take effect in 2011 would cost UC an additional $1 million a year, according to the library leaders. With this increase, they said, the UC system would be paying, on average, $17,479 a year for each NPG journal, up from $4,465.

These figures are from an “informational update” dated June 4 and signed by Laine Farley, executive director of the California Digital Library in the UC Office of the President; Richard A. Schneider, associate professor and chair of the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication; and Brian E.C. Schottlaender, convener of the University Librarians Council.

Farley, Schneider and Schottlaender said faculty had begun organizing a systemwide boycott of the Nature Publishing Group. With a boycott in place, the library leaders said, faculty would call upon UC Libraries to cancel all of their online subscriptions from NPG, while the faculty organizers would encourage their colleagues to stop submitting papers to NPG and to decline its requests to serve as peer reviewers.

The library leaders suggested a number of other actions that faculty could take to fight the "monopoly" that NPG and other publishers had built on content from UC scholars.

NPG's online response

On June 9, Nature Publishing Group posted an online response, describing the California Digital Library's informational update as "a shock to us at NPG, in terms of the sensationalist use of data out of context, misrepresentation of NPG pricing policies, and the fact that we were under the impression we were in an ongoing confidential discussion."

"The complication with CDL is that they have been on a very large, unsustainable discount for many years, to the point where other subscribers, both in the U.S. and around the world, are subsidizing them," the response said. "The origins of this discount can be found in the lack of clear definitions around consortia and 'single institute, multisite' subscribers, as well as previous accommodations of CDL's budget limitations."

The NPG response acknowledged the value that faculty add to the publishing process, stating that "NPG journals are, and always have been, run by scientists, for scientists."

"Nevertheless, while recognizing this value as critical to our existence, we are utterly confused by the claims that UC authors have contributed $19 million in revenue to NPG over the past six years. We look forward to learning more about those calculations," the response stated.

The UC library leaders said they calculated the $19 million figure using NPG's own data, and said the revenue resulted from UC articles in just one NPG journal: the group's flagship, publication, Nature. In all, the library leaders said, UC authors contributed 5,300 articles to NPG over the six-year period, 638 of them for Nature.

'Divide and conquer' strategy

The library leaders stated that the California Digital Library "has worked successfully with many other publishers and content providers over the past year to address the university’s current economic challenges in a spirit of mutual problem solving, with positive results including lowering our overall costs for electronic journals by $1 million per year."

In contrast, the library leaders said, NPG "has been singularly unresponsive to the plight of libraries and has employed a 'divide and conquer' strategy that directs major price increases to various institutions in different years."

"As a first response to the current NPG proposal, UC Libraries plan to forgo all online subscriptions to any new NPG journals,” the leaders said. “But more drastic actions may be necessary.”

The leaders then noted that a UC San Francisco professor and executive vice dean, Keith Yamamoto, “has begun to assemble a group of faculty that will help lead a UC systemwide boycott of NPG.”

If NPG is unwilling ...

The library leaders explained that if NPG is unwilling to maintain UC’s licensing agreement as is, UC faculty would ask the UC Libraries to suspend their online subscriptions entirely, and all UC faculty would be strongly encouraged to:

Decline to serve as peer reviewers for the Nature Publishing Group.

Resign from Nature Publishing Group editorial and advisory boards.

Cease to submit papers to the Nature Publishing Group.

Refrain from advertising any open or new UC positions in Nature Publishing Group journals.

Talk widely about Nature Publishing Group pricing tactics and business strategies with colleagues outside UC, and encourage sympathy actions such as those listed above.

The UC library leaders noted that UC faculty and researchers author a significant percentage of all articles published in NPG journals and are a major force in shaping the prestige of its publications.

“Moreover, UC faculty supply countless hours serving as reviewers, editors and advisory board members,” the library leaders said.

They added: “We clearly recognize that the consequences of such a boycott would be complex and present hardships for individual UC researchers. But, we believe that in the end, we will all benefit if UC can achieve a sustainable and mutually rewarding relationship with NPG.”

Breaking the 'monopoly'

In the meantime, the library leaders said, UC scholars can take “positive actions” such as the following to “help break the monopoly that commercial and for-profit entities like NPG hold over the work that we create”:

Comply with open access policies from federal funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.

Use eScholarship, an open access repository service from the California Digital Library.

Consider other high-quality research publishing outlets, including open-access journals such as those published by PLoS and others.

Insist on language in publication agreements that allows UC authors to retain their copyrights.

License fees up, budget down

UC spends $24.3 million annually for systemwide, online journal licenses, according to a fact sheet from the California Digital Library at UCOP. As of June 4, the system had secured access to 7,846 journals by way of licenses that came directly from publishers.

The average annual costs per journal are $4,142 in the life and health sciences, $6,814 in the physical sciences and engineering, and $3,103 for all journals (including social sciences and humanities).

These averages compare with the $4,465 average annual cost that UC now pays for NPG journals, and the $17,479 average annual cost that UC is being asked to pay for NPG journals starting in 2011.

NPG's 400 percent increase in the UC license fee comes on top of NPG increases totaling 137 percent from 2005 to 2009.

During this same period, the license fees for major journal packages rose 15 percent

(The fact sheet attributed "a small percentage" of the overall increases from 2005 to 2009 to the licensing of additional journals.)

Meanwhile, the UC Libraries materials budget rose 7.46 percent from 2005 to 2009. The same budget declined $1.9 million in 2010.

On the Net

UC Davis' University Library has created a website where you can see the systemwide library leaders' informational update and attachments.

The UC Davis website notes that library officials here would appreciate receiving copies of correspondence that people in the campus community may send to Nature Publishing Group in regard to the license fee increase.

Copies should be directed to librarian subject specialists or Gail Yokote, acting co-university librarian,

A UC website, Reshaping Scholarly Communication, includes links to the library leaders' informational update, NPG's response and the UC library leaders' response to NPG's response.

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,