Thursday, 30 June 2011

The serials crisis is over, and other fairy tales

From "Not Looking for Sympathy", an interview With Derk Haank, CEO, Springer Science+Business Media, by Richard Poynder:
"...the serials crisis, which [Derk Haank] says was resolved in the 1990s, after publishers introduced the Big Deal. Librarians will surely disagree. Haank responds by pointing out that the number of papers published each year continues to grow at 6% to 7%. Consequently, he says prices must inevitably rise a little each year. And he is confident the research community will eventually agree, since "scientists have to have sufficient funding to keep abreast of new developments." As such, he says the current difficulties are cyclical, not structural. He adds that librarians' current fad for publicly berating publishers overpricing is simply a canny negotiating strategy intended to put pressure on publishers. While this makes life more difficult, he says he is not looking for sympathy. Here then is our conversation, which has been edited for style."
  1. As supply increases, price typically falls.  This is a pretty standard economic concept, but perhaps the economics of scholarly communication works in a completely different way.  It would have been great to have a little more exploration of this idea instead of it just being presented as obvious fact.
  2. The "papers published" number is controlled by the publishers.  They are not at the mercy of this number.  So even if the increase in supply requires an increase in price, it is still artificial since the publishers do not have to publish more just because there are more submissions.
  3. Scientists (or academics, researches, professionals) need to keep abreast of new developments.  But they are not able to take in 6-7% more content each year.  They have a limit.  And at some point in a mature academic's life, it certainly decreases each year.  Perhaps publishers need to do a better job of "culling the herd", of reducing the numbers of publications, to keep only the best work, to help academics be able to focus on what they need.
  4. Librarians are not typically canny negotiators.  We have too much work to do, dealing with crappy budgets, changing technologies, and needy patrons.  lol  But honestly, "negotiating" with vendors is not as subtle as this suggests.  And besides, reading through the entire interview, this seems to be his response to anything that librarians (and others) state:  it's just a negotiating ploy.  Translation:  we're liars just trying to get a lower price.
When I first started reading this, I was hoping to get an entertaining and informative view of the issue from the other side (especially considering the glowing introduction in the article) but there was not that much information and, I suppose, the charm didn't translate into text.  Perhaps I did get a view from the other side but it appears to have been the biased, profit-oriented side that cynical librarians tend to see the publishers on.

But perhaps I'm a little biased myself...  I'm not NOT involved in all this.  What do you think?

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