February 6, 2016

The Winds of Change | Periodicals Price Survey 2013

The stock market has hit record highs, and unemployment has reached the lowest level since the recession began. Despite this good news, the library economic environment has not seen commensurate improvement. There continues to be a struggle to find the resources needed to support library collections and services, and conditions remain highly unsettled.

According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, 24 states are working from 2013 budgets with lower general fund expenditures in FY13 than in 2008, the last year before the recession. Nearly half the states have not returned to prerecession levels of revenue and spending. Overall, total general fund expenditures for all states will not exceed the pre­recession high of $687.3 billion spent in FY08. Funding for K-12 education has seen a little relief as a total of $4.9 billion was added to state budgets overall, but higher education is still seeing cuts, as 16 states reduced allocations for higher education by a total of just over $1 billion.

(All tables are labeled to correspond to the print layout of this article, and so appear out of order below for this web presentation)

Meanwhile, sequestration is not going to make state and local funding problems any easier. Historically, the federal government provides about one-quarter of all state revenues, and owing to sequestration, the federal government is now poised to make deep spending cuts. If a significant portion of sequestration is left in place, federal funding for schools and other non-entitlement grants to states are on track to reach their lowest levels in four decades, measured as a share of the economy.

The lack of public funding translated to flat funding in libraries. Preliminary data from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) shows that median total expenditures for ARL libraries dropped slightly from 2011 to 2012 ($24,052,161 to $24,000,677), though final numbers may show a small increase. In either case, since the ARL members are a mixture of public and private organizations, increases in expenditures by the private universities helped offset declines in spending from the public universities.

There is good economic news out there, but most libraries that rely on public funding have not fully recovered from the recession. Flat budgets and ongoing inflation in costs are forcing libraries to continue to find creative ways to keep current services. In this environment, disproportionate serials prices are thrown into greater relief.

This year, the serials pricing data indicates that prices are increasing at about the same rate as last year. Increases seemed to have plateaued at about 6% for 2013. Data from the merged ISI indexes shows a 6% increase for 2013, unchanged from 2012. EBSCO’s MasterFILE Premier and Academic Search Premier show similar results: average prices for titles in MSP increased 5% for 2013, while average prices for titles in ASP increased 6% in 2013, the same increase as for 2012. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), on the other hand, advanced 1.7% for 2012, which means serials inflation continues to far exceed general inflationary pressures and library budget adjustments. Serials prices showed restraint in 2010, but since that time they have risen steadily, and budgets have not. The price increases are not driven by science, technology, and medical (STM) prices since education and library science showed the highest increases, 9%, in 2013 ISI data, while the numbers from ASP showed anthropology and health sciences increasing at the 9% levels.

Average prices for STM serials remain the highest, compared with prices for serials in other subject areas. Chemistry has historically seen the highest average serials prices, and that has not changed: recent reports show that the average price for chemistry journals hovers around $4,450 annually. There were only slight shifts in the overall average prices for serials broken down by subject area although food science did climb up the list by several spots from 2012.

Price, value, & expenditure

It has been the intent of this article to present the most reliable information concerning serials pricing as is reasonably possible to produce, and the current version of the price survey has now been published for over 20 years by LJ. Based on the ANSI/NISO Z39.20-1999 Criteria for Price Indexes for Printed Library Materials, this price survey uses the available retail print price for subscriptions for titles that are listed in indexes widely used in the United States. The actual change in the retail price is measured year to year to gauge the overall increase in serial prices.

Unlike print, published retail rates are not available for all of the titles in the combined indexes. Starting in 2011, Average Price for Online Journals in the ISI Indexes, has documented the average cost per subject area where standard online pricing is available. This fall, the Professional Scholarly Publishing Bulletin published an article by Paula Gantz that suggested serial price has now been replaced by digital licenses as the true reflection of real journal costs. In the article, the author directly questions the validity of this study by suggesting that the “effective” price increase for an average journal was only 9% higher in 2010 as compared to 1990, not the six-fold increase documented over the years in this price study.

There are good points raised by Gantz concerning the increased value derived from digital licenses and how the increase in research has resulted in increased content. There do need to be more substantive discussions concerning these issues and the failure of libraries to secure their piece of the research funding pie. However, the contention that the effective price of the average journal has only increased 9% and that the price of journals accessed in the UK has actually gone down 11% since 2004 cannot be accepted without much more data substantiating those claims. After searching the reports cited in the UK study, no reference to the cited data could be found. If this is derived data then the source for the primary data and the methodology used to derive the figure need to be documented.

Those who has been involved with purchasing serials in the last 20 years know that serial prices have increased significantly and represent the largest inflationary factor for library budgets. To suggest that the real increase in serial prices is only 9% flies in the face of reality. The author derived the figure by using data from ARL that reported changes in the number of purchased serials and serial expenditures for the period 1990–2010. While the data does show that the numerical value resulting from dividing expenditures by the number of purchased serials did increase 9% over that period, to conclude that prices only increased 9% is incorrect. Between 1990 and 2010, ARL changed the definition of purchased serials. In 1990, the definition was based on subscribed titles. In 2010, the definition used by ARL had changed considerably: “Report the total number of unique serial titles, NOT SUBSCRIPTIONS, that you currently acquire and to which you provide access…. Report each title once, regardless of how many subscriptions or means of access you provide for that title” (definitions for 2010 and 2011 are essentially unchanged).

The majority of the increase in the number of serials purchased reported over this period is due to the inclusion of titles purchased through databases and similar aggregations, not through “big deal” packages. The cost of the access provided to these journals by libraries cannot be compared to the retail price of subscribed content. These are very different things.

Price, value, and expenditure are likewise different entities. While related, the means of measurement and assessment of these items must be considered individually. The value of content is an important factor to consider when making purchasing decisions, but the price on the invoice is what impacts the budget, and there needs to be reliable information on changes in price to assist with budget planning. The $50,000 sports car discounted to $25,000 may be the best value, but if the budget only has room for a $10,000 used compact, that is what you buy.

Geography & discipline

There was little change in the relative order for the average price per title sorted by country of origin. While the average price per title decreased slightly from 2012, titles from Russia and Ireland continue to have the highest cost per title for all included in the merged ISI indexes. Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, Greece (replacing the United States in the Top 10), and England round out the Top 10 countries with the highest cost per title in 2013. It will be interesting to see the impact of open access initiatives upon 2014 pricing, especially in England where government initiatives mandated open access for publicly funded research by April 2013.

Table 3 once again examines the titles in the combined ISI Arts and Humanities, Science Citation, and Social Sciences Citation indexes, which offer published rates for online formats. As in past years, the data reflects online only, print plus free online, and the first tier of any tiered pricing, with the common element being pricing for the online format.

Elsevier, Wiley, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and SAGE still dominate the combined indexes with more than half of the titles; 3% of titles in the combined indexes are open access. The 2013 average cost for this set of titles is $1,184. While that reflects an increase of 3% over last’s year’s average price of $1,147, it is important to keep in mind that the individual titles and associated pricing models reflected by Table 9 change each year and may have been impacted by the number of factors, including the number of open access titles included in the ISI indexes this year.

New business models

While the debate over the Big Deal continues, “The State of Large-Publisher Bundles in 2012,” authored by Karla Strieb and Julia Blixrud and published by ARL, documents the market penetration and continued dominance of packaged content in ARL libraries. The authors’ analysis of survey responses from 81 ARL member libraries conducted during the summer of 2012 revealed that more than 85 percent subscribed to e-journal packages from the American Chemical Society, Wiley, Springer, Elsevier, SAGE, and Nature in 2012. The study also documents the shift in the definition of the e-journal package from all the titles offered by the publisher to consortially or individually defined collections. The survey likewise addresses the shift from bundled print and e-journal subscriptions to electronic-only format, with respondents reporting selected retention of print for all publishers except Taylor & Francis.

A comparison of the publisher e-journal packages ordered by 619 major clients of EBSCO Information Services in both 2012 and 2013 reflected an average price increase of 5.5%, comparable to this year’s overall 6% print/online price increase. When the price analysis was made comparing similar tiers or other fixed criteria (tier 3 pricing compared to tier 3 pricing, Carnegie level 4 compared to Carnegie level 4, etc.), the price difference for the packages between 2012 and 2013 reflected an average 7.12% ­increase.

Open access

Spring 2012 brought renewed emphasis on open access as diminished academic library budgets and the steady increase in the cost of journal literature converged, resulting in stronger mandates regarding the availability of government-funded research from groups including Britain’s Wellcome Trust, Research Council UK, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, popularly known as the Finch Report, explored the difficult issues of funding as well as access models. Operating on a different scale and model from traditional publications offering green, gold, and hybrid open access options, the Public Library of Science (PLoS) was joined in 2012 by the megajournal offering from PeerJ.

With bipartisan support, in February of this year, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) was introduced in both the U.S. House and the Senate. FASTR would require federal agencies with research expenditures of over $100 million per year to make articles resulting from the funding freely available online (and notably available openly for “computational analysis,” according to the bill) within six months of publication. Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a sweeping memo in February prompting many of the policies argued for by FASTR, though with a longer 12-month embargo. However, open access advocates are still pushing for Congressional passage of the bill to enshrine the mandate as law rather than policy subject to executive branch discretion.

SCOAP3, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics, working with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, moved forward in 2012 with the announcement of agreements with seven publishers covering 12 journals in high-energy physics. Earlier this year, in announcing new members representing 31 countries worldwide, SCOAP3 stated that the 85% of the anticipated required funding had been secured to transition the 12 journals to open access by 2014.

Widely embraced by the sciences where funding is more plentiful, the open access mandates have been less enthusiastically received by some in the humanities. A recent survey of authors who publish in Taylor & Francis/Routledge journals reported that 33% think that research outputs will be published as open access with some restrictions on reuse, while 51% of respondents think that research outputs will continue be published in subscription journals.

Philosophical issues aside, with the 2012 open access market estimated at $172 million by Outsell, open access is a business model. Funding will still be required to support the green, hybrid, and gold open access or subscription/membership costs. As has been discussed in previous serials pricing articles, open access options are currently being offereing by all the major publishers, such as Springer’s Biomed Central, Wiley Open Access, and SAGE Open. Traditional intermediaries such as EBSCO and the Copyright Clearance Center have joined new companies such as Open Access Key in providing services to streamline the management of author processing charges and related fees.

2014 forecast

The 2014 journal marketplace will continue to be unsettled as the traditional elements of budget, price, and value collide with the new forces of open access, government mandates, new evaluation tools such as altmetrics, and the increased availability of information offered by search engines, discovery systems, and social networks. All elements of the information marketplace—libraries, publishers, and vendors—will continue to be impacted by the changing market conditions. The 6% average price increase of 2013 is expected to abide, hovering in the 6% to 7% range for 2014. Like the spring weather, market conditions could change before 2014 pricing is finalized, but the evidence available to date does not presage price relief for libraries.

Periodical Prices for High School and Public Libraries

Overall price increases for titles in EBSCO Publishing’s MasterFILE Premier are expected to be in the 5% to 6% range.

Periodical Prices for University and College Libraries

Overall price increases for titles in EBSCO’s Academic Search Premier are expected to be in the 5% to 7% range for 2014.

Stephen Bosch is Materials Budget, Procurement, and Licensing Librarian, University of Arizona Library, Tuscon. Kittie Henderson is Director, Academic and Law Divisions, EBSCO Information Services, Birmingham, AL

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  1. PROF N LAXMAN RAO says:


  2. David Hughes says:

    By England do you mean “England”, or the UK as a whole?

  3. Bruce Heterick (@heterick) says:

    Always great work. Thanks Stephen and Kittie. I was curious as to whether there is any data on journal subscription attrition/growth rates by discipline. That would be most interesting.

  4. pippa Smart says:

    Thanks for useful article. However I’m curious about the price per title. Most of the large publishers sell bundles, not individual titles, so how have you extracted the per-title price?

    • Is the underlying data used in this year’s (and past year’s) pricing survey available?

      I think about all the individual libraries who replicate one another’s work trying to obtain pricing data for their various subscriptions. Wouldn’t it be great if this could be collected and made available in one place?

      I know that there’s an argument that says you must have the real cost of a given journal — either some normalized price worked out from the price of the bundle or the actual price your library negotiated — but I think for most libraries, having the list price (the value that the publisher assigns to the journal) would actually be preferable. Presumably the list price is what is used in these surveys.

  5. This site was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally
    I’ve found something which helped me. Thank you!

  6. Really useful information.
    It will help us to promote Open Access resources.
    It also helps in policy formulation