Is there any resource that lists how much each university pay in journal subscription fees? I am mostly interested in US universities (E.g. Harvard: $3.5M/year in 2014, MIT: $4M/year in 2006 for science and engineering journals alone), but still curious about other countries (e.g. French universities paid 172M EUR/5years to Elsevier, Finnish research organisations paid a total of 27 million euros in subscription fees in 2015).

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    By the way, the $3.5M figure from the Guardian is based on an very unclear Harvard memo, which stated that journals from "certain providers" cost Harvard nearly $3.75M in 2012 and that in 2010 the corresponding costs were 20% of the periodical subscription budget. They didn't explain which providers those were, or what fraction of the periodical budget might be considered academic journals, so this leaves things rather uncertain. But the total for journals at Harvard is almost certainly higher than $3.5M. Oct 13, 2014 at 23:37
  • @AnonymousMathematician I totally agree, I was expecting over $10M/year. Oct 13, 2014 at 23:38
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    Another thing that is unclear about Harvard's numbers is that they were most likely released as a leverage in a negotiation with large publishers. They preceded a bogus threat to 'suspend subscriptions'. I'm at Harvard and can access all journals from the big publishers via the library, and they most likely never had the serious intention to deprive their researchers from accessing the best journals.
    – Cape Code
    Oct 14, 2014 at 2:53
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    Huh, looks like your $10M/year estimate was on target ($9,248,115 for Harvard in 2008, $16,391,638 in 2012).
    – ff524
    Oct 14, 2014 at 6:11
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    MATLAB and NAG (two brands of computational software) also adopt this shady practice of negotiating their prices individually with the institutions and keeping them secret. Oct 14, 2014 at 8:34

4 Answers 4


There is, in fact, a resource with the information you asked for, for institutions in the United States.

Detailed information on individual academic libraries' expenditures (by university) is available from the National Center for Education Statistics in the United States, as part of their Libraries Statistics Program.

The data from these surveys, including the individual responses from each university, are available for download in plaintext format at this link. The most recent year available is 2012.

To take your example, according to that data, Harvard's expenditures for library resources in 2008 included $9,248,115 for serial subscriptions. In 2012, this number was up to $16,391,638 (the most of any library in the survey).

If you're interested, a set of related information on amounts paid by selected public universities to specific major publishers can be found in

Bergstrom, Theodore C., et al. "Evaluating big deal journal bundles." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.26 (2014): 9425-9430.

(see especially the supporting information for the latter.)


I know you're primarily interested in the US, but others reading the question title may be interested in other countries. For the UK, see

For some information about New Zealand universities, see Mark Wilson's blog post and spreadsheet.


I don't know for sure whether there's a database that shows total journal spending at a fairly comprehensive list of universities, but I doubt there is. There's not as much transparency around university budgets as one might hope (especially at private universities, but even at public universities). [EDIT: As ff524 found, I was wrong about the existence of such a database.]

There is certainly no large-scale database that breaks down library budgets to show the amount spent for each publisher. In fact, many bundle contracts explicitly keep this information secret. Taking advantage of open records laws, Bergstrom, Courant, McAfee, and Williams managed to collect information about a number of contracts with public universities, leading to a paper and further information. However, there are still many universities at which this data is officially confidential.


Some more data from https://ropengov.github.io/r/2016/06/10/FOI/:

Finland paid in total 131.1 million EUR subscription and other fees on scientific publishing in 2010-2015. The overall breakup of the costs is available as a separate table. The average annual costs for in Finland were 22 MEUR in 2010-2015; this is one third of the annual subscription costs in Austria (70 MEUR; Bauer et al., 2015), and two thirds of the annual expenditure (31 MEUR) in New Zealand. Data for the top-10 publishers in the UK 2010-2014 is available in Lawson, Meghreblian & Brook, 2015 (Table 1). During this period the UK paid altogether 4319 MEUR (rough estimate based on the exchange rate June 12, 2016) for the top-10 publishers. Finland paid 61 MEUR for the same top-10 publishers in the same period, which is roughly 17% of the UK expenditure per capita (unexpectedly low?). The costs in the other countries seem unexpectedly high compared to Finland.

Some graphs from http://www.vsnu.nl/en_GB/cost-of-publication showing costs incurred by Finnish universities for books and journals by publisher:

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FYI Why don't major research institutions systematically publish their subscription fees to scientific journals?

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