29

I read on https://ropengov.github.io/r/2016/06/10/FOI/:

Finland becomes to our knowledge the first country where annual subscription fees for all individual publishers and all major research institutions have been made available.

[…]

Limited access to detailed pricing information and agreement details are likely to result in suboptimal contracts (Cockerill, 2006; Shieber, 2009). Improved access to subscription costs can hence be expected to lead to better deals and lower costs for the universities. It can also facilitate transition to the Open Access (OA) publishing model.

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


References:

  • 1
    Why would they systematically publish those fees? They don't systematically publish other specific expenses. – David Richerby Nov 24 '16 at 16:49
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    @DavidRicherby See quote in the question. – Franck Dernoncourt Nov 24 '16 at 17:07
  • 1
    Most governments don't mandate it. Without a legal requirement, what's in it for the university? – David Richerby Nov 24 '16 at 18:49
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    @FranckDernoncourt No, but the quote only tells how someone speculates that it might be beneficial to all institutions if they all did this. It does not tell how it would be beneficial to an institution if they are - for the time being - the only one to do so. – Jasper Nov 24 '16 at 19:29
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    @Jasper if you disagree with the quote and its references, feel free to write an answer. – Franck Dernoncourt Nov 24 '16 at 19:39
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Presumably an important reason is that publishers contractually forbid libraries from disclosing this information, see for example http://access.okfn.org/2014/04/24/the-cost-of-academic-publishing/:

And then libraries are not allowed to tell anyone what these costs are. Libraries are placed under huge amounts of pressure not to release this data, and in the case of Elsevier, they are explicitly forbidden to by non-disclosure agreements in the contracts they have to sign.

This is a reference from 2014, so perhaps meanwhile things have changed (but I would guess not).

  • 10
    Relevant, from April 2014: Tim Gowers went on a campaign to file Freedom of Information Act requests to Russell Group university libraries in the UK, with mixed results. That post also has lots of relevant information, including in particular some glimpses into the mechanisms used by publishers to keep their contracts with libraries under wraps. – E.P. Nov 24 '16 at 1:19
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    My favourite from that post, highlighting the contradictions that emerge from that: (in response to a librarian's refusal to provide information: "You say that the disclosure of the information I ask for would be likely to have a detrimental effect on Elsevier’s future negotiating position with that of the university. You also say that it would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the university itself. I do not find these two statements easy to reconcile. Could you please explain how it is possible for both parties to lose out?" – E.P. Nov 24 '16 at 1:21
  • 5
    It's extremely common that parties to a contract prohibit each other from disclosing details about the contract. For instance, I work in business software, and AFAIK, all our customers (large grocery chains) are forbidden to give out details about license and other fees. This is not confined to academia. Yes, I do realize that there are different dynamics at work in the public and semi-public sector. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Nov 24 '16 at 7:25
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    @StephanKolassa the person with access to more information always has a stronger negotiating position. Any smart business would therefore attempt to obscure their pricing data. – user14156 Nov 24 '16 at 10:02
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    @StephanKolassa Indeed you did, but the equivalence remains false. The real tension here is that it's not only the university that is a public institution - the scientific publisher is also a part of the academic commons, building a monopoly over freely donated labour, and they're plenty happy to keep up the pretense that they are there to serve the academic community when that pretense suits them (and then drop that once the lawyers come to the table). A private-private contract is a terrible model for this situation. – E.P. Nov 24 '16 at 11:48
7

Perhaps it's because if many universities had enough backbone to do this, they would already have started a full-on "war" against journal publishers and their outrageous contracts, and the prices would have come down to something reasonable and uniform?

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