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The Cost of Journals

Issues at a Glance

Between 1986 and 2006, journal expenditures of North American research libraries increased by a staggering 321% as libraries expanded access to journals by licensing bundles of journals (e.g., Science Direct) from different publishers (e.g., Elsevier). At the same time, the average journal cost increased by 180% while the U.S. Consumer Price Index rose by 84%. In other words, journal costs have outstripped inflation by a factor of more than two.

While many university libraries face flat or reduced budgets, large commercial publishers of academic journals continue to enjoy profits. For example, John Wiley & Sons reported record revenue in 2006 and 2007. Profits rose 7% in 2006 and 18% in 2007, the latter in part due to its acquisition of Blackwell Publishing (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007 Annual Report).

The merger of Wiley and Blackwell is the most recent important instance of the trend toward consolidation of control over the publishing of scholarly journals. Wiley acquired Blackwell for $572 million, bringing together the more than 800 journals Blackwell publishes with the more than 450 Wiley publishes. In August 2007, Wiley Blackwell gained publishing rights to all journals of the American Anthropological Association.

Effect at UIC

Commercial publishers sustain their profits by raising journal prices. For instance, UIC's primary serials vendor is EBSCO, and it supplies journals from a wide range of publishers. Prices for EBSCO-supplied journals rose 35% between 2003 and 2007. In contrast, the producer price index for book publishers rose 15% between 2003 and 2007, and the consumer price index rose 13% between 2003 and 2007.

Bar graph of rising journal prices at UIC

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