Magazine article Information Today

Keeping Journal Competition Alive

Magazine article Information Today

Keeping Journal Competition Alive

Article excerpt

Could a lack of competition between journal publishers end up being a positive thing for the alternative modes of scholarly and research dissemination? Is it possible that merger mania--which has been devastating the diversity of scholarly publishing houses--could be the catalyst that changes the tides?

When alternative forms of publishing were being discussed in earnest 10 years ago, the goals were different. The push was to make journals electronic. Folks hoped that this would save money, increase the range of dissemination, and perhaps transform the way that scholarship was vetted and managed. But back then, the scholarly publishing universe was also diverse and had numerous outlets. I even recall discussions in public forums that questioned how alternative models could break through in such a competitive environment.

Not many realized that a decade later, commercial control of scientific and scholarly literature was going to shift from the many to the few. The current focus is on Cinven and Candover's proposed purchase of BertelsmannSpringer and its subsequent plan to merge that company with Kluwer Academic Publishers. (At the time of this writing, the deal still has to be approved by the German Federal Cartel Office.) Concerns about such mergers have led to the formation of the Information Access Alliance (IAA), a group that has urged the U.S. Department of Justice to block the BertelsmannSpringer sale. IAA comprises six library organizations, including ALA and the Medical Library Association.

In June, IAA released "Publisher Mergers: A Consumer-Based Approach to Antitrust Analysis," a white paper that essentially maps out the negative consequences of publishing monopolies. For example, it argues that "research has shown a very strong correlation between mergers and rates of inflation (in the cost of journals). In one study of mergers among publishers of biomedical journals, prices were found to increase well beyond the general trend in 10 of 11 instances."

But while the focus of IAA's work is on cost and access, it overlooks the discomfort felt by many in the academic community over monopolies in general. In fact, I would argue that researchers who remained faithful to their small publishing houses found their loyalty stretched when their favorite journals went under monopoly control. Within my circle of academic acquaintances, I know people who were not previously interested in the alternative scholarly venues but who are now taking a second look because they don't like what's happening in the publishing industry. And when they take that second look, they're seeing a maturity that did not exist even 5 years ago.

Facilitating the Process

A newcomer to the alternative scholarly venues wouldn't be able to remember the time when there weren't groups around to facilitate the development of these new models. And I can't help but think of what problems we'd have today if organizations such as SPARC didn't exist. If we were still mired in the print world, it's hard to imagine what alternatives would have emerged as the monopolies continued to build their empires.

In July, for example, SPARC and the Open Society Institute's (OSI) Information Program announced three new publications for developers and publishers of open access journals. …

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