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Publisher's interests (Albert Henderson) Marcia Tuttle 09 Jul 1996 12:53 UTC

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 9 Jul 1996 01:02:55 EDT
From: Albert Henderson <70244.1532@COMPUSERVE.COM>
Subject: Publisher's interests

James Huesmann <huesmanj@LHL.LIB.MO.US> writes

> > Al Henderson <70244.1532@COMPUSERVE.COM> writes:
> > I don't feel that publishers' interests should concern librarians as much
> >as service to researchers, faculty, and students. Publishers have lots of
> >options not available to researchers. They can get out of research and
> >publish computer books or romance fiction instead. Many university presses
> >have expanded into publishing trade books for a popular audience.
> >Publishers have capped their editorial coverage; as a result, new
> >publishers emerge to fill these editorial gaps! Many publishers in
> >research extract very substantial subsidies from authors whose careers
> >depend on having their research published.

>         I really doubt that you'd see Elsevier, G&B, and others who've made
> tidy sums in the STM market switch over to publishing romantic fiction!  And
> as long as we continue to see journal inflation rates that are 3-6 times
> inflation, and glowing financial reports on profits for publishers, we'll
> continue to be concerned about publisher's interests, thank you very much.

Then I think you should give equally severe judgment to all other
university suppliers. It is neither illegal nor immoral to make a profit.
Certainly when academic fly to a convention and hold a meeting in a hotel,
the airlines, the hotels, etc. etc. make money. Several studies by
librarians have concluded that the increases in prices beyond the rate of
inflation are largely attributable to increased pages; the balance is
easily attributable to decreased sales. Do you think that publishers'
profits (associations simply call them "surpluses") are higher than
profits in other industries? Why pick on publishers but not on the costs
for telephone service and the computer equipment? I have a feeling that
your costs for these two items have risen more than your costs for library
materials. Why not pick on the university administrative costs, which
generally have risen faster than any other category?

> However, I do agree that, unless the "publish(lots of stuff)-or-perish"
> becomes "publish-good-stuff-or-perish", that publishers will be able to
> extract subsidies from authors in excess of copyright, free editing,
> reviewing, etc..

Editorial boards tend to be above economic considerations. They review
submissions on the basis of merit, not on the basis of market. The
publisher who must invest some money must consider whether that investment
can be recovered from the market. There used to be a market.  When
substantial numbers of libraries purchased everything (or everything on a
given subject) that a university press issued, there was much less need
for author subsidies to underwrite costs. Even with so many subsidized
prices, purchasing power of libraries has plunged.

> The questions is, will university adminsitrations realize
> that they're giving away the family jewels, then buying them back?  Some
> have......

This is a fantasy that ignores the reality that all U.S. universities
generate a minor fraction of research articles and monographs. The
majority originate with foreign authors. The reason none of the proponents
of this red herring have published a cost-benefit analysis is that it
would show how ludicrous the idea is.

This approach also ignores the public service mission of universities, a
mission that supports participation by faculty and research staff in
research, peer review, dissemination, etc. I keep having a feeling that
many of the people running the show belong in a profit-oriented commercial
environment, not research universities.

>>The reason I said never mind publishers is because I am particularly
>>concerned that the interests and concerns of researchers, faculty, and
>>students, are so rarely considered on this forum. I am concerned with my
>>impression that some librarians disregard or discount the input of
>>faculty. I am concerned about librarians trying to blame publishers,
>>rather than academic policy, for the increases in pages / prices generated
>>by increased research activity.

>        I am concerned that you have these concerns.  Most of these folks do
>not have the political power on campus that equals a faculty member - ask
>any academic librarian you meet about books being pulled from cataloging, or
>journals that NEVER get used being purchased because of political reasons,
>or the multitudes that have all the responsibility of faculty members but
>not all the perks.  Any academic librarian that ignores the interests and
>concerns of  faculty and students at his or her institution does so at their
>own peril.  Worse, they miss a golden opportunity to recruit allies and to
>gain valuable input about the changing literature of diverse disciplines.

Well said.

>And yes, it does happen.  There are bad apples in every group - even
>publishers.  What concerns me more is that somehow you seem to have
>forgotten the other problems in the scholarly communication cycle, or even
>submit that they don't exist!  The concerns you mention above, in wider
>scheme of things, don't amount to much when weighed against the other