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Re: Publisher's interests (James Huesmann) Marcia Tuttle 09 Jul 1996 17:45 UTC

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 9 Jul 1996 11:54:37 -0600
From: James Huesmann <huesmanj@LHL.LIB.MO.US>
Subject: Re: Publisher's interests (Albert Henderson)

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

        That was severe?  I've heard much worse from many people.  Re-read
what I wrote - I wasn't denying that university adminstrative costs, etc.,
hadn't increased.  In fact, I agree with you on that point in universities
(Not in my own institution, but that's a very special case and really not
applicable to others.) I HAVE been looking at the whole picture - I
disagree with you when you take publishers OUT of the picture.  Increases
in STM serial costs and university administrative costs, unfortunately,
have both gone up at high rates, and both claim to have good reason for
it.  If there were no increase in serial costs, would there still be a
problem? Yes.  If there were no increase in university administrative
costs, would there still be a problem? Yes.  STM serial costs are only
_one_ component - but a component they are.  Al, I know you are a fan of
macro-based approaches over micro-based ones - another point upon which we
agree. Looking just at one facet, while ignoring, or denying the existence
of, the others, doesn't solve the problem.

        Actually, I'm quite a fan of capitalism and the free market
system. I'd worry if publishers weren't making a profit (or excess
revenue, in the case of the not-for-profits.) To me, that would be far
more indicative of a system in collapse.  One of the dangers in a totally
free market system, however, is that unless tempered, there can be wild
swings in the marketplace.  An example of this was the U.S. banking system
bfore the setup of the Federal Reserve.  Sure, they balance out in the end
- it just is hell on the people during the middle!

        The STM market is currently analagous to the pre-1930's U.S.
economy.  Yes, it built up a world class industrial superpower, but it
contained problems, particularly in terms of monopolies, that need to be
corrected.  (The term "Robber Barons" didn't come out of nowhere.) Being
international in scope, U.S. anti-monopoly laws don't apply to the STM
market unless a U.S. publisher cornered a large percentage of the market.
Were all businesses in the U.S. run to maximize short-term profit,
regardless of consequence?  No.  Do all publishers run up serial prices
irrespective of costs?  Clearly not - I wouldn't hesitate to say that a
only a very small minority do.  We need publishers.  I like publishers.  I
just don't want to hand over a blank check to some of them.

          You can't deny that some publisher's profits haven't soared -
You're obviously an intelligent man and can read a balance sheet (at least
for those that are publicly-traded companies - harder to tell with private
firms.) Sure, market adjustments will take place (and are!) The problem is
living through the interium.

        By the way, costs for telephone service and computer equipment, on
a similar "per-page" (per-unit) basis, have gone DOWN, not up - in the
case of computer equipment, drastically so.

>> 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.
        What does the location of the author have to do with a world-wide
market and problem?  Colleagues I know in Canada, for instance, have on
occasion said they'd love to _only_ have the journal pricing problems of
their U.S. counterparts.

        Let's see, a for-profit publisher can turn a profit on these
publications, but a university would lose money?  There's a flaw in that
reasoning somewhere....  I agree, a few good cost-benefit analysis
projects are definitely called for.

        I'm not against publishers - in fact, I'm very much in favor of
publishers, irrespective of whether they are profit or not-for-profit.
Publishers _should_ recover their investment plus some (profit, surplus,
whatever you need to call it at your specific place).  I believe they play
an important role in the scholarly communication cycle.  If publishers
weren't there, we'd need to invent something like them.  There are people
who do not agree with me, and some who are inventing such critters - the
E-print archives I mentioned in the electronic thread pop to mind

>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.
        Yes, you have stated quite clearly the public service mission of
universities.  Retaining copyright for the people who paid for the
research to be created, reviewed, etc., could be construed as part of that
mission - indeed, the U.S. government now thinks so for research that
federal employees generate.  Nor does that mission require the traditional
print media nor specifically publishers - although I think it will
certainly be some time (don't know how much), if ever, until an electronic
alternative fits as well.  Nowhere in there is a mission to support the
profits of publishers, or anyone else for that matter.  Oops, I take that
back - some universities have a mission to help incubate businesses and
economies in their own state.  Don't recall any with a mission to support
businesses in the UK, or the Netherlands, or...

James Huesmann
Head, Technical and Automated Services
Linda Hall Library
5109 Cherry St.
Kansas City, MO 64110-2498
voice: (816) 926-8704
fax: (816) 926-8790