Production, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge¬†is fundamental to all fields of research. Scholarly¬†publishing, in the form of journal articles, conference¬†proceedings, and monographs, is a primary means by¬†which knowledge is distributed to professors, researchers,¬†graduate students, and the public.
Unfortunately, scholarly publishing has in recent years¬†entered a period of crisis. While the proliferation of¬†research information has encouraged a rapid increase in¬†the number of scholarly journals (from 103,700 worldwide¬†in 1986 to 161,000 in 1999), the capacity of academic¬†institutions to acquire scholarly publications has declined.¬†For example, monograph acquisitions by university¬†libraries have actually dropped by about 26% since the¬†mid-1980s. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL)¬†estimates that member libraries were spending 170% more¬†in 1999 to buy 6% fewer journals than in 1986.
Government cuts to post-secondary education funding¬†have played a major role in this crisis by reducing budgets¬†for university library acquisitions. Other factors, such as¬†increasing journal prices, have also had a detrimental effect¬†on scholarly publishing. Journal subscription prices have¬†risen dramatically in recent years, especially in scientific¬†and medical fields. Between 1986 and 2003, the cost of¬†journals increased by 315%. In Canada, this situation is¬†exacerbated by an unfavourable exchange rate, as about¬†80% of journal subscriptions are priced in US dollars. A¬†study conducted in 2002 found that even though Canadian¬†library expenditures have increased, purchasing power for¬†libraries dropped between 21% and 32%. The rising cost¬†of ‚Äúcore‚ÄĚ subscriptions means that researchers in all fields¬†often have less access to material in their fields.
The increased cost of journal subscriptions is largely the¬†result of commercial publishing companies recognising¬†profit potential in certain areas of scholarly publishing,¬†acquiring prestigious journal titles in those areas, and then¬†raising prices in order to realise higher profits. Because¬†the prestige associated with high profile publications is¬†an important factor in evaluation and promotion, many¬†scholars feel obligated to continue publishing in such¬†journals, despite the overall detrimental effect high journal¬†prices have on access to knowledge.
High journal prices within particular academic fields¬†have consequences for scholarly publishing as a whole.¬†Rapidly escalating prices for science, technology, and¬†medicine journals mean that more library funds are¬†required to sustain subscriptions in those areas. This¬†prevents acquisition growth in other fields, such as¬†the humanities and social sciences, and even leads to¬†subscription cancellations. As a result, scholars in the¬†humanities and social sciences not only have access to¬†fewer resources in their fields, but have fewer options for¬†publishing their work as the monograph market shrinks.¬†Monographs traditionally serve as an important early¬†publishing opportunity, so shrinking demand particularly¬†disadvantages academics in the early stages of their careers.
If you would like to be involved in this or any other campaign, please join the GSU External Relations Committee¬†by contacting your¬†VP Communications.