ProQuest, a company representing 11 academic publishers, recently notified the Boston Library Consortium that the cost of short-term e-book loans would be raised, effective June 1. Each time a client checks out one of the e-books, libraries pay a portion of the title’s list price and after a certain number of loans the library automatically buys the title at full price.
Oxford University Press has raised the cost of short-term loans across the board. A 28-day loan that once cost 30 percent of the title’s list price will now cost 70 percent. The press also doubled the price of seven- and 14-day loans, while one-day loans jumped from 15 percent of list price to 25 percent.
Two months later, after the announced cost shift on short-term e-book loans, Ms. Stearns and John Unsworth, the Boston consortium’s president-elect, wrote a stern letter to The Chronicle accusing the commercial publishers of “price gouging.” The letter referenced continuing dissatisfaction with scientific-journal pricing.
Publishers contend that the e-book-pricing model was still in beta, and that recent changes are simply a market correction.
Publishers say that the model was intended as an alternative to Interlibrary Loan, but that it had instead became a way for students and professors to access low-circulation titles like scholarly monographs without libraries’ paying full freight for them. At issue is a short-term loan model for e-book purchasing that allows libraries to offer large catalogs but pay for only those books that are actually used—and not to pay full price until books have been used several times.
In March, the Oberlin Group, a consortium of 80 liberal-arts colleges published a statement calling for an end to “restrictive licensing agreements” that prevent e-books from being shared among libraries the way hard copies pass through Interlibrary Loan. The statement, signed by Mr. Geffert and 65 other academic librarians, called the current model of e-book exchange an “existential threat” to the “ecosystem of sharing.”
These pricing increases should drive the effort for affordable, Open Access alternatives to traditional publishers, promoted by organizations like SPARC. Digital technologies and the Internet have made knowledge accessible to all, leaving us with the potential to take the power back from publishers and remove the restrictions to access caused by the high prices imposed on consumers.
Read the original article by M. Scott Brauer for The Chronicle here.