House of Commons – Science and Technology – Tenth Report
The scientific, technical and medical publishing industry has recently come under intense scrutiny. Whilst the volume of research output and the price of scientific journals has been steadily increasing – one respected source cites average journal price increases of 58% between 1998 and 2003 – library budgets have seen funding decreases. As a consequence, the ability of libraries to purchase journals has come under severe pressure. This phenomenon is often dubbed the « serials crisis ». The Government has an interest in ensuring that public money invested in scientific research is translated into outputs that benefit the public. The Government invests significantly in scientific research, the output of which is, for the most part, published in research articles. Subscription prices to journals vary – we have been quoted figures from £87 to £2,843 per annum for a range of individual journals of differing quality. Many libraries subscribe to thousands of journals each year. Yet whilst libraries are struggling to purchase journals, scientific, technical and medical publishers’ profit margins remain exceptionally high compared with the rest of the publishing industry — as much as 34% at the operating level in the case of Reed Elsevier, the market leader. There is mounting concern that the financial benefits from the Government’s substantial investment in research are being diverted to an excessive degree into the pockets of publishers’ shareholders.
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