The University of California is mulling a boycott of Nature Publishing Group in response to what it claims is a proposed 400% increase in subscription fees to the group’s journals, a letter from the university’s libraries reveals.
Dated 4 June, the letter says that unless NPG keeps to the current subscription agreement, faculty will be asked to cease submitting papers and undertaking peer review for NPG journals, to resign from all NPG editorial and advisory boards, and to not advertise jobs in NPG journals. Staff would also be urged to encourage “sympathy actions” from researchers outside the UC system.
The letter describes the proposed price increase as “of unprecedented magnitude”.
“NPG has made their ultimatum with full knowledge that our libraries are under economic distress,” it says. “…Capitulating to NPG now would wipe out all of the recent cost-saving measures taken by CDL [California Digital Library] and our campus libraries to reduce expenditures for electronic journals.”
It further points out that UC authors have produced 5,300 articles in Nature journals over the past six years and claims that these have contributed “at least” $19 million to NPG in revenue.
Speaking to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Keith Yamamoto, the executive vice dean of the School of Medicine at UC-San Francisco, points out that publisher Elsevier was forced to backtrack on proposed price rises for Cell Press journals in 2003 by a similar boycott. “There’s a strong feeling that this is an irresponsible action on the part of NPG,” he says.
Nature News has asked NPG for a response to the letter. It will be posted here as soon as we have it.
UPDATE – 10/06
In a statement NPG said, “This has been a shock to us at NPG, in terms of the sensationalist use of data out of context, misrepresentation of NPG pricing policies, and the fact that we were under the impression we were in an ongoing confidential discussion.”
The statement goes on to say that a 7% cap on annual list price increases for NPG site licences is in place and that this in an ongoing commitment for 2011. However, it adds that CDL “have been on a very large, unsustainable discount for many years, to the point where other subscribers, both in the US and around the world, are subsidising them”.
If CDL is regarded as a consortium of multiple libraries, says NPG, they currently enjoy an 88% discount on the list price. CDL’s average discount from other publishers is around 55% and NPG is now trying to “bring them close to a 50% discount”.
“We now call on CDL to reveal how much it spends with all the major publishers, and how this translates into cost per use, and/or other indicators of value. If NPG represents poor value for money, we will work with CDL to readjust their pricing,” says the statement.
“We are confident that the appointment of Professor Keith Yamamoto and other scientific faculty to lead the proposed boycott, will mean they will be in a position to assess value with a rigorous and transparent methodology.”
UPDATE – 10/06 (PM)
A war of words appears to be underway now that the University of California has responded with a point by point rebuttal to Nature Publishing Group’s statement on license fee increases. (see above).
The response cites the challenging budget situation the University and its library system face thanks to the economic down turn, adding, “While we agree that NPG publishes very high quality content, so do many other publishers, at more reasonable costs.”
The dispute may have only recently erupted in public, but it’s apparent that tension has been building behind the scenes for weeks. In another part of the rebuttal, UC states that, during a meeting in May, Nature’s “demeanor was markedly different from other publishers with whom we regularly conduct negotiations.”