Economic crisis + big deals -> journal publishing industry on its knees?

Zur Zeit sorgt Fred Friend mit seiner Beitrag The elephant in the room für angeregte Diskussionen in in liblicense-l. Ich muß aber – wenn wundert’s? – die an „Gullibility“ leidenden Bibliothekare in Schutz nehmen: Es sind nicht wir, die einseitig Big Deals auf Kosten der kleinen Verleger eingehen. Wir versuchen nur den Wünschen und Bedürfnissen unserer Mediziner entsprechend Zeitschriften zu lizenzieren. Dass dabei Big Deals bevorzugt werden, hat aber eher mit der zunehmenden Konzentration in diesem Geschäft zu tun und einem Hecheln hinter Impact Faktoren.

The phrase „the elephant in the room“ was used by a librarian at
a recent UK meeting to describe the big issues we were not
allowed to discuss about how the current economic crisis is
affecting scholarly communication. Representatives of all
stakeholder groups present – including publishers – agreed that
the economic crisis was hitting them badly, with cost-cutting
happening across the board and hopes for growth put on hold. The
curious feature of the conversation was that nobody present was
able to discuss the one topic which could get us through the
crisis and prevent the journals market collapsing, viz. the
pricing structure for journal „big deals“. Pricing can only be
discussed in one-to-one meetings between suppliers and
purchasers. It would be easy to blame legislators for anti-trust
legislation and the dominance of contract law, but the legal web
within which publishing is entwined is of our own making – and I
include the academic community in that statement.

The importance of this failure to discuss structural and pricing
issues is that the dominance of library budgets by „big deal“
expenditure has the potential to bring the journal publishing
industry to its knees in the same way as sub-prime mortgages did
for the banking industry. It will only take a few cancellations
of „big deals“ by major institutions to make investors nervous
about the future of companies heavily dependent upon such deals,
and a domino effect could follow. We may be sure that there will
be no government bail-out of the journal publishing industry.
This scenario would not be good for any of the current
stakeholders. The big journal publishing companies have failed to
respond positively to the ICOLC initiative on the economic
crisis, and the inability to discuss structural and pricing
issues in a collaborative way is preventing solutions which have
been of benefit in other sectors of the economy. For example,
heavily-discounted pricing (by which I do not mean 1%) could ease
the burden upon library budgets for one or two years until the
overall economic situation improved. No publisher will want to be
the first to discuss such solutions, but equallly no publisher
will want to be the first to feel the effects of cancellations of
its „big deals“.