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Subscription cancellations inevitable if publishers don’t reduce costs, warn library directors

With universities’ expenditure being diverted to limit the fallout from Covid-19, publishers are being advised that a decrease in spending on journal packages is inevitable

Universities will cancel deals with publishers if they don’t reduce their prices, according to bodies representing academic library directors and higher education managers.

Research Libraries UK (RLUK), the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL), and Jisc, warn that the cost of journal subscriptions is low on the list when it comes to universities’ spending priorities.

Instead, with higher education institutions already under pressure to reduce expenditure, funds are being diverted to online teaching and other measures designed to limit the fallout from Covid-19.

Under these conditions there is no ‘business as usual’ and our spending on journal packages will decrease – University of Leeds librarian, Stella Butler

“Publishers must understand the need for price reductions and a full transition to open access to put libraries in a position to maintain subscriptions,” said Durham University’s director of library services, Liz Waller.

“At this time of crisis, we are having to take extremely difficult and unwelcome decisions and reduce costs that necessitate a comprehensive review of our subscriptions. We have already identified titles which we will be pausing next year, and this will be extended to select ‘big deals’.”

The plea to publishers echoes last month’s call from Universities UK for academic publishers to recognise the acute financial impact of the pandemic and reduce the cost of all agreements by 25%.

“It would be very short-sighted of publishers to seek to continue charging prices which were already subject to serious challenge on the basis of value, even before the current crisis,” said Ann Rossiter, executive director at SCONUL.

“Universities want to provide the maximum access to research outputs, but this cannot be at any cost. Companies which do not adapt to the new post-Covid 19 reality will be judged harshly.

“It is time for publishers to bring prices into line with value, and to rethink their business models with a much stronger focus on service.”


You may also like: Journal subscriptions – Jisc pledges to help universities cut costs


In a bid to navigate a way through the crisis, Jisc has asked major publishers to resubmit their budget proposals for the next academic year. These will be reviewed by a Jisc content expert group in September, before being circulated for wider consultation with universities.

The choice facing all parties is a stark one, according to University of Leeds librarian, Stella Butler.

“Under these conditions there is no ‘business as usual’ and our spending on journal packages will decrease. If publishers do not reduce their prices, then the only alternative is cancellations.”

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