Secret Contracts Keep Journal Prices High

From The Guardian:

Universities ‘get poor value’ from academic journal-publishing firms

Research finds secrecy over contracts has stopped some institutions realising they are paying too much for journals

Top universities are paying too much for scores of academic journals provided by major publishing companies, an investigation has found.

Even with the hefty discounts universities earn when they subscribe to bundles of journals, commercial publishers offer worse value for money than journals published by the major non-profit professional societies, the study found. The analysis by a team of economists found that for leading universities, journals published by non-profit organisations were two to 10 times better value than those published by commercial companies, such as Elsevier, Springer, Sage, and Taylor & Francis.

For a fair comparison between commercial and non-profit publishers, the economists looked at value for money. One measure of a journal’s quality is the number of citations it gets in the academic literature. The economists used this to calculate the cost-per-citation for each journal, which reflects the journal’s value to academics.

Among the commercial publishers, Elsevier’s “price per citation” was nearly three times that charged by the non-profit publishers. Other commercial publishers, namely Emerald, Sage, and Taylor & Francis, had prices per citation roughly ten times those of the non-profits.

Evaluating big deal journal bundles.