Mike McGrath (Leeds, UK)

Interlending & Document Supply

ISSN: 0264-1615

Article publication date: 17 August 2015



McGrath, M. (2015), "Editorial", Interlending & Document Supply, Vol. 43 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/ILDS-06-2015-0020



Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Interlending & Document Supply, Volume 43, Issue 3

1. The market – free or chained?

There has been a general right wing shift in global politics – in Europe with the fears of large-scale immigration; “Romanian family of 17 who ‘lied’ to get a house live in a three-bedroom London semi […] and take home £55,000 a year in benefits” is a typical headline in the most consistently poisonous paper – the Daily Mail – helped the UK Conservative Government to a decisive win in the 2015 national elections. Fascist and extreme nationalist parties are on the rise in France and even in Scandinavia – that beacon of social democratic values for 50 years. In addition, in the USA where much of government is paralysed by the stunning 2014 victory of the Republican giving them control of both the Senate and Congress. Underpinning this surge is a neoliberal world view which extols the benefits of the free market and small government. What relevance does this have to the information world which this journal inhabits? Let us answer that by looking at how the free market works in the $52 billion academic publishing industry. There are three necessary conditions for a free market to operate successfully: the sellers must be roughly equal in selling power, the buyers must be roughly equal in buying power and prices must be transparent. It is a model loved by neoconservatives and economists and is based on the medieval market place. Does it reflect the real world? Gold open access (OA) is a good place to start, as it is argued that a free market in article processing charges (APCs) will drive down their price and thus also of journal subscriptions. However, a recent large-scale study showed that in 10,000 journals indexed by the Directory of Open Access Journals, APCs range from free (67 per cent) to over $5,000, (Morrison et al., 2015). No equal pricing there then. What about the power of the sellers? There are at least 10,000 publishers, but the top ten account for 45 per cent of all titles published (Ware and Mabe, 2015). Even this underestimates the unequal power within publishing as publishers work to create subject monopolies. Are prices transparent, that is are they available to all? No, they remain secret for the main purchasing option – the package or “Big” deal. Great efforts involving court cases in the USA have forced some publishers reluctantly to disclose prices on request – hardly your average market place.

In addition, finally, are the buyers equal? – well again no – customers range from individuals with no power at all over pricing to large research establishments who have so little influence that pricing is still based on print – long after most journals, at least in science, technical and medical (STM) subjects, have ceased print. In addition, prices continue to rise above inflation even though first copy charges are now lower than print and repeat copies are in effect zero, although information technology investment must be paid for, of course. Even the consortia of large research universities are in a weak negotiating position in the face of monopolistic or quasi-monopolistic publisher power.

So, none of the conditions for a free market are met, not even remotely. This has a direct impact on ILL; for example, Big Deals, which have a big impact on ILL, are priced in such a way that it is very hard for the buyer to withdraw – a situation that would not occur in a genuinely “free” market context.

All that said we are living in quite extraordinary times. OA does have the potential to make the results of research freely available but not for many years. During that time, there will be much work for librarians – including ILL staff!

2. In this issue

We do hope that there will be something of interest to all readers in this issue. Many readers will not know much about FIZ Karlsruhe and their AutoDoc service – that is maybe because their audience is primarily commercial – but they have many interesting ways of delivering the right information to the right user, as described here by Robert Hauser and colleagues. International League of Dermatological Society (ILDS) has rarely carried articles about Russia – or indeed on the Soviet Union. However, we make up for that by a wide-ranging article from two leading librarians from St. Petersburg. The difficulties experienced by Institut de l'Information Scientifique et Technique (Institute of Scientific and Technical Information), the French document suppler, will be known to many, but the Director, Raymond Bérard, gives a blow-by-blow account of the OA conflict and its profound consequences for document supply in France – a must read. Another area of the world that has seldom appeared in the pages of ILDS is Latin America, so we are particularly pleased to have Stephen Marvin writing on projects with which he has been involved in Latin America, designed to identify and to encourage the development of resource sharing – it is packed with useful information and links to resources. An article from Denmark on a new digital article service and one from the USA on improving work flows for course reserves completes this issue – oh, and, of course, the usual Literature Review.

Mike McGrath


Morrison, H., Salhab, J., Calvé-Genest, A. and Horava, I. (2015), “Open access article processing charges: DOAJ survey May 2014”, available at: www.mdpi.com/2304-6775/3/1/1/pdf

Ware, M. and Mabe, M. (2015), “The STM report, an overview of scientific and scholarly publishing”, available at: www.stm-assoc.org/2015_02_20_STM_Report_2015.pdf

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