The pricing power that copyright protections grant academic journal oligopolists has enabled extraordinary price increases in the last few decades. Taira Meadowcroft, a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Missouri, describes the effects of rising subscription costs on libraries:
The cost of these journals often outstrips library budgets, leaving the libraries battling both price increases and revenue stagnation. ‘Many libraries are cutting continuing expenditures by cancelling or breaking up journal packages and buying only those titles for which use or demand justifies the price. Others are aggressively renegotiating contracts with publishers to reduce ongoing costs.’
Citing the Library Journal, Meadowcroft writes that this budget constraint has forced libraries to be selective with journal subscriptions and renegotiate their contracts with publishers.
The percentage of health science journal articles published by the five most prolific publishers rose from roughly 5 percent in 1974 to 53 percent in 2013.
The issue is not limited to health sciences though, as these five publishers account for more than 50 percent of all papers published in 2013, with Reed-Elsevier dominant in both natural and medical sciences and social sciences and humanities.
Even as open access has disrupted the academic publishing landscape since 2013, just three firms produced over half the open access articles published in 2019.
These data are troubling, but not uncommon. Astronomical journal price hikes are passed onto universities and libraries, both public and private.