SOAN Newsletter #147: The UC vs NPG Battle

Recently there has been a very high profile showdown developing between two powerhouses in academia and publishing: the University of California (UC) and the Nature Publishing Group (NPG). As Peter Suber puts it: “…we may be witnessing a face-off between the world’s most powerful university and the world’s most powerful publisher.”
Peter Suber has written a very comprehensive summary of the whole affair thus far in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter #147.
On June 4, 2010 UC sent a letter to all its faculty stating that NPG was trying to raise the price of UC’s site license by 400% (more than $1 million!). If NPG did not negotiate a more equitable increase, UC told its faculty that it would not renew any NPG titles next year. Indeed a boycott of all NPG-associated activities (authorship, editorship, board membership, peer-reviewing, advertising of UC positions in NPG publications) is already under serious discussion among UC faculty. It is worth noting that this is a faculty-led revolt, with support from the UC Library system.
Nature replied in a press release on June 9, 2010 complaining that UC already enjoyed a large discount from list subscription prices and NPG was merely attempting to reduce the discount.
UC responded on June 10, 2010 that they are clearly challenging the unreasonable SITE LICENSE FEE not SUBSCRIPTION PRICES. Most institutions never pay the list price anyway.
Suber has some strong words for publishers:
Publishers like to argue that all of their price increases reflect increased costs. But they’ve done a very bad job at making the case. It’s hard to believe that their costs have been rising faster than inflation since the 1970’s or 1980’s….It’s hard to believe that costs rise faster than inflation when authors give publishers their raw material free of charge, and when referees evaluate and help refine the raw material free of charge. It’s hard to believe that costs continue to rise faster than inflation after publishers shift to e-only publishing and drop their print editions.”
Bravo to UC for acting decisively in its own interest. Bravo for drawing the line. Bravo for vowing to use its rare bargaining power to fight back.”
Stay tuned, this will be an interesting battle to watch.

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