The Serials Crisis in the Age of Electronic Access

Subject: The Serials Crisis in the Age of Electronic Access
From: Emanuella Giavarra (
Date: pe 16 touko  1997 - 12:51:17 EEST

Dear list members,

This interesting message was forwarded to me by Albert Boada of Spain.
In this message a Spanish librarian describes the offer that his/her
university received from Elsevier and some comment to it.

Kind regards,
Emanuella Giavarra

-----Mensaje original-----
De: []
Enviado el: sábado 10 de mayo de 1997 0:11
Para: phipola@UGR.ES
Asunto: The Serials Crisis in the Age of Electronic Access



NO 177 - May 7, 1997

Editor: Marcia Tuttle

ISSN: 1046-3410



Ken Rouse, Head, Chemistry Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison,

I am surprised and alarmed that there has been very little mention of
the package deals that some commercial publishers, especially Elsevier
and Academic, are currently promoting to academic libraries for
purchasing their print/electronic journals. Acceptance of these offers,
I believe, would be a watershed event in the history of
scientific/technical/medical (STM) journal pricing. Perhaps the word has
simply not gotten around yet, but from what I have heard, time is
running out. Some major libraries or library consortia (OhioLink, the
CIC, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota) are either
seriously considering these proposals
or may have already signed on the dotted line. In hopes of provoking
discussion, I would like to describe the offer that Elsevier has
presented to my university and make some comments. I do not have all the
details, but here in essence is the package:

                                   THE DEAL

A) The University of Wisconsin-Madison is offered electronic access to
most of the Elsevier group STM journals, about 1200 titles. A few
titles belonging to one Elsevier subsidiary are not included, e.g.,
Excerpta Medica. We currently subscribe to about 600 of the 1200 titles.

B) The cost will be based upon the number of Elsevier subscriptions held
in 1995 -- calculated at the 1997 prices -- plus an annual surcharge.
The contract would run for three years. First year cost: 1997 list price
of 1995 subscriptions plus 7.5%. Second year: cost of first year plus
9.5%. Third year: cost of second year plus 9.5%. In 1997 we paid
$844,677 for the 600 subscriptions. We have not finished compiling the
list of titles held in 1995, so I do not have an exact figure, but my
administration estimates that this formula would result in a price in
excess of one million dollars for the first year of the deal. If my
meager math skills have not misled me, it appears that Elsevier would
collect an additional $449,348 over the three year period, i.e.,
assuming first year costs of one million and then adding in and
compounding the 9.5% increases for the second and third years. Moreover,
the initial estimate for the cost to a library of mounting the database
is between $70,000 to $100,000.

                      WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE

It seems obvious to me that this deal is designed to carry Elsevier's
enviable profit margins safely into the electronic era. Or, seen from
perspective of a librarian, it is a way to perpetuate the "serials
crisis" into the indefinite, electronic future. Admittedly, some
universities might find this very seductive. Imagine! All that access
and Elsevier locked into what might be considered modest increases for
this publisher for two years.

But just how valuable is this access? We should keep in mind that we are
being asked to pay not only for the more successful titles that we have
been forced to retain despite their mind boggling prices, but also for
all the low-use, high-cost titles that many of us have canceled years
-- those titles, in other words, that we never should have bought into
in the first place. In my mind, the publishers have hit upon a
"back-to-the-future" strategy, a return (via electronic vehicle) to the
good old days of sum-sufficient serials budgets when librarians such as
myself eagerly subscribed to every promising journal, knowing that the
money would not come out of our budgets, but from some vaguely
but seemingly limitless central library fund.

Another worrisome aspect of these deals is that they seek to restrict
the use of electronic text for interlibrary loan purposes. So the future


Statements of fact and opinion appearing in the Newsletter on Serials
Pricing Issues are made on the responsibility of the authors alone, and
do not imply the endorsement of the editor, the editorial board, or the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Readers of the Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues are encouraged to
share the information in the newsletter by electronic or paper methods.
We would appreciate credit if you quote from the newsletter.

The Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues (ISSN: 1046-3410) is
published by the editor through Academic and Networking Technology at
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as news is available.
Editor: Marcia Tuttle, Internet:; Paper mail:
Serials Department, CB #3938 Davis Library, University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 27514-8890; Telephone: 919 962-8047;
FAX: 919 962-4450. Editorial Board: Deana Astle (Clemson University),
Christian Boissonnas (Cornell University), Jerry Curtis (Springer Verlag
New York), Isabel Czech (Institute for Scientific Information), Janet
Fisher (MIT Press), Fred Friend (University College, London), Charles
Hamaker (Louisiana State University), Daniel Jones (University of Texas
Health Science Center), Michael Markwith (Swets North America), James
Mouw (University of Chicago), and Heather Steele (Blackwell's

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Albert Boada
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Consorci de Biblioteques Universitàries de Catalunya
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08034 Barcelona (Spain)
Phone: +34 3 401 58 32
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