The Changing Face of Scholarly Communication

Publiceret Oktober 2003

Scholarly communication should exist for the benefit of the world's research and teaching community.  Authors want to share new findings with all their colleagues, while researchers, students, and other readers want access to all of the relevant literature. However, the traditional system of scholarly communication is not working.  Libraries and their institutions worldwide can no longer keep up with the increasing volume and cost of scholarly resources.  Authors communicate with only those of their peers lucky enough to be at an institution that can afford to purchase or license access to their work.  Readers only have access to a fraction of the relevant literature, potentially missing vital papers in their fields.

The promise of the digital revolution to shrink costs and expand access has been threatened by those publishers that have sought to maximize revenues by raising prices and restricting use. But efforts to counter this trend – employing new technologies and business models to provide wider access at lower societal cost – are underway and gaining momentum. 

Involvement by the academic community is critical in ensuring that these efforts succeed. Together we can develop a new system that meets your needs and those of future scholars and students. This is YOUR system - help shape its future!

The system is no longer working

You may be finding it harder and harder to locate articles you need as most campuses continue to cancel journal subscriptions.  Worldwide journal prices continue to rise significantly faster than inflation and library budgets. In North America, for example, research libraries spent 227% more on journals in 2002 than in 1986. In the UK, journal prices rose 158% between 1991 and 2001 compared to a 28% increase in inflation.

These increases have led to continued journal cancellations, with fewer journals being purchased by libraries. However, despite cuts in subscriptions, some publishers continue to post large profits – up to 40% in some cases – while expanding their market control through acquisitions, mergers, and the purchase of individual titles from learned and professional societies. Mergers typically result in significant increases in subscription prices.

While a growing number of journals are now available online, this access often comes at an extra cost, further stretching library budgets. Many colleges and universities cannot provide this access for their researchers and students.

When you publish, you may be signing away your rights to use your own work.

Copyright transfer agreements often require you to transfer all of your copyrights exclusively to the publisher, thereby losing control of any subsequent public distribution of your work.  Restrictions on use of your own work may prohibit personal distribution for teaching and research, as well as posting your paper on publicly available web sites and archives.

Although electronic publishing is a promising avenue for scholarly research, it brings its own challenges.

Some major publishers seek to restrict access to electronic information through legislation and technical protection systems and many of the electronic resources available on your campus are governed by licenses that restrict how you and your students can use the content.

Some publishers have bundled all their electronic journals to provide additional access, but licenses for these packages tie up significant portions of library budgets. This can divert funds from subscriptions to high-quality titles from smaller publishers.

The system is changing – YOU can make a difference

Encourage discussion of scholarly communication issues and proposals for change in your department, college, or university.

Where possible, publish in open-access journals, which employ funding models that do not charge readers or their institutions for access. Serve on editorial boards or review manuscripts for open-access journals. (For a list of open-access journals, see the Directory of Open Access Journals at

Include electronic publications in promotion and funding discussions.

Encourage your society to explore alternatives to contracting or selling its publications to a commercial publisher, to maintain (or adopt!) reasonable prices and user-friendly access terms, and to consider creating enhanced competitors to expensive commercial titles.

Modify, if appropriate, any contract you sign with a publisher ensuring your right to use your work, including posting on a public archive.

Carefully examine the pricing, copyright, and licensing agreements of any journal you contribute to as an author, reviewer, or editor.

Consider using your influence by refusing to review for expensive journals; by refusing to serve on editorial boards of such publications; by supporting the library's cancellation of expensive, low-use titles; and by encouraging colleagues to do the same.

Investigate your campus intellectual property policies and participate in their development.

Invite library participation in faculty departmental meetings and graduate seminars to discuss scholarly communication issues.

Encourage your institution or its local or regional consortium to set up an institutional repository to permanently archive the intellectual wealth of your institution ( and deposit your research materials (including pre- and post-prints of your articles) in your local or regional repository.

Familiarize yourself with journal cost-per-use studies, such as those conducted at Cornell and Wisconsin (

Encourage your library to become a member of SPARC Europe ( SPARC Europe (the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition) encourages competition in the scholarly publishing market.

If you are a journal editor:

Become involved in the business aspects of your journal.

Use your influence, and that of your editorial board, to lobby for reasonable prices and access policies – other editors and boards have found this a successful strategy!

Include your librarian when meeting with a publisher's representative.

If warranted, consider moving your journal to a non-commercial publisher or creating an alternative journal.

For more information

To find out more about these issues, contact your library, visit the Create Change website, or contract SPARC Europe (


This paper has been adapted from the recently revised Create Change brochure (