The Serials Crisis is Over.


Quotations about the serials crisis (below).

I declare that the serials crisis, the event that gave birth to the open-access movement, is over. I base my declaration on my observations as an academic librarian and on the scholarly literature, selections from which I include here:

“The value for money that the Big Deal and similar licenses have brought, has largely contributed to the ending of the serials crisis …” [1]

“This study, reporting on a national survey of academics primarily based in New Zealand’s eight universities, reinforces and adds to an emerging picture of institutional repositories worldwide. The findings, along with those of many earlier studies bring into question whether the crisis in scholarly communication is as acute as some have suggested, and whether institutional repositories are a solution that the academic community is looking for. Most academics are clearly operating productively within the existing methods of scholarly communication, while making use of subject repositories, and other channels to connect with their disciplinary community in ways that appear to satisfy their needs. These needs, for communication with their peers, and those related to reward systems (promotion and tenure) appear to be being met.”[2]

“Q: Librarians insist that they continue to be plagued by price increases. You are saying that the serials crisis is over?

A: The serials crisis refers to a situation that existed at the end of the 1990s, when we saw big increases well above inflation. Those days are long gone, and I strongly feel that our products now offer value for money. In fact, the cost per unit has fallen, and in the last 10 years, libraries have gotten more and more for the same money.”[3]

“Publishers, through the oft-reviled “Big Deal” packages, are providing much greater and more egalitarian access to the journal literature, an approximation to true Open Access.”[4]

“The median of the number of serials received by ARL members almost quadrupled during the period under investigation, going from 21,187 in the 1989-1990 academic year to 80,292 in the 2009-2010 one. Practically the entire increase took place during the last half a dozen years, without any big changes in funding patterns, and appears to be due primarily to ‘Big Deals’.” [4]

“Reacting to the criticism and to the journal cancellations, the scholarly publishing industry took action. They granted libraries new economies of scale, one in the form of journal bundling, which increased the number of titles that individual academic libraries were able to afford and make available to their users. The second economy of scale was to grant deep discounts to library consortia. Repurposing existing library cooperative ventures involving traditional library functions such as cataloging, libraries organized regional and statewide consortia – groups of libraries that function basically as buyers’ cooperatives. Publishers competed with each other for libraries’ business, granting deep discounts that essentially resolved the serials crisis by 2004.” [5]


1. Ware, M. & Mabe, M. (2009). The STM report: An overview of scientific and scholarly journal publishing (2009 report). Retrieved from International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers website:

2. Cullen, R. & Chawner, B. (2011). Institutional repositories, open access, and scholarly communication: A study of conflicting paradigms. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 37,  460-470.

3. Poynder, R. (2011).  Not looking for sympathy: Interview with Derk Haank. Retrieved from

4. Odlyzko, A. (2013). Open Access, library and publisher competition, and the evolution of general commerce. Retrieved from

5. Beall, J. (2013). Predatory publishing is just one of the consequences of gold open access. Learned Publishing 26, 79-83.

27 Responses to The Serials Crisis is Over.

  1. Steve Hitchcock says:

    You make two assertions in your opening sentence: 1 there was a serials crisis, 2 this led to open access. Your selective quotes do not show either, so it is hard to justify your headline point on this evidence. What your quotes may show, however, is that the serials crisis was about journals pricing, and the Big Deal was a response to that. But the Big Deal is not open access, and the case for open access is not over.

  2. [...] “I declare that the serials crisis, the event that gave birth to the open-access movement, is over. I base my declaration on my observations as an academic librarian and on the scholarly literature …” (more) [...]

  3. The main case for open access is free access to public-funded research. The big deal does not solve that, and actually worsen the situation by consuming library budgets in favour of those big deal-publishers, excluding journals from smaller publishers. I also doubt the statement that the far-above-inflation in serial subscriptions came to an end. Is this supported by evidence?

    • Publishers add a lot of value to research after the research is completed, and the public does not pay for that. The public pays for the research process but not for the actual value adds that the publication process manages. These are two very different components of the research process.

      Please see quotation number 4, which shows that libraries pay a lot less per journal title than they did in the past.

      • John Baez says:

        “Please see quotation number 4, which shows that libraries pay a lot less per journal title than they did in the past.”

        The problem is that with journal bundling, libraries are forced to buy many journals they don’t want. They are not allowed to save money by subscribing to fewer journals. What matters for their budgets is not the price per journal, but the total price of the bundle.

        A quote from

        “In the last several years, with the advent of electronic publishing, all the major commercial publishers have dramatically changed their pricing strategies. They have each begun to introduce what many librarians have dubbed the
        “Big Deal.” The specifics vary from publisher to publisher
        and from subscriber to subscriber. However, a typical offer would involve a multi-year contract in which the library agrees to keep its existing base of print subscriptions (with the base price increasing annually). The library pays a surcharge for access to an electronic journal database. In some variants, the school’s electronic access is to the same journals to which its libraries subscribe in print. In other cases, the school gets access
        to the publisher’s entire electronic offerings or its entire offerings in selected disciplines.”

        “A major sticking point for libraries has been their inability to glean substantial savings by canceling print titles once they sign up for the Big Deal. Librarians value highly the right to cancel titles and save the full ;ist price of each print title canceled — i.e., to achieve “proportionate savings.” On this point, Elsevier, Kluwer, and other large publishers have not been responsive. Libraries may get no savings from a cancellation or they may get limited savings that fall far short of the individual list prices the library originally paid for the print journals.”

        “To be more specific, consider the following highlights…”

  4. drgunn says:

    “Most academics are clearly operating productively within the existing methods of scholarly communication”

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m hearing from all the researchers I know. No problems here. We’re good. Keep up the good work, publishers!


  5. Mike Taylor says:

    Jeffrey, was this post a satire? If so, of what? Sorry if I am being dense, I just don’t get it.

  6. kcoylenet says:

    Walt Crawford’s book, “The Big Deal and the Damage Done”, which is basically an analysis of library budgets and serials spending, would seem to indicate otherwise. You might wish to address his points.

    • I think you’ve got it backwards. He should have read the sources I cite first.

      • I had in fact read most of the sources you cite. The suggestion that quotable sources, mostly publishing-related, count for more than the actual facts is an amusing one, but I think I’ll go with the real world for now. (Also, as has been said before, the serials crisis is neither the only nor the primary reason for OA.)

      • Vinz Clortho says:

        Jeffrey’s sources are better. He said so.

  7. Joe Kraus says:

    Scholars and researchers who are not affiliated with places that subscribe to large numbers of journals or big deals would not agree. This former editor of BMJ would not agree, This teenager Jack Andraka would not agree, Other people who are noted at would not agree. The students at my well funded private university library in south Denver would love greater access to many of the newer Nature sibling titles, but at $4-5,000 per title, we are not subscribing even though they would like access. (There is no big deal with NPG as far as I know.) The serials crisis is not over.

    • So, let me check my understanding, the University of Denver, which charges outrageously high tuition, especially in its mediocre library school, is worried about people who don’t have access to some scholarly publications? If DU is so worried about “access,” then it ought to lower its tuition. Also, DU just completed a 35 million dollar renovation of its library and you whine about not being able to afford a couple four-thousand dollar journal titles? This doesn’t add up.

      • Joe Kraus says:

        I agree that this doesn’t add up. The Univ. could spend like Harvard and still not get all of the content that our students and faculty need or want. You did a good job of ignoring my first point concerning the independent researchers; the big deal doesn’t help them get info at all. Open Access helps all people get better access to more information, research, and knowledge and for less cost in the long run.

  8. Price Huyi says:

    I think Beall you have become superciliousness in foe-ment of open access. Please try to accept the fact, that OA is the new and popular model as Coca Cola. You are saying its over. I think you need a psychotherapy dude. hahahahahahaha

  9. Citing five articles, one of which is an interview and another a self-citation, doesn’t give you the wherewithal to ‘declare’ anything. Perhaps you and I read that first sentence differently, but I’d revise it to remove the hubris from what is clearly a semi-supported opinion.

  10. Matt Thomas says:

    It seems like the quotes and your argument is based on the average price per journal title but that doesn’t take into consideration that most of these titles are products that we probably would never have wanted in the first place. In order to get the ejournals we want, we are still having to pay increases in excess of inflation. Adding mediocre content to quality content doesn’t make the crisis go away. If one person paid for the “Mona Lisa” for $100M and then sold it along with one painting their child made in grade 3 for $105M, that doesn’t mean that the “Mona Lisa” has dropped in price by almost half. But I’m probably missing something.

  11. Mel DeSart says:

    Jeffrey, I don’t think anyone would argue that the unit cost for journals has gone down as a result of bundling. ARL stats showed that a number of years ago. But when the price increases on those _bundles_, which in some cases is the only way to acquire the content you really WANT, still exceed the CPI, rate of inflation, and the average materials budget increases that libraries across the country are receiving, why would anyone think the serials crisis was over???

    When I still can’t buy _new_ content that my users need, and am instead paying for content my users _don’t_ need that’s part of a bundle containing content they _do_ need because purchasing that bundle is the only way I can acquire that latter chunk of content, something is still seriously wrong with the system. I would very much agree that the serials crisis has _changed_ – it doesn’t look the same as it did in the 90s – but it most definitely is not over.

    • OneLibrarian says:

      Exactly. Libraries now face the same business model presented to home cable TV subscribers: pay for tons of useless, unused crap to get a handful of useful resources.

  12. I tried to post a comment to this effect last night, but it looks like it didn’t go through. I’ll try again, and apologies if we end up with a double comment.

    I think your list of sources and the quotations you chose to cherry-pick from them are revealing. Is anyone surprised that the STM publishing association thinks that STM publishers are providing excellent value? Or that the CEO of Springer shares that opinion?

    The second study says little about the serials crisis, except to note that established academics seem to be happy with established systems. And the last item in your list would be you agreeing with yourself.

    The most interesting quotations come from your fourth source, Odlyzko (2013). The first one about the “oft-reviled ‘Big-Deal’ packages” comes from the abstract. Perhaps you didn’t finish reading the entire abstract, the last sentence of which reads, “More importantly, these ‘Big Deals’ appear to point the way to the future of the whole economy, where progress is characterized by declining privacy, increasing price discrimination, increasing opaqueness in pricing, increasing reliance on low-paid or upaid work of others for profits, and business models that depend on customer inertia.” Those characteristics are the hallmarks of rthe serials crisis, something barely offset by publishers throwing in thousands of “free” journals to their Big Deal packages, journals that the library doesn’t necessarily want, but cannot easily opt out of.

  13. [...] Beall’s fatuous pronouncement that The Serials Crisis is Over has been nagging away at me since it was posted yesterday. I admit my first reaction was that it [...]

  14. openvt says:

    I might have read your self-citation, but I hit a paywall (“$23.68 plus tax)- do you plan to archive it?

    How much does UC-Denver pay for subscriptions, what percentage of your total library budget does that take up, and how has that percentage changed over the last 20 years? Thanks.

  15. Brian Young says:

    Quoting an interview from a publishing representative and passing it off as fact seems like a poor rhetorical strategy. From the interview, it is clear that the interviewee is dismissive of library viewpoints (referred to as negotiating tactics) but then we (those reading his interview and now your blog) are expected to accept his views as evidence of there no longer being a serials crisis.

    This is an important issue that warrants discussion. Perhaps “big deals” have helped more than not. Perhaps cost per serial (of those actually paid for, not counting DOAJ and other free content that could potentially –depending on how it is reported – skew statistics) has gone down. Data on serials purchased in my field (engineering/computer science) does not support this idea.

    Let’s have a conversation about it…not a list of selected quotes that may be out of context (as one reader has suggested at a blog commenting on this article) or from someone who, through their responses, has demonstrated clear bias (my opinion above).

  16. Sheogorath says:

    Publishers add a lot of value to research after the research is completed, and the public does not pay for that.
    That’s true enough, Mr. Beall, but open access journals are able to provide the same value for a minimal cost or even for free, and then pass along that huge saving to those seeking access to the knowledge contained within. So the need for open access isn’t nonexistent, it’s vindicated.
    “The strawman you have erected has not been recognised. Please check, and debate again.”

  17. Mark C. Wilson says:

    This is the worst blog post on the topic I have ever read, for reasons well explained by others above. Please tell me it was satire, or there is a medical explanation, or someone has hacked into your account. I thought that despite a few methodological issues, the list of predatory publishers was serving a purpose. Now I wonder about exactly what purpose. Perhaps The Scholarly Kitchen will have a place for a regular JB column now.

Leave a Reply -- All comments are subject to moderation, including removal.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,842 other followers

%d bloggers like this: