Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Blackwell vs Norway

Last week, news of the fracas between the norwegian university libraries and Blackwell was reported on Peter Suber's Open Access News. This was conveniently timed, because I have just spent the weekend in Norway visiting old colleagues, and getting the low-down on this matter direct from the source.

Norway is lucky to have a man with the wisdom and experience of Ole Gunnar Evensen heading up the team running the negotiations with Blackwell. And whatever happens when they have the final meeting in a week's time, this is a significant event in the "serials crisis" story. Things going well, Blackwell will accede to the university consortium's requests over pricing, but if things go as badly as they could, it will still mean that Blackwell will undoubtedly look like unreasonable bullies to all of their other customers.

Ole Gunnar cited to me 3 principal problems that they are encountering (copy taken from this article in På Høyden):

  • The publishers fix their prices on the basis of how many subscriptions the institution has had, and the libraries must thereby pay for subscriptions that individual departments or research centres have had on the side.

  • A high annual price rise in the contractual period is being demanded, in Blackwell’s case 7 per cent.

  • The publishing houses concede a discount for transition to pure electronic subscriptions, but this is much lower than what the publishers actually save. (‘The discount is normally around 10 per cent, but on top of that we have VAT, in Norway’s case 25 per cent’, explains the head of the Acquisitions Division at UB, Ole Gunnar Evensen.)

I, for one, wish Ole G and Kari Garnes the best of luck next week for their showdown.


Tom said...

Hi Richard,

Do you know if Norwegian Libraries pay a fee for each Inter-Library loan request as is the case in the UK? Assuming they do, I'd guess that they are going to have some serious financial difficulties. According to the article you list:
"Last year, the 20 most-read journals from Blackwell were downloaded at least 500 times each,"

I guess Blackwell are assuming that eventual pressure from academics will force the libraries to backdown. Did you get any impression on how the academics at Bergen feel about it?

Richard said...

Hi Tom,

I'm not sure what the direct financial costs of the ILL are (I got the impression from the article that they were free), but the indirect costs of staff time are going, undoubtedly, to be great. That they are willing to consider this option shows how serious they are.

At the risk of great generalisation, the Norwegians are a highly egalitarian people, and this sort of treatment by big businesses won't be taken lying down.

After the meeting next week there might be more to say on how the academics feel about the whole issue, but for the moment I don't know.