Significant reduction in APS subscriptions for 2014

Dr. Lothar Nunnenmacher, Laura Tobler & Dr. Maura Vonmoos

Lib4RI will no longer provide full access to all journals of the American Physical Society (APS). As of now Lib4RI only offers access to the most frequently used e-journals Physical Review B and Physical Review Letters. Additionally, this access is restricted to users of PSI.

The decision on this significant reduction was jointly made by the library itself and the library’s steering committee (consisting of 4 members of the directorates and 4 scientists). The reason for the decision lies in the intention of APS to increase the subscription costs by 35 % for 2014, which was not acceptable to us. The problem is exacerbated by the additional fact that APS – unlike almost all other publishers – does not provide post-cancellation access to all the journal volumes that have previously been subscribed. However, we will of course provide all required APS articles to our users as quickly as possible. Therefore we bought 13 years of digital backfiles of the APS journals. Copies from articles not covered by this timeframe can be ordered through NEBIS. Read here, how to get your APS article.

As this reduction in APS subscriptions is rather substantial, we would like to provide you with some additional background information. We already observed a sharp rise of 15 % in the subscription costs for APS journals from 2011 to 2012, and the situation even worsened this year: APS initially offered us a subscription to their e-journals with a price increase of 37 % compared to 2013 – and in a second revised offer the price increase still amounted to 35 % for 2014, yet with an additional increase of 6 % for each of the two following years. Non-profit, society publishers usually charge modest prices for their e-journals in comparison to for-profit publishers. So we often decide in favour of society publishers. In this case, however, the APS increases are far too high to be justified.

The reason for the price increase in 2014 by APS is not their enormous increase in content but rather a new pricing model. It is common practice that pricing models consider the size of the subscribing institution (tiering systems). Most publishers determine this institutional size on the basis of full time equivalents (FTE), which is a good indicator of potential usage. The tiering system of APS, however, is simply based on e-journal usage, i.e. article downloads.

Tiering according to usage is a bad idea because:

  1. Journal usage increases every year per se. We have seen this across all products and all publishers for years. Increased journal usage only partly reflects more interest from our users. Another very relevant factor is, however, changing user habits (e.g. that they simply get the papers online instead of from their own archives).
  2. Journal usage also reflects the increasing journal content that is added each year and it is not very reasonable to pay again for the content we have already paid for in recent years.
  3. Libraries that do a good job in promoting their resources and improving discovery mechanisms increase journal usage – and get punished with higher prices.

In addition, APS classifies institutions in five tiers with dramatic price differences among them. In our case, the classification of PSI changed from tier 3 to tier 4, resulting in an intended 31 % increase in the subscription fees. The classification of Eawag and Empa changed from tier 2 to tier 3, equivalent to an increase in subscription fees of 51 %.

This points to yet another problem: APS still does not accept the merger of the libraries of the research institutes within the ETH domain. Contrary to all other publishers, APS still charges us separately. This leads to the absurd situation that ETH Zurich as well as EPF Lausanne pay significantly less for the same subscriptions although both institutions are much bigger than the four research institutes within the ETH domain. This should not be the result of a fair tiering process.

Despite hard negotiations with the APS publisher, there has been no quick solution to the problem until now. As we are neither willing nor able to bear costs deviating so greatly from a fair price, we were forced to reduce our subscriptions to APS journals to a bare minimum. Being fully conscious of the impact of such a cancellation, we still hope to reach an agreement with APS. Your support is very welcome. Please feel free to complain directly to the APS management, to the APS publications committee, or to the editors of the APS journals (PRAPRBPRCPRDPREPRLRMP, a CC to us is appreciated). And, of course , you can contact us at @email for any questions or remarks.