Robert Darnton, an accomplished scholar and important name in the open access movement, has a piece in the current New York Review of Books, The Library: Three Jeremiads, where he mentions that

publishers usually insist on keeping the terms [of any library's subscriptions to their journals] secret, so that one library cannot negotiate for cheaper rates by citing an advantage obtained by another library. A recent court case in the state of Washington makes it seem possible that publishers will no longer be able to prevent the circulation of information about their contracts

What was the court case, and does the judgement suggest that there will be better information about journal subscription prices in future?

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    This is a little bit of a stretch, but it's submitted according to the premiss that information about how publishers get their money is always interesting to professional writers. – Charles Stewart Jan 1 '11 at 13:38
  • It's also important/interesting to know who those guys (the publishers) are that you (the writer) will be "going to bed with". – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 1 '11 at 14:40
  • Can't edit yet, so here's a link to the article: nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/dec/23/… "Cancellation fees" is, honestly, pretty shocking to me (greed bastards). Not really surprising though. – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 1 '11 at 15:58
  • @jae: Thanks for the link, I've edited it in. – Charles Stewart Jan 1 '11 at 16:21
  • +1 just for pointing me to the article. Very interesting. Unfortunately, the "DPLA" is utopian, at least for the "copyrighted but out-of-print books" bit, for which (the US) Congress would have to pass legislation protecting said DPLA. No way that would fly, not when Congress did in the past extend copyright limits retroactively (works that had been in the public domain were suddenly copyrighted again...) – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 1 '11 at 16:34

The court ruling in Washington state appears to be this one. The court stated that the money paid by the state university for journal subscriptions is a matter of public record, and therefore subject to open-records requests—despite the non-disclosure clause in the contract. The vendor has chosen not to appeal.


This isn't going to affect the subscription price for readers to purchase the journals, nor will it most likely affect writers in anyway. When a library wants to receive a subscription to a journal or magazine, they have to pay a higher price since more people will be reading them. Even when they purchase books they pay a higher price than an average reader would pay. What this court case allows the libraries to do it talk to each other about how much they paid for their subscription. If Library A finds out Library B paid less, they can try and negotiate with the publisher to give them the same price as Library B.

  • Right. E.g., Nature charges up to about 25x as much to libraries as it does to individual readers for some of its journals, and most decent journals are available free to members of one academic society or another. A point made in Darnton's article is that publishers and libraries negotiate for bundles of journals together. – Charles Stewart Jan 1 '11 at 16:18

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