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Competition in Scholarly Publishing

October 30, 1997


Washington, D.C. -- Responding to the steadily increasing costs of library materials acquired from large commercial publishers and the impact of these price increases on the scholarly process, the Board of Directors of the Association of Research Libraries approved last week the formation of the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). SPARC, whose mission is to be a catalyst for change through the creation of a more competitive marketplace for research information, will promote academic values of access to information for research and teaching and encourage innovative uses of technology to improve scholarly communication.

SPARC will operate as a project of the ARL Office of Scholarly Communication and will seek partnerships with member libraries and institutions, scholarly societies, university presses, and other organizations, including publishers, that share a common set of academic values and are interested in developing new strategies for controlling costs and improving access to research information.

For over a decade, the academic library community has monitored the spiraling costs of academic research information while implementing a number of strategies to contain costs and ensure access to these expensive resources. Statistics published annually by ARL highlight the problem.

Libraries have used a number of strategies--canceling titles, decreasing the purchase of monographs, sharing resources, and collective purchasing--in an effort to balance their budgets and extend their purchasing power. These strategies, however, have not been effective in lowering the overall costs of resources. Likewise, these strategies have not fundamentally changed the publishing environment. Increasingly, library and academic administrators have come to realize that the impact of the spiraling costs cannot be solved by strategies that libraries pursue on their own; thus the move to effect change through partnerships, innovative use of new technologies, and development of new models of publication and distribution.

Under the current system, faculty submit their research and scholarship, often conducted with the aid of public and private funds, to publishers who generally require the transfer of the author's copyrights. Publishers then sell the materials back to the academic community through subscriptions held by libraries. Increasingly, much scholarly publishing-- particularly science, technology, medicine, and law--is being consolidated into the hands of a few large commercial companies. The most recent example is the proposed merger announced last week of the British-Dutch company Reed Elsevier, with its primary competitor, Wolters Kluwer, another Dutch company, creating the world's largest publisher of academic and trade journals. These publishers had combined sales of $6.6 billion in 1996 and publish a combined total of almost 2,200 titles.

For more information on SPARC, contact
Mary Case
Director, Office of Scholarly Communication, Association of Research Libraries,
(202)296-2296 or
Additional information about ARL's prior discussions on these topics is available on the ARL website.

The Association of Research Libraries is a not-for-profit membership organization comprising 121 libraries of North American research institutions. Its mission is to shape and influence forces affecting the future of research libraries in the process of scholarly communication. ARL programs and services promote equitable access to and effective use of recorded knowledge in support of teaching, research, scholarship, and community service. The Association articulates the concerns of research libraries and their institutions, forges coalitions, influences information policy development, and supports innovation and improvements in research library operations. ARL operates as a forum for the exchange of ideas and as an agent for collective action.

ARL Announce is a no-fee electronic service from ARL that provides updates on Association activities, member news, project updates, and other reports of interest to those in the library and educational communities.

To subscribe, send a message to The text of your message should read: "subscribe arl-announce [your name]."

For additional information contact:

Program Officer 202/296-2296 phone
Association of Research Libraries202/872-0884 fax
21 Dupont Circle, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036


Peculiarities SocioSite Subject Areas Society Search About us Contact

dr. Albert Benschop
Social & Behavioral Sciences
Sociology & Anthropology University of Amsterdam
Published: November, 1997
Last modified: 13th September, 2013