by Daniel S. Dotson (Associate Professor, The Ohio State University, 180 E. Orton Hall, Geology Library, 155 S. Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210)
This paper examines the output of new journal titles over the years 2008-2017 with specific criteria. The number of new titles is examined, taking into account the impact of ceased and open access titles. The number of new journal titles is shown to be coming out at a pace that few libraries would be able to handle as part of their budgets even if offered at low prices. The impact of price increases on top of the new titles is used to illustrate the new titles entering an already tense market makes the situation even more unsustainable. The publishers of new titles and subject areas are also examined to give a view as to where the output of new titles is most common.
It seems like publishers are premiering new journals every year, one might even say hemorrhaging new journals, at a rate at which libraries’ budgetary bandages cannot staunch the flow. This is on top of the hemorrhaging of existing journals’ prices. But how many new journals are actually coming out every year? Are specific publishers more commonly pushing out new journals? Also, are open access titles a significant portion of the new titles coming out? Do journal cessations make up for the number of new titles that come out? This paper explores all of these issues to determine how bad the hemorrhaging of new journals is over the period 2008-2017.
Number of new journals
The number of new journals published is not widely covered in the literature, although announcements of new titles is common. However, a few publications examined quantities of new titles in a subject-specific way.
Lear (2012) discovered that 2000-2009 saw the creation of 683 new journals (English language, refereed titles) in education and psychology alone. Further examined was the rate at which new titles were indexed in databases such as ERIC and PsycINFO. Meanwhile, Day (2011) did a more historical study of economics journals and found that the number of titles increased from 26 to 70 between 1950 and 2000 (with the most new titles coming out in the 1960’s and 1970’s). It was also noted that the average number of issues per title increased by nearly one issue per title during the period studied. The average number of articles per issue also increased during the period. As to why new journals were created, the author notes that some targeted areas neglected by existing journals may explain some area-specific titles, but others seemed to not have been created for such purposes.
Cassella and Calvi (2012) point out options to traditional and open access journals:
- Overlay journals which do not host content but point to their articles on sites such as arXiv.
- Interjournals, which are designed to point to content in an interdisciplinary area that is published in select journals covering the areas of interest.
- “Different levels” journals, which have tiers based upon the approach/purpose of the article and the article, if published, gets assigned to the appropriate tier rather than totally separate journals and editorial boards existing for the different tiers.
Some trends result in new journals, such as medical journals dedicated to printing case reports, which ballooned from one title to at least 160 titles from 1995 to 2005. This involved 78 publishers, some of which might be considered to be predatory or have questionable practices (Akers, 2016).
Part of the equation in the number of new titles may be explained by countries not previously publishing many journals increasing their contributions to titles available. From 2005 to 2014, 15,631 new journals were introduced in India. An interesting aside, print titles outpaced online titles (Pandita, Koul and Singh, 2017).
Costs of journals
While the rate at which new journals are appearing is not commonly covered in the literature, price increases for serials are particularly well covered. Library Materials Price Index (LMPI) is regularly published by the American Library Association’s Association for Library Collections and Technical Services Division. Examining the 2017 LMPI (Library Materials Price Index Editorial Board 2017), some interesting details can be found about journal prices:
- From 2010-2017, periodicals overall saw a 150.1% price index (in other words, prices on average went up 50.1% from 2010 to 2017) and the average price of a periodical was $1,265.92 for 2017. This is far higher than the overall rate of inflation.
- 5,998 periodicals across multiple disciplines, sorted by LC class, to determine how much price increases are occurring for periodicals indicates additional details:
° Sciences were not the most affected by price increases during the 2010-2017 time period percentage-wise. The ten disciplines seeing the largest percentage increases in average price were:
- Food science
- Political science
- Social sciences
- Arts and architecture
° However, the ten subjects with highest average prices for 2017 were all science subjects:
- Math and computer science
- General science
So while non-science areas were the majority of those that saw extreme price increases percentage-wise, prices for journals in the sciences being higher translates to their price increases having a huge impact on libraries even if the percentage is lower than some other areas.
While the literature has an abundance of information on the impact of journal costs, library strategies for dealing with new titles and how to try to deal with price hemorrhaging as well is less prevalent.
How libraries deal with costs and new titles
How are libraries reacting to new journals — in other words, what are they choosing to do? Of course, there are two basic options for the subscription titles — subscribe or do not subscribe. But libraries do have the ability to make more strategic decisions or even bold statements about the hemorrhaging of new journals.
Research Libraries UK (RLUK), a group of 30 British research libraries, took a stand in 2011 against journal price increases, especially related to bundled deals. It also created a tool to determine if savings from unbundling deals could be seen (UK research libraries draw line on journal prices 2011).
Tony Stankus (2002) took a look at the new Nature titles at a time when Nature had begun pushing out new titles and found that, despite librarian resistance to new journals in general, that new Nature title subscriptions were being picked up by libraries and acceptance of these titles was seen and in some cases surpassed other discipline-based journals.
Since the Stankus article, Nature has produced even more new titles. The Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA, https://www.btaa.org) is a consortium of fourteen large universities that combine to have more than 600,000 students, over 49,000 full-time faculty, and over $10 billion in research expenditures (Big Ten Academic Alliance 2016). Thus, any statement or action by the BTAA could have heavy weight.
The BTAA decided to respond to the issue of journal hemorrhaging and a statement (Big Ten Academic Alliance 2017) indicating that BTAA libraries, as a consortium, would not be subscribing to new journals published in the Nature family. This was in response to the number of new titles Nature had planned as forthcoming at the time (the letter was sent to SpringerNature in 2016). While such statements can be bold, reality may set in when high enough demand or interlibrary loan costs may compel individual libraries in the BTAA to subscribe. Despite this stand, not much has changed. As will be detailed in a section dedicated to Nature later, new Nature titles have continued to be produced.
Another large group of libraries, the University of California Libraries, took a strong stand with their journal subscriptions. In particular, they indicate seven strategies they plan to initiate (UC Systemwide Library And Scholarly Information Advisory Committee 2018):
- We will prioritize making immediate open access publishing available to UC authors as part of our negotiated agreements.
- We will prioritize agreements that lower the cost of research access and dissemination, with sustainable, cost-based fees for OA publication. Payments for OA publication should reduce the cost of subscriptions at UC and elsewhere.
- We will prioritize agreements with publishers who are transparent about the amount of APC-funded content within their portfolios, and who share that information with customers as well as the public.
- We will prioritize agreements that enable UC to achieve expenditure reductions in our licenses when necessary, without financial penalty.
- We will prioritize agreements that make any remaining subscription content available under terms that fully reflect academic values and norms, including the broadest possible use rights.
- We will prioritize agreements that allow UC to share information about the open access provisions with all interested stakeholders, and we will not agree to non-disclosure requirements in our licenses.
- We will prioritize working proactively with publishers who help us achieve a full transition to open access in accordance with the principles and pathways articulated by our faculty and our libraries.
As stated previously, new titles are coming out and existing titles’ costs continue to grow. But there are efforts to make the cost of new or existing new journals more palatable to libraries.
Some efforts have been created in order to provide a lower-cost alternative for journal hosting, including HighWire Press, Project MUSE, and JSTOR’s Current Scholarship Program (Shapiro 2013).
Other efforts to combat journal prices and/or new titles being produced include:
- The Cost of Knowledge (2018) is an online petition asking researchers to sign a petition in protest of Elsevier’s (and only Elsevier’s) business practices.
- Making prices paid for access public and communicating more about the negotiation process (Howard 2010, 2011a)
- Unbundling “big deals” to focus on the most needed titles and negotiating for those (Howard 2011b).
- Researchers advocating boycotts of high-priced journals (Foster 2003).
- Editorial boards resigning in protest (Wexler 2015; Monastersky 2006).
- Researchers may disseminate their content on social media (Howard 2011c).
- Some people needing content will even turn to pirate sites to get content if their library does not have access (Geffert 2016).
Libraries clearly have strategies to deal with both the cost of journals and considerations of how to deal with new titles. But how bad is the situation specifically with new titles? We know new titles are coming out and we know the cost of titles are increasing in price. But exactly how many new titles come out each year and how much is that adding to the market on top of the existing titles’ costs?
New Titles & Cessations
Ulrichsweb was used to find the number of new titles published during the time period of examination. In order to focus in the results, the limits indicated in Table 1 were applied.
For new titles, Advanced Search was performed using the field Start Year for years 2008-2017, each done individually. For cessations, Advanced Search using the field End Year for years 2008-2017 were done individually.
Note that Ulrichsweb does not have a function to weed out journals by any sort of quality measure other than refereed status. So some of the titles found may be considering by some to be predatory journals. A spot check on some titles on Beall’s List found some titles present in Ulrichsweb and others not.
Data were then copied into Excel and analysis done.
Excel was used to analyze the new titles for each year. Figure 1 represents the number of new titles, cessations, and the net number of titles (new – cessations) was calculated. (See Figure 1, page 65.)
Some noted findings from the analysis:
- 2013 was the year in which the most new titles came out during the period studied.
- Half of the years, (2010-2014) had over 1,000 new titles per year.
- Cessations were not significant in any year, but were highest in 2014. However, 2016 was the year in which cessations most affected the net title changes, with cessations offsetting the number of new titles by 25.2%. The year 2013 was the least affected, with cessations only offsetting the number of new titles by 6.7%.
- The number of new titles increased each year from the previous year from 2008-2013 and lessened each year from the previous year from 2013-2017.
- During this entire period studied, there were 8,911 new titles started and 1,182 cessations, resulting in a net of 7,729 titles added to the market that fit the criteria.
This means that libraries were faced during this period with dealing with making decisions about whether or not to subscribe to these new titles or, in the case of the OA titles, include them in their search tools.
Does OA soften the blow?
Do open access (OA) titles soften the blow of the number of new titles coming out? Maybe just a little, but it varies from year to year. The number of OA titles introduced from among the titles gathered from each year were identified by Ulrichsweb’s labeling of titles as such (Figure 2). The number of new OA titles, as a percentage of total new titles (per the criteria established earlier) ranged from a low of 7.6% in 2017 to a high of 36.4% in 2015. The year with the most new titles, 2013, saw 25.2% of those titles being OA. So while OA does help with the affordability of new titles, the number of non-OA titles remains dominant for every year studied. (See Figure 2 on this page.)
Note that several factors were not explored and may thus be potential future elements of data-gathering for these new titles:
- The costs: They can also range from extremely expensive subscription journals to OA titles that are totally free to both users and authors. Perhaps the biggest unexplored area of data for these titles is the exact cost of the subscription journals. Given this examination covers thousands of titles over a ten-year span, the exact costs were not gathered due to time limitations and the complexities of finding historical journal pricing. However, cost estimations are explored in a later section.
- The quality of the journal: New journals can range from very high quality to predatory article mills with very few quality-control standards.
- Why these new journals came about:
° Were they splits from another title or another title in in a parent series?
° Was there community demand to create a new title?
° Is it a new field that didn’t have a journal covering it yet?
° Was it created to make money for the publisher?
° Some other purpose?
- Longevity: Not all new journals stick around. While the new titles are all active as of the time of data gathering, it is entirely possible some have ceased, will soon cease, or are in some state of limbo but not declared ceased.
- Open access today, subscription tomorrow: Some titles morph from OA to subscription-based journals. Sometimes the reverse occurs. This was not measured or tracked.
What publishers are most commonly producing new titles?
For each year, the publisher of new titles was tracked. As some publishers had name variations or multiple imprints, some consolidation was required. The top five publishers, as listed by Ulrichsweb, were identified for each year and the number of occurrences is shown in Figure 3. Note: Although Springer and Nature are now one company, for the purposes of this analysis, their data were kept separate. (See Figure 3, page 65.)
Springer stands out, with being in the top five every year studied. Elsevier was in the top five for six out of ten years. Taylor & Francis and Omics Publishing Group both had five years. Six publishers appeared once in the top five in the ten years studied.
What subjects are prone to new titles?
The subject areas for each year were also examined and Table 2 indicates those findings.
Four subject areas were in the top five subjects for every year studied. Biological Sciences and Agriculture appeared in nine years, with Government, Law, and Public Administration replacing it in a single year (2016). Looking more closely at the top five subject areas, their average rankings in terms of the number of new titles is indicated in Table 3 (subject areas not appearing every year are shaded).
Examining this info:
- Medicine and Health was consistently in the top spot every year.
- Business and Economics was usually nearer the end of the list of top five subjects.
- Government, Law, and Public Administration was in fifth place for the single year it made it into the top five.
- The other subjects were usually somewhere in the middle.
- Remember from the literature review that science subject areas dominated the highest average prices. Science subject areas also dominated the areas for most new titles. Therefore, the impact of cost is likely to be starker given how many of these are in the sciences.
Nature, a major journal that publishes on topics from multiple science disciplines, existed as a single journal for over a century. Eventually, Nature began publishing new titles (often beginning with Nature to connect the title to its parent journal). Given the previously mentioned BTAA reaction to new Nature titles, a separate examination of Nature titles and their start years from the nature.com site was done. Including forthcoming titles, but not partner journals or non-English titles, Figure 4 shows the number of new titles produced in the Nature family.
Specifically, Nature titles (in order of year premiered) are reflected in Table 4 and include forthcoming titles for 2019.
As indicated previously, Nature in particular was singled out by the BTAA for its level of producing new journals. Since BTAA informed publisher SpringerNature of its intent for its member libraries to not subscribe to new titles, eleven new Nature titles (shaded in Table 4) have premiered.
While the proliferation of the above-mentioned new titles alone are an issue for libraries to deal with, the ultimate issue for libraries would be cost.
Given this study involved historic titles and the difficulty of obtaining historical data for thousands of titles, average prices for U.S. periodicals from the 2017 Library Materials Price Index (Library Materials Price Index Editorial Board 2017) were chosen to use as a rough estimate for prices of new titles. The number of cessations and OA titles were deducted to get a net number of new subscription titles to estimate the cost to libraries of adding these new titles to the market with the assumption that cessations soften the blow (it would not necessarily be the case, of course, that all cessations are equally priced subscription titles). In order to get a potential range, values of the new titles at 25%, 50%, and 75% of the average U.S. price were used to give an idea of the impact of potentially cheaper rates for non-U.S. titles. See Table 5 for these calculations for 2012-2017.
Examining the figures, it can be seen that for 2012-2017, even at the “at 25%” figure, adding all of the net new subscription serials would mean a significant additional cost to a library budget. In a “worst case scenario” price-wise, the net new titles for 2013, using the full U.S. average price, means that the cost to each library picking up all new subscription titles could cost nearly $1 million. Even the lower-percentage scenarios are a huge figure.
The above do not take into account that serials continue — so each year of new titles is not in isolation. Titles for one year continue to the next, often at higher prices. If a library were to subscribe to all new titles above, even at the 25% price figures and no price increases would mean $866,810.82 in subscription costs for these six years’ worth of net new subscription titles in 2017. It seems likely that few libraries, if any, would be able to subscribe and keep pace with price increases on all of these titles.
As stated previously, combining the facts that many new titles are in the sciences and science subject areas tend to have the highest average prices indicates that higher estimation costs are probably closer to reality than the 25% level.
If these journals start and continue to exist, there must be some pick up in these titles by libraries. If library budgets are not expanding to keep up with new titles (on top of price increases), then how are they affording these when they do pick them up? A few possibilities:
- Other titles are canceled in order to afford new titles with more demand. This may especially be the case if interlibrary loan demand for new titles points to a subscription being needed when copyright charges rise too high.
- For large publishers that create bundles for libraries, these titles may roll into these bundles and get lost in the noise of the bundles’ price increases.
- Money may get moved from one area to another to support new titles. For example, from book funds to serial funds.
- Very low cost titles may get subscribed to if there is demand given they have a much smaller budgetary impact.
- Note that even open access titles have indirect costs to libraries — namely staff time and resources used to add such titles to the catalog, online journals lists, etc.
Consider all of the above information about new journals:
- Hundreds come out each year.
- More are subscription-based than open access
- Many are from publishers with an existing portfolio of hundreds (often more) of existing journals
Why, then, are new subscription-based journals being created if the following are true?
- Library budgets can’t keep up with existing titles, let alone new titles.
- There are already thousands of journals.
- Open access journals have become an established option.
Scenarios that might lead to new journal creation and a counter to these reasons can be viewed in Table 6 (see page 68).
Should a New Journal be Created?
Suppose a group of scholars has decided they believe a new journal is needed. Before creating a new journal, those considering its creation should question their motive and also other opportunities for content publishing. The following flow chart can be used to help consider whether or not a new journal is truly needed. Figure 5 represents a flow chart to help those pondering creating a new journal to make a decision about whether one really needs to be created.
In cases where the above flow chart leads to a new journal being needed (i.e., the options are exhausted for accommodating existing output), then those pushing for a new journal need to put together a plan of action for creating the new title, (again, only if a new journal absolutely needs to be created). Those researchers (probably the first editorial board) pushing for a new journal should consider the options shown in Table 7 (see page 69).
Journal prices are going up. More journals are being produced, with cessations and open access only slightly alleviating the problem. Libraries are thus faced with not only whether to maintain their existing portfolio of titles, but also whether to subscribe to new titles that emerge. Efforts to address this journal hemorrhaging, such as protesting new journals or price increases, communicating more openly about price negotiations, looking for alternative publication methods to commercial publishers, editorial board resignations, and library/researcher boycotts/petitions, are only partially addressing this issue. The number of new subscription titles on top of price increases for existing titles translates to less likelihood for even the best-budgeted libraries to manage to keep up with the hemorrhaging of new journals on top of the costs for existing titles.
Libraries and their consortia have strategies, such as those mentioned in the literature review, in tackling the cost of journals and dealing with new titles. But just like a hemorrhaging patient, more players and different strategies may be needed. To truly be successful, players such as the researchers that publish in these titles, the editors and reviewers that make the journals happen, and even the publishers that create these new journals must do more to be far more strategic and collaborative in dealing with balancing cost and demand.
On top of all of this, the true question perhaps should be: Does a new journal need to exist? As mentioned previously, there are often many reasons for creating a new journal. Some of these reasons are quite valid on the surface. However, the thought process involved in creating a subscription-based title often seems to ignore the fact that the market is currently over-saturated with titles libraries cannot afford. There are many sources out there for supporting open access so that a title can exist without author fees. So, if a new title is sorely needed, these options should be explored by those who often form editorial boards for the first few years rather than shopping it with a publisher who will add it to an already over-saturated market.
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Table 1: Limits Applied
Figure 1: New Tiles & Cessations Per Year
Figure 2: OA Titles as Percentage of all New Titles 2008-2017
Figure 3: # of Years in Top 5 Publishers of New Journals
Table 2: Top 5 Disciplines
Table 3: Average Position in Top 5
Figure 4: New Nature Titles per Time Period
Table 4: Nature Titles
Table 5: Potential Range for Library Subscriptions to New Titles
Figure 5: A Suggested Flow Chart for New Journal Creation
Table 6: Scenarios for Creating New Journals and Counter Arguments
Table 7: Alternatives for when a new journal is absolutely needed