The Guardian features Courant study: Top U's pay too much

June 17, 2014

"Top universities are paying too much for scores of academic journals provided by major publishing companies," writes Ian Sample, science editor of The Guardian, in the June 16 article, "Universities 'get poor value' from academic journal-publishing firms." Sample is citing the work of Paul Courant and colleagues, "Evaluating big deal journal bundles," published June 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While journal publishers insist that academic libraries sign confidentiality clauses to keep the details of their contracts secret, Courant and fellow authors, including Theodore C. Bergstrom of the University of California-Santa Barbara, obtained contracts from dozens of institutions using Freedom of Information Act requests. Their economic analysis examines the extent of price discrimination practiced by commercial and nonprofit journal publishers.

"Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the economists reveal that some universities have saved fortunes by bargaining hard with commercial publishers," writes Sample. Additionally, Courant emphasizes that non-profit publishers "provide on average much better value for money, especially to big universities."

Ultimately, the work will help librarians who are interested in bargaining more effectively to stretch limited budgets, as well as scholars who are interested in ensuring that their research findings are broadly accessible.

Paul N. Courant is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Harold T. Shapiro Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, and professor of economics and information. He has held numerous leadership roles at the University of Michigan throughout his career, including university librarian, dean of libraries, provost, executive vice president for academic affairs, director of the Institute of Public Policy Studies (now the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy), and more.