News snippet: Wiley overcharging for theology journals?

There are angry faces at a lot of small theological libraries across the world today.  American publisher Wiley bought a load of academic theological journals recently, and have jacked up the prices by as much as 100% or more.  Worse yet, they bundled the increase with a compulsory electronic subscription which — in stupid countries — is an item heavily taxed.  If the library only has electricity for a few hours, as third-world countries do, they can’t use it anyway.

I’ve today seen an angry letter written by a bunch of people to the VP of marketing.  The basic complaint is that Wiley have applied commercial pricing of the kind paid by huge US pharmaceuticals, that it will prevent the libraries taking the journals and probably destroy the journals as well.

The letter is a gem, which sheds a hideous light on the industry that battens off our tax dollars.  Why precisely do we need Wiley anyway?  What do they do, that we can’t do ourselves with printing at lulu and a bit of effort?

UPDATE (20/3): It looks as if Wiley have got the message.  More news when I have it.

UPDATE (19/3): I’ve asked for specific details, which should come out in a day or so.  “I do know that the International Bulletin of Missionary Research is one of the journals in question, and has gone from around £30 a year to something like £144…”

UPDATE: (19/3) Here’s the letter.

Subject:   Pricing of Wiley’s theological journals
From:   “Alan Linfield” <…>
Date:   Thu, March 19, 2009 12:06 pm

All of us have been suffering widespread consternation at the number of steep rises in journal subscriptions which have recently hit us.  This consternation is not just affecting us in ABTAPL; some of you who are members of the BETH discussion list will have seen postings on the subject there, and it was also evident at the Forum of Asian Theological Libraries convention in Singapore, showing that this is a grave issue affecting theological libraries across the world.

Those of us in Singapore representing the various associations present at the conference have therefore agreed and jointly signed a robustly-worded protest, which has just been been emailed to Ms Reed Elfenbein, who as VP for Marketing at Wiley’s global HQ in the USA is the highest placed marketing executive in the company.  This protest is reproduced below…

From: Alan Linfield
Date: 19 March 2009 11:47:56 GMT
To: relfenb…
Subject: Wiley’s theological journals

Dear Ms Elfenbein

This is being addressed to you by representatives of four associations which together represent a large number of libraries in the UK, continental Europe, India, SE Asia and Australasia specialising in theology. We have taken the opportunity to confer together and send this joint communication while we have all been attending a convention of the Forum of Asian Theological Libraries, which took place last week in Singapore.

Our specific reason for contacting you personally is to make it known at the highest possible level within your company our intense anger at the pricing of a number of major theological journals whose publication you have recently taken over. In many cases the new subscriptions our members are being charged has increased by over 100% – indeed in some cases by considerably more. We have to tell you as emphatically as we can that these price rises are completely unacceptable, and in very many cases will now put these key journals beyond the reach of many of our members, (who of course collectively constitute the natural and most obvious market for them).

Given Wiley’s historical association and track record with science and technology publishing, it appears to us that you have simply applied the same basic business model to theology journals as you have done with scientific journals, assuming that similar business dynamics will apply. This however shows a complete lack of research and an utter failure to appreciate the nature of the market for theological journals. In the majority of cases these are bought not by well-funded university libraries and the scientific research establishments bankrolled by big business that your company is more accustomed to dealing with, and which are well able to afford these kind of prices. Rather, they are typically bought by small, private theological seminary libraries, largely funded by small endowments and private donations, and whose total library budget is probably a good deal less than your annual salary; indeed many of them are in the majority 2/3 world, and their typical annual budget is probably a good deal less than your PA’s annual salary. These journals are, as you must be aware, highly important and strategic resources for our member libraries; by putting them out of reach of the great majority by these huge price increases you will risk not only losing a great many customers, but you will also be putting the future of the journals themselves in jeopardy, as there will now be a very real danger that you will end up with too few subscribers to make the journals viable.

It was also disappointing to note that you have also followed the tired old ploy of trying to give a semblance of justification for these price rises by bundling in an electronic subscription. An electronic subscription to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research is of little use to the small seminary library in Myanmar which only has an electricity supply at night; or to another in Indonesia which has only very unreliable dial-up internet access. You seem to assume that all the libraries which take theological journals are of the high-tech variety, whereas the opposite is more typical, demonstrating again your crass failure to research the market properly. Moreover, electronic subscriptions also attract sales taxes in many countries, thus driving the price up even more. It is particularly distressing that two of the journals which have suffered the highest rise in subscription price are those formerly published by the World Council of Churches, which historically has always had a bias to supporting the mission of the Christian church in majority-world contexts by making their journals affordable there, something which is now being completely undermined by your brutal business policies, which appear to us to be nothing more than rank profiteering.

We therefore call upon you as a matter of urgency to rethink your subscription rates for these theological journals, and in doing so also carry out proper market research in order to identify subscription levels your clients can realistically sustain;  We also call upon you to reinstate a print-only subscription option for the many (and often disadvantaged) libraries that for one reason or another are unable to make use of an electronic one, so that they do not have to pay for anything more than they actually need.

In order to demonstrate the worldwide depth of feeling which exists on this issue, we are also asking all the individual libraries of our associations that have been affected by these inordinate subscription increases to contact you as well, so that you can learn in more detail their exact circumstances and the effect your misguided policies are having on them. We are confident you will soon realise that we have not been exaggerating.

We shall also be distributing press releases, with copies of this communication, to appropriate publishing and librarianship journals.

Yours sincerely

Alan M Linfield
Chair, Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries

Rosemary Watts
Western Australian Chapter Chair of Australian and New Zealand Theological Library Association (ANZTLA)

Elizabeth Pulanco
Chair, Forum of Asian Theological Libraries (ForATL)

Odile Dupont
President, Biblioteques Theologiques Europeen (BETH)


6 thoughts on “News snippet: Wiley overcharging for theology journals?

  1. I would like to learn more about this situation, especially which journals Wiley acquired, but have not been able to locate any additional details via Google. If you could provide more information or links to other sources, I would be most appreciative.

  2. This is a problem that extends beyond Wiley! Our library has seen a drastic increase in subscription costs (especially when a large publisher takes over a journal). It is insane. I hope that theological libraries and scholars can work together to possibly change the situation. In a time when seminary budgets are shrinking, the publishers are inflating their costs. I can’t imagine how that is a good business model.

  3. I think Alan Linfield has the right idea; to confront the charging head-on at the highest level. I’ve enquired for some more details of which “key journals” we mean, and what sort of increases for them.

    I don’t myself use these journals often, since I can’t access them except at a major library. But I am deeply conscious that the whole business is almost entirely paid for out of my tax dollars, funding the scholars who write the material, edit the journals, review them, and the libraries that buy them.

    Once these things were a service. Producing them was expensive. There was no other way to share papers. But this is no longer true. Printing is very cheap. There is no valid reason why these things are unavailable to everyman, except the lack of a model to move forward, and no valid reason known to me to charge seven prices for them in the meantime.

  4. [Roger, in fairness, I’m not sure printing and distribution are not terribly cheap these days, and some manpower is required to collate subscriber lists, mailouts, collect payment, etc.] If they cannot find a way to fix this, someone needs to organize a significant boycott, so that individual journals of Wiley, etc. are all given the boot by 100+ institutions and individuals at the same time. One would imagine that might get their attention. These compoanies are banking on the demand not changing, that’s why journals are being bought and treated as commodities.

Leave a Reply