LINGUIST List 7.158

Thu Feb 1 1996

Sum: Journal Subscription Costs

Editor for this issue: Anthony M. Aristar <>


  1. Bertinetto Pier Marco, Sum: subscriptions' cost

Message 1: Sum: subscriptions' cost

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996 17:48:16 -0400
From: Bertinetto Pier Marco <>
Subject: Sum: subscriptions' cost
Not long ago I posted a message concerning the cost of the various journals
to which our institutions subscribe. I reproduce below the essential part
of my original message, with the comments I received. It might be that not
many people are interested in the problem, but it might also be the case
that this topic is worth a wider discussion.


The situation has lately become dramatic. Even rich institutions had to
make substantial cuts in recent years. 
Given the situation, I inspected the list of the linguistic journals, and I
made some interesting discoveries. Namely, that the cost of the various
journals varies considerably. Let me give you a few examples. Since the
prices in Lire would not mean much to you, let's reason in relative terms.
Let us take the price of "Glotta" as reference, assigning to it the value
1. With this in mind, it turns out that:

Behavioral and Brain Sciences = 4
Brain and Language = 10
Bulletin de la Societe de Ling. Paris = 3,5
Cahiers de Lexicologie = 1
Canadian Journal of Linguistics = 0,5
Cognition = 15
Computational Linguistics = 2
Diachronica = 2
Etudes Linguistique Appliquee = 1,5
Functions of Language = 1,5
General Linguistics = 1
Historiographia Linguistica = 4
Indogermanische Forschungen = 3
Int. J. Sociology of Language = 5
J. Child Language = 2
J. of Linguistics = 1,5
J. of Memory and Language = 5
J. of Neurolinguistics = 5
J. of Phonetics = 4
J. of Pragmatics = 9,5
J. of Psycholinguistic Research = 9
J. of Semantics = 2
J. of Acoustical Soc. America = 16,5
Langages = 1
Language & Cognitive Processes = 5
Language & Speech = 3,5
Langage Sciences = 4,5
Lingua = 12
Linguistic Analysis = 2,5
Linguistic Inquiry = 2
Linguistics = 8
Linguistics & Philosophy = 5,5
Mind & Language = 3

Let me stop here. I believe this is quite enough for my purpose. I am of
course aware that the price of a journal results from various factors,
among which at least the following: number of pages per year and type of
publication (involving more or less typographical complications). However,
I do not think this accounts for all the differences emrging from the
merely suggestive list that I gave above. I think we are all clever enough
to realize that some publishers are intrinsically more expensive than
others. Let me put it frankly: some publishers exploit the position of
dominance that they have acquired on the market (certainly because of the
generally good quality of their production) to tax the subscribers. 
Whether this is right or wrong, it would perhaps be a good subject for a
discussion among the international community. My opinion, if I may venture
to express it, is that things have definitely gone a bit too far. Many
institutions in the world simply cannot afford buying the most expensive
journals; and this situation is probably going to get even worse.
Shouldn't we try to do something about it? Shouldn't there be some form of
pressure from the international community to induce some publishers (we all
know which ones) to reduce the cost of their publications to a more decent
and bearable level?


Here follow the comments I got:


From: (Karen Ward)
Subject: Re: subscriptions' cost

In my field -- I'm a computer scientist -- we are seeing the beginnings of
a shift to electronic publication. For example, the Journal of Artificial
Intelligence Research (JAIR) is a refereed journal that is published only
online and is free. (If you have Web access, you can check it out at One of the largest
societies in my discipline, ACM, is currently investigating a move
to electronic publishing for its major publications.

It is my personal opinion believe that over the next few years we will see
the traditional hardcopy journal wither and die. Fewer and fewer individuals
and libraries can afford to carry the more expensive journals, so they drop
their subscriptions and rely on inter-library loan instead. As the
subscriber base erodes, the cost per subscriber goes up -- and more
subscribers opt out. Also, it is becoming more and more common to get
copies of particular papers electronically from the author or via online
repositories such as The Computation and Language E-print Archive
( This further diminishes the researcher's
dependence on the journals.

While organized pressure from the research community might make a small
difference in the short term, I believe that in the long term the
publishers of these journals have a lot more to worry about. Hardcopy
and the postal service cannot compete economically with "publishing on
demand," that is, a system in which individuals print local copies of
papers that they want to read when they want to read them.
Furthermore, the online journals can cut the turnaround time from
submission to publication from months to weeks. JAIR, for example, has
a policy of reviewing and returning submissions within seven weeks --
and accepted articles are published immediately after the final version
is received.

Instead of organizing a toothless protest, a better way to get the journal
publishers' attention might be to begin founding refereed online journals
in the Linguistics discipline.

Karen Ward (
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology

From: (Karen Ward)
Subject: Re: subscriptions' cost

I would like to clarify something. In calling it a "toothless"
protest, I didn't mean to sound disparaging of your efforts[...]. 
I *do* support what you are
trying to do. I just question whether the journal publishers can do
very much to lower their costs while sticking to traditional publication
methods. If an an organized expression of concern can help prompt
journal publishers to investigate alternative publication methods, of
course, then it may indeed lead to significantly lower costs.


Karen Ward (
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology


Martin Haspelmath (

I wanted to comment briefly on your recent LINGUIST posting regarding 
journal prices. My view is that we cannot do anything about it except 
unsubscribe to the journals where we feel the cost-usefulness relation is 
worst, and submit our best papers to the journals that have reasonable 
prices. I think the free market shouldn't reign everywhere, but it should 
in science publications. And I don't have the impression that there is a 
dangerous monopoly of a single publisher. 
You may be right that there should be some way of consumer
action--something like a consumer protection organization, as we have it
for ordinary consumer 
goods. But I feel that it's more the libraries' task to organize this. 
Particularly journals are rarely bought by individuals. What we as 
linguists can do is talk to the editors and try to persuade them to 
choose a reasonable publisher, in particular when edited volumes are 
under discussion. [...]
 I hope that electronic publishing will not be the norm too soon, 
because I like physical books very much. On the other hand, I am not too 
bothered by the prospect of having to unsubscribe to some journals 
(incidentally, XXXX YYYYY told me recently that he ordered his library 
to discontinue "Lingua" because of the price), because there will always 
be much more than I can possibly read, and I will always overlook some 
important publications.



NB: I took the liberty to conceal the identity of the person mentioned in
Martin's message, because I do not know whether he would like his name to
be mentioned)


Peter Daniels <>

Thank you for the list of journal prices. But you have omitted certain very
essential information!

a) What is the price of the one journal all linguists probably are familiar
with, Language ?

b) Did you compare the "individuals" or the "institutions" price?

c) By ignoring the size of a year's production of journal, you conceal the
actual cost. JASA publishes many more pages than most other journals, so its
"16.5" is not so unreasonable as it may seem; similarly for Lingua's "12"

d) You should add the publishers of the various journals, so we can see
whether those published by de Gruyter and Benjamins are really as much more
expensive than those from Cambridge as they seem to be.

Thank you!

 Peter Daniels <>


Peter Daniels poses a number of relevant questions. It would take me some
time to provide the answer (specially concerning point c), but if this is
of some interest to you, I could make the effort. Let me just say for the
moment that:

a) My library did not pass me the informations concerning "Language",
that it why it is missing.

b) I used library data, so it is the institutional price that I am
talking about. Now, it is true that some journals are offered to
individuals at lower prices; but does it really make a difference, when the
burden for the institutions becomes unbearable?

c) I am aware of that: another missing data is the average number of
pages per year. That again takes some time, but it can be done, if there is
some interest.

Let me briefly summarize the situation, as it appears to me at the present

1) One very clear position emerging from the messages I reported above
may be entitled: "Death and resurrection of scientific journals". Namely:
traditional journals will soon die and be replaced by electronic
publishing. That is what they deserve. 

2) Another position is that it would perhaps be useful to do something
to prevent the final death. What exactly, is not clear. One possibility is
to unsubscribe the most expensive journals. 

I agree that this is probably the best solution at the moment. However,
there might be an intermediate solution. Rather than individually or
institutionally unsubscribing a specific journal (like the one which has
been mentioned in two of the messages), why shouldn't we put forth a
monitoring of journal prices? LINGUIST could possibly do this, by
implementing a data base of journal prices, containing all the relevant
indications (pages, publisher). On the basis of this, there could be a
collective pressure on the "bad-behaved" publishers to reduce their prices,
unless they want to receive a massive notice of unsubscription by not just
a few individuals or institutions, but by a whole lot of them.


Finally, there was a message which proposed a related topic, itself worth a
public discussion:

Oesten Dahl ( wrote:

I do agree about journal pricing, but I don't think this is the only way we
are exploited by publishers.There is an increasing tendency for publishers
to make authors and editors of volumes responsible for preparing papers and
books for printing, that is, what is basically copy-editing, without paying
them for it. This means that we have to spend time paid for by our
universities to do a job which we are not really qualified for. In a way,
then, if I edit a volume, my university pays for it twice, first when I
spend my salaried time on it, second, when the university library has to pay
for the book. In addition, the price of the book will be so high that
individuals cannot afford it, and it is quite possible that the library
cannot either. So there will be maximally one copy at each university. This
doesn't strike me as a very rational way of distributing scientific
information, and the question is of course how long it will survive the
technological changes that are taking place now. 


Best regards to all from

 Pier Marco Bertinetto ///////
 Scuola Normale Superiore /////// dei Cavalieri 7 -------
 I-56126 PISA /////// 
 phone: +39/(0)50/509111 /////// 
 fax: +39/(0)50/563513 -------
 home phone: +39/(0)584/32215 /////// 


Although we don't know enough about the economics of publishing to
speak to the price of journals, it seems only fair to point out 
that certain commercial publishers do give something back to
the discipline in ways that may not be obvious. The publishers
that you see listed at the end of our Development Fund "thank-you"
letters, for example, have made an annual $500 contribution to 
help keep LINGUIST going. Now that Internet rules have changed,
we can call it an "fee" for announcing their books and journals;
but most signed on when the contribution legally had to be strictly
voluntary. And some--e.g., John Benjamins and Mouton--helped us
contact publishers' representatives and set up the system. Mouton
has since changed linguistics editors and ceased to support
LINGUIST, but Paul Peranteau of Benjamins continues to work behind
the scenes very generously to recruit publisher support for LINGUIST.

We just thought you ought to know...

-Anthony, Helen & Daniel
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