What we can do about journal pricing

For more about the background visit John Baez's site "What We Can Do About Science Journals"

August 10, 2006. The Editorial Board of Topology resigned effective 21 December 2006. The editors hope to have the support of the community in taking this step. Here is the letter.

October 13 2005. The Banff Protocol is online at http://members.cox.net/banffprotocol/. Please look at this web page and consider subscribing to the "Banff Protocol".

September 22 2005. Below is an email I recently sent to the journal "Topology."

Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2005 17:08:47 -0400 (EDT)
From: Walter Neumann 
To: Topology 
Subject: Re: Topology xxxx

Dear Beverly (and Topology Editors)

I just emailed you, Beverly, a referee's report on paper xxxx for
Topology. [Comments on the paper deleted]

If [that paper] is resubmitted to Topology, I am afraid that I will
not be able to referee it. I'd be glad if you could pass on this
email, which gives my reasons for this, to the editorial board of

At a recent Topology meeting in Banff the participants met for an
evening to discuss the issue of journal pricing. The feeling of many
participants was that the overpricing of journals and the bundling
policies instituted by many publishers are putting financial pressures
on our libraries that are severely compromising them. Over twelve
years ago, when I was involved in the purchasing decisions of the
library at Ohio State University, the rising price of journals was
already putting painful pressure from the books budget, although most
important journals were still subscribed. Five years later I was in
Melbourne, Australia, and subscription cuts due to price increases had
come to the point that Australian university libraries could no longer
assure that each important journal was available by interlibrary loan
within Australia. As publishers' sense of responsibility moves from
one of service to their customers to one of maximizing profits for
their stockholders, the free service that we provide by refereeing and
editing is no longer being returned to the academic community.

At the meeting at Banff a "Banff Protocol" was proposed whose signers
would agree not to submit papers nor provide service to journals whose
pricing was seen as excessive. One proposal for what "excessive" would
mean was a per page cost exceeding the average of the 25 mathematics
journals at the top of the ISI list by "impact factor" (approx 52
cents/page). Other measures were proposed that led to somewhat higher
figures, but ultimately the meeting did not come to an
agreement. Despite this failure of agreement, several of us at the
meeting agreed to abide by the spirit of the "Banff Protocol."

I am therefore resigning from the editorial board of one journal and
will refuse to referee papers for several. In particular, since the
price of Topology is above all the proposed measures discussed at the
time (and indeed, Elsevier was cited as one of the worst offenders
regarding predatory pricing), I will no longer submit papers to nor
referee papers for Topology until the pricing comes down to a
reasonable level.

Regards, Walter Neumann

Since several alternatives to the journal Topology exist, it is an easy journal to refuse to work for. I feel much more regretful to have to boycott other overpriced journals, such as Inventiones Math., the Crelle Journal, etc. They are published by presses that still retain some old fashioned values. Moreover, some overpriced journals do provide something for the money: prestige. But those of us for whom this prestige is no longer a necessity for job promotion, but just a matter of personal pride, should think hard about the damage done by feeding those that prey on us. (Sept. 22 2005).

A response from Nigel Hitchin.
Date: Mon, 3 Oct 2005 08:56:20 +0100
From: Nigel Hitchin 
To: Walter Neumann 
Subject: Topology

Dear Walter,

Thanks for your report on paper xxxx and your position statement
following the Banff protocol.

There are two issues there -- one is the journal price and the other
is bundling. If you want to debundle then Topology has an alternative
subscription method -- immediate electronic access and paper journals
at the end of the year, which brings its price down.

I wrote a letter about this which appeared in the AMS Notices a year

Dear Editor,

Gerard van der Geer's article on Compositio in the May issue of the
Notices shows a line of action which editors can take if they own the
name of a journal and are worried about the price.  In most cases,
however, the publishers own the title.

The editors of Topology, in discussion with the publishers, came up
with another route a few years ago. There is now an alternative
subscription which offers immediate electronic access to the journal
with paper copies at the end of the year for half the price of the
standard subscription (which incidentally gives a figure less than
Compositio's new price). Since the driver for much of the current
discussion on open access is the immediate availability of online
versions, this in principle offers what many consumers want.

What the future holds is anybody's guess, but we are nowadays used to
the fact that there is no single price for an airline ticket, or a
cellular phone contract. Everything depends on a balance of delivery
methods, forward planning and volume.  Maybe that is what we should
expect in scientific publishing.

Yours sincerely,

Nigel Hitchin

Editor -- Topology

Best regards,


As Nigel points out, journal price and bundling are two issues. The cost to most libraries is determined by the bundle cost, not individual journal cost. In particular, the admirable effort of the editors of Topology to obtain lower pricing for Topology seems ultimately futile. (Oct. 3, 2005)

The Banff Protocol is now online at http://members.cox.net/banffprotocol/.