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12.6 Measuring Success
When SPARC was being designed, the developers set out a number of measures by which its success could be determined. These included
SPARC-supported projects are financially viable and significantly less expensive;
SPARC-supported products are attracting quality authors and editors;
New players have entered the STM marketplace;
An environment where editorial boards have been emboldened to take action has been created; and
STM journal price increases have moderated significantly.
At this point, SPARC has been in existence for only three years. But there are already signs that it is having the desired impact. Evolutionary Ecology Research is financially viable and is offering quality content for under 40% of the alternative. Organic Letters is on track to meet its financial goals and has been able to attract high quality editors and editorial board members. In addition, it has quickly attracted authors away from its competitor, as has EER. Others report strong starts and encouraging prospects.
Through the Scientific Communities program, SPARC is supporting new players in the market—partnerships have included libraries, library consortia, and academic computing centers working with societies, university presses, independent journal boards, and individual faculty. These projects are in their very early development but give a clear indication of the long term possibilities for expanding not-for-profit publishing capacity.
SPARC has also been very successful to date in focusing attention on issues through its advocacy and public communications efforts. This in turn has created an environment where editorial boards and societies are beginning to question their publishers about pricing and other policies. Some of these negotiations are successful leading to the lowering of prices as happened recently in the case of American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The American Association of Physical Anthropologists was concerned over the many cancellations of its journal that had resulted from high prices. The Association and the Publications Committee informed the publisher of its title that they were considering options, including the possible launch of a competitive journal. After extensive negotiations, the publisher and the Association were able to come to terms, which resulted in a reduction in the subscription price of more than 30% (Albanese, 2000).
Other negotiations between editorial boards and commercial publishers have not been as successful. In the case of the Journal of Logic Programming, the entire editorial board resigned after 16 months of unsuccessful negotiations about the price of library subscriptions. They have founded a new journal, Theory and Practice of Logic Programming, which began publication in January 2001 (Birman, 2000).
The ultimate aim of SPARC is to make scientific research more accessible by lowering prices for STM journals across the board. In 2000, the overall average increase in STM journal subscriptions fell below 9% for the first time since 1993 (Albee and Dingley, 2000). Elsevier Science, the largest STM journals publisher in the world, announced in 1999 that it was ending the days of double-digit price increases and set increases for 2000 at 7.5% and 2001 at 6.5% (Elsevier Science, 2000). These changes are significant.
For most SPARC member libraries, the savings represented by this decline is far more than their investment in SPARC and the creation of a more competitive market environment.
While SPARC may not be the only cause of these changes, it does seem clear that by raising the profile of the issues and achieving some early `proof of concept' success, SPARC has emboldened librarians, scholars, and societies to take action. Competition can work.