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HOW much would you pay for an annual subscription to Small Ruminant Research, Queueing Systems or Headache? University librarians pay rather a lot. In Britain, 65% of the money spent on content in academic libraries goes on journals, up from a little more than half ten years ago. With budgets tight, librarians are trying to resist price increases. But Derk Haank, the chief executive of Springer, a big publisher, is firm: “We have to make a living as well.”
And what a living it is. Academic journals generally get their articles for nothing and may pay little to editors and peer reviewers. They sell to the very universities that provide that cheap labour. As other media falter, academic publishers have soared. Elsevier, the biggest publisher of journals with almost 2,000 titles, cruised through the recession. Last year it made £724m ($1.1 billion) on revenues of £2 billion—an operating-profit margin of 36%.