I had the opportunity the other day to take a look at the statistics for journal use from the library where I work. It’s the time of the year when they figure out which journals they need to subscribe to, as opposed to just paying per-document fees for individual papers.
That means that several factors go into the decision. The first is usage of the journal. If a lot of papers are downloaded from a given title, odds are that it’ll be cheaper to subscribe. Unless, of course, the subscription rate is completely exorbitant – but that’s certainly not unheard of in the academic publishing world, is it? So in those cases, you’d be better off paying per paper – unless the journal makes that so expensive that a subscription starts to look like a bargain. It’s a balancing act.
Several trends were apparent. The big-name big-impact journals are impossible to ignore, and if you’re a serious research site, they’re impossible not to subscribe to. You can’t have pretenses to keeping up with the latest results if you don’t have Nature, Science, Cell, and the like coming in. And you can’t ignore titles like the Journal of Biological Chemistry, either – sure, they publish eight zillion papers per year, but they get an awful lot of things that didn’t make it into those top-of-the-heap titles, and a lot of good stuff appears there.
In my particular field, the American Chemical Society journals come out pretty well. The subscriptions aren’t cheap, but they aren’t in the white-knuckle range of some of the more commercial publishers. And they get a lot of use – well, the main titles do, anyway. As for the other chemistry journals, Angewandte Chemie isn’t too cheap itself, but it’s also in the “unignorable” category. For a drug research shop, you can say the same thing about Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters. There’s a lot of junk in there, but there’s also a lot of intelligence about what your competitors are up to – or were up to a while ago, anyway.
Who comes out looking bad? Well, I don’t know about other research sites, but our figures didn’t look good for either the “Expert Opinion” publications or the Bentham journals (“Current Whatever Whatever”). The latter had an especially large disconnect between the number of paper requests and the corresponding cost of a full subscription, which fits with my own experience. And yours?