LET'S MAKE A DEAL (MAYBE): The publishers' hall at the recent Association of College and Research Libraries conference, held in Seattle in mid-March, was a study in give-and-take: how much publishers such as Elsevier and Oxford University Press will give in this lousy economy, and how much budget-strapped librarians can take.
Libraries are some of the biggest customers for academic and commercial publishers. Salespeople from some bigger vendors — in the supersize category of Ebsco, Elsevier, and ProQuest — did not want to speak on the record, but did say they had heard sob stories from customers. "They're worried," a representative for one of the larger commercial publishers said. "People are hoping publishers are going to freeze our pricing next year."
Will they? That's not the sort of thing publishers shout from the rooftops. At the conference, a wait-and-see attitude prevailed.
A price increase of about 5 percent a year has been the industry standard, according to Mr. Price, but Oxford has not yet announced its fee structures for 2009-10. "We're waiting for pricing decisions to be made," he said. "The question is, Do you raise prices in a year like this?"
Now more than ever, publishers feel they must walk a fine line. "We want to make sure we're not undervaluing our product, but we don't want to be seen as harsh," Mr. Price explained. "We're trying to be mindful of tough times."
He has heard from colleagues in the business that some publishers are likely to hold prices flat in response to the economic downturn, or even lower their prices. Mr. Price expects this summer to be "a very telling time," because that's when the press processes a lot of its online subscriptions. For now, Oxford tries to deal with financially pinched customers case by case. "If somebody comes to me and says, 'This is my situation,' sure, we'll try to accommodate them," Mr. Price said.