Secret bundles of profit

John is a Science contributing correspondent.

What is your university paying for academic journal subscriptions? The answer can be surprisingly hard to find. Universities buy access to most of their subscription journals through large bundled packages, much like home cable subscriptions that include hundreds of TV stations. But whereas cable TV providers largely stick to advertised prices, universities negotiate with academic publishing companies behind closed doors, and those deals usually come with nondisclosure agreements that keep the bundled prices secret. After several years of digging, and even legal action, a team of economists has pried out some of those numbers, revealing the bundle prices charged by Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley. Some universities are paying nearly twice what universities of seemingly similar size and research output pay for access to the very same journals.

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