The consolidation of the publishing industry through mergers and acquisitions has caused quite a few concerns for libraries and universities. Economists who are studying this market have found that it does not act like the market for most common goods.
The academic journal market is very inelastic — there are no perfect substitutes for a scholarly journal. Each journal has its own unique content and emphasis. For example, an academic health sciences library needs to subscribe to both PEDIATRICS and JOURNAL of PEDIATRICS; it would be difficult, if not impossible, to rely on just one of these publications.
When a large publisher buys a smaller one, it can raise the cost of subscriptions and libraries still have to purchase the subscription. Historically, prices have increased after mergers and acquistions.
As a publisher increases the number of titles, the library begins to pay more and more to that publisher instead of several smaller ones. With the creation of “big deal”, discounted packages of all or a portion of the publisher’s journals, a library can be faced with spending all its funding on a few big packages and not having money to purchase journals from smaller publishers. Acquiring new titles to support facult and students becomes more and more difficult since funds are tied up by these big deals.
With consolidation and larger market shares held by a few publishers, it also becomes more difficult for a competitor to enter the market.
The library community through the Information Access Alliance has been working with antitrust lawyers and economists to study the dynamics of mergers on the marketplace. They have also been alerting the US Department of Justice to the potential impact of current and future mergers. Read their special report Publisher Mergers: A Consumer-Based Approach to Antitrust Analysis to find out more about the impact on the marketplace. There is also a document describing the most recent acquisition of Blackwell Publishing (a publisher of society journals) by Wiley.
If you are a member of a journal editorial board that is involved in a merger or acquisition, you may want to ask whether this is not only good for the journal, but also good for academic access to information.