The high cost of staying current

Reading peer-reviewed journals remains a primary means by which researchers stay on top of developments in their fields. A new survey confirms what journal subscribers already know: Annual costs for these periodicals are steep. Prices for scientific, medical, and scholarly journals published by nonprofit U.S. research societies have been rising from 5.6 to 11.3 percent annually for the past 17 years—double to triple each year’s inflation rate. Even so, the survey finds, that with the exception of 1999, these average price hikes for subscriptions fell below those for U.S. periodicals generally.

Of 258 research-society journals surveyed by Allen Press, a publisher in Lawrence, Kan., the average institutional price now runs about $260 per year. That typically buys seven issues. Of the 64 monthlies surveyed, annual subscription prices average about $400. Investing in a quarterly? The 98 included in the study charge an average of slightly more than $150 per year.

Among publications from scientific societies, the biggest bargains were in agriculture. Those journals now cost, on average, only $127 per year. By contrast, average annual costs for psychology journals run $455; those in math and earth, life, and general sciences go for $704 on average; journals in medicine cost roughly $900; and those covering chemistry and physics will set you back a whopping $1,765.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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