Libraries and the faculty and institutions they serve are participants in the unusual business model that funds traditional scholarly publishing. Faculty produce and edit, typically without any direct financial advantage, the content that publishers then evaluate, assemble, publish and distribute. The colleges and universities that employ these faculty authors/editors then purchase, through their libraries, that packaged content back at exorbitant prices for use by those same faculty and their students. This unusual business model where the "necessary inputs" are provided free of cost to publishers who then in return sell that "input" back to the institutions that pay the salaries of the persons producing it has given rise to an unsustainable system begging for transformation.
The subscription prices charged to institutions has far outpaced the budgets of the institutions' libraries who are responsible for paying those bills. This problem became known as the "serials crisis." Another element has been the "big deal," which is when large commercial publishers sell their complete list of titles to libraries at less than what a la carte pricing for titles would be. Some postulate that the big deal has helped negate the effects of the serials crisis while others argue that it actually hurts more than it helps.
Over the years, librarians, publishers, scholars, and economists have debated the causes and status of as well as the solutions to the the unusual economic system funding journal publishing and the resulting serials crisis. Some of this debate and the data presented to support the positions of stakeholders in scholarly publishing are presented below.
A primary response to the serials crisis has been the development and grown of open access publishing.
Want to learn more about the need for Open Access publishing models? Watch Paywall, a movie about the business of scholarly publishing.