New Policy on Harvard Business Review Articles Sparks Debate

Much to the displeasure of librarians and professors, Harvard Business School Publishing is pursuing a new strategy to increase revenue from Harvard Business Review articles assigned as course readings. Claiming that many schools have been avoiding proper licensing payments, on Aug. 1, the publisher began blocking full EBSCO access to the 500 most popular Harvard Business Review articles.

HBR articles, typically summaries of academic work written to be accessible to businesspeople, are a staple of most business school curricula. These articles have been available through the digital journal aggregator EBSCO since 2000, but in 2009, HBSP began seeking additional fees from some university libraries. They argued that EBSCO licenses are for academic research purposes only and do not cover the distribution of articles as course materials.

The new access restriction means that all business schools now face a choice: purchase a “course use” license at prices reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education to range from less than $10,000 to $200,000, purchase articles for course use individually under existing “umbrella plans,” or stop distributing the online version of HBR’s articles in their courses.

This shift has frustrated many schools and librarians, now forced to pay a higher price for a privilege they have enjoyed for more than a decade. Andy Spackman, chair of the business reference and services section of the American Library Association, said that the HBR policy violates not only academic norms but also industry norms for digital aggregators such as EBSCO.

“Such use and activity is normal in the internet age,” he said. “It’s irksome if a publisher tries to impose a definition of what constitutes normal library use, and it’s an ironic peculiarity that HBR would provide libraries with digital access to their content and then insist that professors should not direct students toward these articles.”

The ALA sponsored a task force to evaluate HBSP’s actions, and issued a statement that “[HBSP's] profit driven practices diverge from the intent of scholarly communication and impinge on higher education and libraries’ core social mission to preserve and make accessible records of scholarship.”

Brian Kenny, a spokesperson for HBSP, maintains that the Aug. 1 restrictions do not represent a new policy, but rather a means of enforcing existing terms of use.

“The stipulation that a library is only purchasing access to HBR through EBSCO for private individual use (e.g., for research) dates to the beginning of our agreement with EBSCO in 2000 and has never changed,”  Kenny said in an email. “We have had numerous conversations over the past 13 years with business librarians who use EBSCO to ensure that they are aware of and understand the terms of use.” He also stated that libraries had been warned of the impending restrictions beginning on April 1.

Kenny emphasized HBR’s unique purpose and the resources that it requires. “Unlike other academic journals, HBR editors work closely with authors to help them craft their ideas in ways that make sense to practitioners,” he said. “The EBSCO policy is essential to protect this long standing practice and thereby sustain HBR’s mission,” he said.

Several HBS professors declined to comment, citing respect for the thought their colleagues at HBSP put into decisions regarding EBSCO access.

The new practice has sparked much online debate, including a back-and-forth between Joshua Gans, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Das Narayandas, professor of business administration at HBS and senior associate dean for Harvard Business Publishing, who criticized each other’s statements in a series of Financial Times editorials.

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