Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Section Introduction: Pricing Electronic Access to Knowledge (The PEAK Experiment)
The PEAK experiment (Pricing Electronic Access to Knowledge) grew out of Elsevier Science's TULIP (The University Licensing Program) project, an early effort to understand the requirements for providing access to electronic journals. Between 1991 and 1995, nine university libraries participated in TULIP. Coinciding with the birth of the World Wide Web, the project caught the wave of building excitement for the Internet and Web applications. TULIP, however, had a limited focus. Its primary achievement lay in working through technical requirements to deliver digital facsimiles of print journals. Each participant institution created a local implementation and engaged users in the study, yet the project barely scratched the surface of issues associated with emerging user preferences and behavior. TULIP also fell short of original goals to address pricing models for electronic products.
As a successor to TULIP, PEAK picked up where TULIP left off in tackling economic and user issues. The project coalesced critical expertise at the University of Michigan: the expertise of librarians and technologists deeply engaged in early digital library development as well as research expertise from the School of Information's program in Information Economics, Management and Policy. The context in which PEAK took shape presented an extraordinary convergence of trends. Universities along with other large research organizations were grappling with early requirements of network infrastructure and core applications. The Web catalyzed significant interest, yet the rate of adoption and participation was uneven, often due to barriers within the institution. Libraries, comfortable with the successes of online catalogs and networked indices, were suddenly faced with new full text products but had relatively little relevant experience to help guide the associated publisher negotiations. PEAK unfolded concurrently with these critical developments of institutional, library, and publisher infrastructure for digital resources.
In her chapter, Karen Hunter captures the transformation underway in publishing in the mid-1990's. Early pricing proposals conjoined print and electronic pricing (e.g., print and electronic journal packages at 135% of print cost) and were conceived to sustain institutional spending levels during the transition from print to digital delivery. The industry's sales force was experiencing the teething stages of licensing, and publishers were pressured to re-conceive approaches to the library marketplace. New questions about functionality, license terms, and sustainability were added to the library's existing concerns about escalating costs.
The environment of technology development at the University of Michigan provided a rich context for PEAK. Yet, as Bonn et. al. describe in their chapter, the project presented a series of challenges as Elsevier's production processes evolved and as PEAK's research protocols shaped the necessary system design. In the end, PEAK delivered some 1200 journals to 12 institutions while also creating an experimental context in which distinct subscription models could be explored.
In retrospect, many of the lessons learned from PEAK seem obvious. PEAK shed light on the foundational requirements for institutional technology infrastructure. Pervasive network connectivity and robust authentication are now taken for granted. PEAK data also highlighted potentially useful attributes for electronic journal services. User behavior suggested a benefit of access to comprehensive collections, enabling use beyond known print title preferences. Obstacles to use, however small (e.g., the necessity of entering a user name and password), were found to have real impact. Not surprisingly, user-pay models were viewed as less than desirable by librarians and individual users alike. Analysis by PEAK's research team also suggested that the library's intermediary role between publisher and constituents may temper the direct market effects of user behavior.
Gazzale and MacKie-Mason detail the research design behind PEAK's journal price models. The novel concept of generalized subscriptions addressed the desire among libraries for ownership of collections, while unbundling the convention of journal volumes and issues. The generalized model offered the opportunity for pre-payment for articles (at a higher price than traditional subscriptions) and development of institution-specific, customized archives of journal content based on user selections. Some would argue that the capability to search a large body of journals and to extract desired articles for local ownership was a model ahead of its time in offering a flexible alternative to traditional subscriptions. Today, we see a growing number of customizable services for digital content.
PEAK's experimental design was groundbreaking in several respects. PEAK provided a context in which publisher price models could be controlled and manipulated for participant institutions. In its role, the University of Michigan took on the development, marketing, and management of a full-blown journal service for over 340,000 users. Elsevier Science provided content and also accepted the necessary distance from the research design to ensure the integrity of the experimental protocol. This type of collaboration and field research is a rarity.
PEAK was perhaps unique in exploring the interaction of publisher, institutional (library), and user interests. Since PEAK, few (if any) opportunities have emerged to take such a holistic approach.