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    6.7 Conclusion

    Experience from the early years of electronic commerce indicates that low user costs—nonpecuniary as well as pecuniary—are critical to the success of electronic distribution systems. In the PEAK experiment, we have evidence that for the information goods in question, these non-pecuniary costs are of the same magnitude as significant pecuniary costs. In a two-tiered decision problem such as in this project, where intermediaries determine the user costs required to access specific content, both the quantity and composition of demand is greatly affected by users' reactions to these costs. Therefore any determination of what the intermediary "ought" to do must take these effects into account. Furthermore, we have initial evidence that suggests that users who come to expect information at zero marginal cost are far less likely to pay these non-monetary costs when requested than their counterparts who expect these costs. This finding is of great import to both those who design electronic information delivery and pricing systems as well as any intermediaries controlling information access and costs.

    In the second part of the chapter we investigated the extent to which libraries could have improved their purchasing decisions if they had detailed usage information that provided a reliable basis for forecasting future usage. We found that with perfect foresight about next year's usage, libraries could have substantially reduced their expenditures. They could also have substantially improved the match between what titles they purchased and what articles users want to access.

    We then linked the two sets of analyses by showing how much greater usage would be if the library absorbed or removed the pecuniary and non-pecuniary user costs we observed. The result would be substantial increases in usage. The library expenditures would have to increase by comparable percentage amounts; however the institution should recognize that these costs would be offset by the lower user costs incurred by its constituents, and the net cost, if any, would support substantial increases in usage.