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    8.9 Era of Site Licensing and Package Arrangements

    The previous sections have dealt largely with the traditional journal system and pricing policies. We have tried to describe the journal system environment and what led to spiraling journal prices in this environment. Recently, however with the growth of electronic publishing, publishers and libraries have taken a new approach to their participation in the system through site licenses involving multiple journal packages over an extended period of time, say up to five years. This is a form of economic bundling. The multiple journal packages are sometimes negotiated directly between a library and a publisher, but more often libraries have formed or used existing library consortia to negotiate arrangements between groups of libraries and publishers, or libraries have made arrangements through aggregators. Such arrangements have proven to be beneficial in many ways to both libraries and publishers, not the least of which is that libraries can plan their budgets more accurately (often with lower prices) and publishers can build a steadier revenue flow (King and Xu, 2003).

    An example is given below concerning the many sources of journals used by libraries in electronic journal acquisition. In 1998, the medium-sized W.W. Hagerty Library (Drexel University) had gone through a phase in which many of its high-price core journals had been cancelled and its acquisition was down to about 1,700 titles averaging a price of $120 per title. The new Library Dean, Carol Montgomery and the university administrators decided to migrate to a nearly all-electronic journal collection. In fact, by 2002 the Library acquired only 370 print journals and 8,600 unique electronic journal titles (Montgomery and King, 2002; Montgomery, this volume). The Library made several different arrangements that are categorized as follows:

    • Individual subscriptions. Almost always purchased from a subscription agent (e.g., Wiley titles, specialty design arts titles).

    • Publishers' packages. May or may not be a part of a consortium or from the publisher directly (e.g., Science Direct, Kluwer titles).

    • Aggregator journals. From vendors that provide access to different publishers' journals. The aggregators do not drop content, only add (so far). The collections started as full-text content and added searching (e.g., JSTOR, MUSE).

    • Full-text database journals. Provide access to electronic journals from different publishers but do not make title or issue level access available (except ProQuest). Examples are WilsonSelect and Lexis/Nexis. Titles are added or removed regularly according to the database vendor's contracts with publishers. They often have an embargo on current issues of six months or more. There is considerable overlap among the journals in these collections, and between the full-text database journals and the other two types.

    This example demonstrates the complexity resulting from site licensing and the various kinds of arrangements that can be made.

    These arrangements meant that there was an overlap in electronic titles acquired (e.g., 13,500 total titles, but only 8,600 unique titles in 2002). As a result, many acquired electronic journals are not used and some of the cancelled high price journals have very high use (for other observations see Davis, 2002; Nicholas and Huntington, 2003; Sanville, 2000). The price per title varied among the four types of arrangements made: $432 per title for individual electronic subscriptions; $134 per title for publishers' packages; $60 per title for aggregator journals; and $6 per title for full text database journals. However, the migration to electronic journals has affected library costs in many more ways than the price paid for the journals (King et al., 2003; Montgomery and King, 2002). The library operational costs and staffing patterns have shifted. For example, the electronic journal collection has required higher costs for collection development for negotiation, training of staff and users, reference support, and equipment and systems. On the other hand, print input processing and space costs are down, as are reshelving, photocopying, and directional reference costs. On balance, overall operational costs are less for the electronic journal collection than for the print collection.

    A particularly revealing way to examine the effects of an electronic journal collection is to compare the cost per use of the alternative collection services; that is, access to the electronic, current periodicals and bound volume collections. Drexel obtained publisher and vendor online use statistics and maintained its own server use counts by journal title. Drexel also observed reshelving counts for the current periodicals and bound volume collections. However, there are well documented flaws with such methods, and thus measured electronic use is not fully comparable to measured print use. We also obtained estimates of the amount of actual reading from user surveys that, while flawed as well, at least provide a common measure of use for the three access services (King and Montgomery, 2002). The costs per reading (including price paid and operations) are: $2.00 per reading of the electronic collection; $3.90 per reading of current periodicals; and $23.50 per reading of bound volumes. One particularly important cost is to users who may save as much as 24 hours per year per person by having external access to library journals.

    The Drexel situation is unique in that they migrated to nearly all-electronic collection. Most libraries are not doing this, but rather depend on some duplication of print and electronic collections due to concern of the viability of long term archives. The problem with large duplication is that electronic collection use dominates (i.e., over 80% of library use in Pittsburgh and Drexel). Thus, the cost per use increases substantially for print collections. In fact, if Drexel had also continued its core print collection it probably would cost about $7.80 per reading versus $3.10 under the strategy chosen by Drexel. While there are journals in the large electronic collection that are infrequently read, the overall subscription and processing costs of the electronic collection is less than the cost had Drexel continued its core print collection and not acquired an electronic collection.

    Thus, the impact of site licensing and multiple journal arrangements appear to be highly advantageous to libraries and their users. However, the long-term advantages to publishers are not as clear. Ultimately, as with single subscriptions, publishers must recover the high cost of processing articles and any other related activities. Generally, decline in reproduction and distribution costs of print journals have been counter-balanced with extensive computer and systems costs so that large costs still must be recovered. The question then becomes whether the many, varied license arrangements can produce sufficient revenue over time to cover these costs. While long-term licenses help reduce revenue volatility, there is no guarantee that the license policies provide the solution to the library and publisher problems.