Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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The first and most directly competitive of SPARC's programs is the SPARC Alternatives. SPARC Alternatives are the titles that compete directly with high-priced STM journals. The first partnership in this category was that with the American Chemical Society (ACS) which agreed to introduce three new competitive titles over three years. Organic Letters, the first of these, began publication in July 1999. Organic Letters competes with Tetrahedron Letters, an $9036 title (the subscription price in 2001) published by Elsevier Science. ACS, one of the largest professional societies in the world and highly respected for its quality publications program, was able to attract three Nobel laureates and 21 members of the National Academy of Sciences to its new editorial board. Two hundred and fifty articles were posted on the Organic Letters website and more than 500 manuscripts were submitted in its first 100 days (Ochs, 2001).
A 2001 subscription to Organic Letters costs $2,438. The business plan calls for a fully competitive journal offering 65-70% of the content at 25% of the price. The effects of this new offering have already been felt. The average price increase for Tetrahedron Letters for several years had been about 15%. For 2000, just after Organic Letters was introduced, the price increase of Tetrahedron Letters was only 3%; in 2001 it was 2%. For 2000, the average price increase across all of the Elsevier Science titles was 7.5% and for 2001 it was 6.5%. If the price of Tetrahedron Letters had continued to increase at the rate of 15%, it would cost $12,070 in 2001. Subscribers have saved over $3,000 as a result of competition. Even if the title had increased at the more modest average rate of the Elsevier Science titles for 2000 (7.5%) and 2001 (6.5%), subscribers would be paying over $800 more for Tetrahedron Letters in 2001 than they are currently paying.
Even more importantly, the introduction of Organic Letters has had a significant impact on the number of pages and articles published by Tetrahedron Letters. During the second half of 1999, the number of articles in Tetrahedron Letters declined by 21% compared to the same period in 1998 and the number of pages declined by 12%. In the first half of 2000, the number of articles decreased 16% compared to the first half of 1999 while the number of pages actually increased 5%. The loss in articles has been compensated for by increasing the number of pages per article, in the second half of 1999 by 11% and the first half of 2000 by 24%. Organic Letters, in the meantime, surpassed its projected pages and articles and has clearly demonstrated that quality, low-cost alternatives can attract authors. The second ACS SPARC Alternative, Crystal Growth and Design, will be introduced in 2001.
Another high profile SPARC Alternative is Evolutionary Ecology Research (EER), a title founded by Michael Rosenzweig, a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. In the mid-1980's, Rosenzweig founded and edited Evolutionary Ecology with Chapman & Hall. The title was subsequently bought and sold, most recently in 1998 to Wolters Kluwer. During these years, the journal's price increased by an average of 19% a year. Fed up by the price increases and the refusal of the publishers to take their concerns seriously, the entire editorial board resigned. In January 1999, they launched their own independent journal published by a new corporation created by Rosenzweig. A subscription to EER was priced at $305, a fraction of the cost of the original title ($800).
As of the end of 2000, EER had published 16 issues while the original title published only 6. Authors had no qualms submitting their papers to this new journal edited by respected scholars in the field. In fact, 90% of the authors withdrew their papers from Evolutionary Ecology when the editorial board resigned. EER was quickly picked up by the major indexes, surmounting yet another hurdle that faces new publications. And, most significantly, EER broke even in its first year. SPARC played a significant role in generating publicity about and, more importantly, subscriptions to EER. EER is another example of how a new title can quickly become a true competitor.
SPARC has a number of other titles in the Alternatives program. These include PhysChemComm, an electronic-only physical chemistry letters journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry; Geometry & Topology, a title that is free of charge on the web with print archival versions available for a fee; the IEEE Sensors Journal, to be published by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2001; and Theory & Practice of Logic Programming, a journal founded by an entire editorial board who resigned from another title after unsuccessful negotiations with the publisher about library subscription prices. New titles added recently include Algebraic & Geometric Topology, a free online journal hosted at the University of Warwick Math Department, and the Journal of Machine Learning Research, a computer science publication offered in a free web version. A number of other partnerships are under negotiation.