Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the Bullet
The Emergence of New Pricing Models

The founders of SPARC understood that publishing, however streamlined, cost money. The pledge of member subscriptions was a recognition of this reality. Most of the SPARC partners, particularly the traditional publishers, have maintained the typical subscription model for their new titles. A few community-based titles, however, are experimenting with alternative models. Three journals hosted by university mathematics departments are taking advantage of the ease of web-based publishing to offer their products online for free. Geometry & Topology and Algebraic & Geometric Topology are both hosted by the University of Warwick (U.K.). Documenta Mathematica is published at the University of Bielefeld in Germany. All 3 journals are run by faculty who are committed to "open-access e-journals [that] provide to authors and readers ... broad dissemination and rapid publication of research (SPARC, 2001)." All three produce a printed volume at the end of the year which is available at a minimal cost. According to the editors of Geometry & Topology, the most time-consuming part of the publishing process is the formatting of papers (Buckholtz, 2001). This work is being subsidized in part through the sale of the paper editions. This model may work while some libraries still feel compelled to purchase paper, but it is not clear what will happen when archiving and cultural issues are resolved.

Another model used by a SPARC partner is the charging of a fee to authors whose papers are accepted for publication. The New Journal of Physics (NJP), published by the Institute of Physics and the German Physical Society, is an electronic-only journal and available to the reader for free. A fee of $500 is charged to authors whose works are published. In order to encourage faculty to consider publishing in the NJP, a few libraries have offered to pay the fee for their faculty members. Approximately 60 papers have been published by the NJP in the last two years. As faculty have gotten less and less used to paying page charges, however, such fees may prove difficult to sustain.

Yet a third model is being explored by one of SPARC's newest partners, the Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR). JMLR is published by JMLR, Inc. in partnership with the MIT Press. Two electronic versions are offered: a free site maintained by JMLR, Inc., and a paid electronic edition available on the CatchWord Service. The paid version provides additional features including linking to abstracting and indexing services, archiving, and mirror sites around the world. Quarterly paid print editions are also available from MIT Press. It will be interesting to see whether the community will pay for enhanced features when a free edition is available and whether that choice may vary by "subscriber" type, i.e., a library or an individual.