Scientists find journals useful, both for their teaching and their research — so useful, in fact, that they are willing to pay for them. If electronic journals prove to be as useful, or more useful, their viability is assured.

Since the 1960s, trends concerning scientific scholarly journals have been identified by a series of studies we performed through King Research and the University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences. Our studies were based on surveys of 13,591 scientists (and more than 8,000 other professionals not discussed here), a set of scientific scholarly journals for which we tracked data from 1960 to 1995, and studies of the costs of publishing, library services, and other aspects of journal seeking and use. (King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Tenopir and King 1997; Griffiths and King 1993; and King et al. 1977-98)

We have organized our observations and statistical measures into the following six categories:

  1. Publishing: the cost and number of journals, articles, pages, and citations
  2. Authorship: the number of authors/authorships, cost of authorship, number of manuscript revisions, and revision time
  3. Readership: the number of articles read, distribution of reading among journals, cost of obtaining and reading articles, identification of readers, sources of articles read, photocopying, and usefulness and value of information
  4. Pricing: by type of publisher, and price sensitivities of personal and library subscriptions
  5. Library services: the number of readings by type of service, service attributes, importance of service, satisfaction ratings, and service costs; and interlibrary borrowing/document delivery (the number of articles obtained and provided, cost, and attributes of service)

Analysis of those data enables us to draw conclusions about the viability of scholarly scientific journals and trends in authorship, and the use, usefulness, and value of scientific scholarly journals that may influence electronic publishing.

We found abundant evidence that scholarly journals are not only widely read, but are extremely useful and important to scientists' work, whether it be teaching, research, administration, or other activities. Furthermore, the value of the information is clearly established, whether measured by what users are willing to pay for it (purchase value) or by the benefits derived from its use (use value). In addition, information attributes (e.g., relevance, quality, accuracy) and communication attributes (e.g., availability, accessibility, ease of use, or cost to use) contribute to the use, usefulness, and value of the information. Finally, information-seeking and use patterns vary dramatically among user groups, channels of dissemination, journals, and even articles within the same journal. Yet we found that usefulness and value of the information is high for all of those patterns. Therefore electronic journals need to recognize and replicate — and even enhance — the important attributes of paper journals if they are to serve their readers.

We also explored two factors that have led to the current high level of scholarly journal prices. First, most of those journals have relatively high fixed costs and a low number of subscribers. Thus, commercial and professional society publishers must charge significantly more than production and distribution costs in order to recover the fixed costs. Second, inflexible pricing strategies led to a 50 percent decline in personal subscriptions in the last twenty years. (Personal subscriptions are defined in the surveys as "those which are personally addressed to you at your home, office, or lab — including those obtained as a member of a professional society.") As a result, publishers lost billions of dollars in annual revenue, which they recovered by raising the price of subscriptions to libraries at a rate greatly exceeding inflation. They were able to do that because library subscriptions are much less sensitive to price changes (Tenopir and King 1997) than are personal subscriptions. Those pricing strategies have resulted in publishers losing circulation, scientists spending more time to obtain articles, libraries paying higher fees for fewer journals, and funding sources becoming disillusioned over their allocation of funds. That lose-lose-lose-lose pricing situation happened gradually and the parties do not seem to know how to reverse it. Finally, we predict the effect of reading patterns and pricing on publishing in the future. Two areas that need to be considered carefully are the pricing policies of publishers and the purchasing policies of both libraries and individuals.

Scientific Journals Are Worth Saving

Scholarly Journals Are Publishing More Research

Both the number of articles and the number of scientific scholarly journals per scientist have decreased from 1975 to 1995. At the same time, the size of journals has increased, in both the number of articles per journal and the length of individual articles, to the extent that there has been a marked increase in the number of pages published per scientist (King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Tenopir and King 1997).

"No matter where they are employed, scientists who read more tend to get achievement awards and other special honors"

The estimated number of journals published in the United States increased 62 percent, from 4,175 in 1975 to 6,771 in 1995, while the number of scientists more than doubled during that same period, from 2.64 million to 5.74 million in 1975 and 1995 respectively. Scientists in the United States published an estimated 312,200 articles in domestic and foreign journals in 1975 compared to 577,100 in 1995, representing a decrease of approximately 15 percent in the average number of articles published per scientist. Nevertheless, the average number of pages published per scientist increased almost 70 percent. The number of authorships per scientist has also increased because of an increase in the number of coauthors per article. For example, scientists in universities on average authored or coauthored about one article per scientist in 1977, but that number increased to 2.1 in 1995. University scientists seem to be increasing their dominance in authorship compared with authors employed elsewhere, since they authored 75 percent of all articles in 1995, up from 62 percent in 1975.

Scientists Are Reading Slightly More Articles

Recent surveys show that scientists continue to read scientific scholarly journals extensively. Scientists at the University of Tennessee read an average of 188 scholarly articles per year (1990-93); scientists in two companies in our study read an average of 106 scholarly articles annually (1994-98). While those results reflect statistical surveys from organizations that chose to participate in our survey, they match results from national surveys of scientists performed for the National Science Foundation in 1977 and 1984.

Table 1: Average Number of Scholarly Article Readings per Year
University Scientists150172188
Non-University Scientists9091997580106
Sources: King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Tenopir and King 1997; Griffiths and King 1993, and King et al. 1977-98.

Survey results for years other than 1977 and 1984 represent samples of scientists selected for communication studies in universities, companies, government agencies, and national laboratories as well as for studies of journal readership conducted for Science and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Thus readership in those years reflects the composition of scientists in organizations that volunteered to be in the study (e.g., a dominance of chemists in selected companies, medical researchers at the National Institutes of Health, and physicists in national labs) and potential journal readers (e.g., cancer researchers). Thus, the differences in reading in the two years may be an accurate predictor of what happens in other sciences, or may reflect differences in composition of the study participants rather than actual trends. However, the amount of article reading appears to be relatively constant by scientists outside of universities and may be increasing with university scientists. While university scientists tend to read more on average than other scientists, the total number of articles read must be far greater in industry and government than in universities because more scientists are employed there.

Among nine fields of science — physical sciences, mathematics and statistics, computer sciences, environmental sciences, engineering, life sciences, psychology, social sciences, and other fields — the average number of readings per article is estimated to be between 500 and 1,500. (We defined "reading" as going beyond the title and abstract to the text of the article. We count each time an article is read as a single reading.) On average, a scientific journal gets over 100,000 article readings, but the distribution is highly skewed. In other words, many scientific specialties have few scientists, and journals in such specialties therefore have relatively few readings. A small number of journals — Science is one — have large circulations with readings numbering in the millions.

Scholarly Journals Are a Critical Source of Information

In every survey we conducted, scientists were observed to read many more scholarly articles than any other type of document. Journals are read more than other types of publication because they cover a range of topics, editors attempt to maintain content quality, the information is relatively current, and the articles serve a variety of purposes. For example, scientists at the University of Tennessee, asked to indicate all the reasons they read scholarly journals, indicated that reading is done mostly for research purposes (75 percent of readings), current awareness and continuing education (58 percent), teaching (41 percent), and external communication (formal publication, 32 percent; formal presentations, 22 percent). Because 58 percent of scientists report that they read scientific journals to keep up with their fields and to continue their education, much of the reading takes place within six months of publication. Nevertheless, many of those articles are re-read later for scientific research or teaching purposes. For example, 37 percent of the scientists who read articles more than two years old were not reading them for the first time.

Those who read for research or teaching say that the information they obtain is useful: More than 30 percent say it is essential to their teaching, and nearly 40 percent say it is essential to their research. For example, one-third of the relevant readings by those university scientists are said to be essential to their teaching, and nearly 40 percent indicated that the readings are essential to their research. Scientists outside universities rated the importance of the information from scholarly journals high for every activity they performed. In fact, when compared with resources such as laboratory-instrument readouts, computer-based research, or advice from colleagues, library staff, and support staff, scientists rated the information from journals as most important or second-most important.

No matter where they are employed, scientists who read more tend to get achievement awards and other special honors. In universities, those whose teaching has been honored read about 26 percent more articles, while those honored for research read about 33 percent more articles. Outside academe, the amount of reading by achievers is even higher, 65 percent. In one company, twenty-five scientists who were considered particularly high achievers read 59 percent more articles than the other scientists and 52 percent more than non-honored cohorts from a similar specialty with equivalent degrees and years of experience. That does not necessarily suggest a cause and effect relationship between reading and achievement, but that important resource should not be denied those who hope to use it to succeed.

"Air has a low purchase value and a high use value, whereas gems have a high purchase value and a low use value"

One reason that scientists read to keep current is that the amount of recorded scientific knowledge is doubling approximately every fifteen to twenty years (Price 1963). Thus in 1998, all the knowledge recorded throughout history to the early 1980s has now doubled and will double again in the next fifteen to twenty years. The impact of that exponentially increasing amount of knowledge is that when scientists are graduated from college they have been exposed to only a fraction of the knowledge they will need in their careers. In fact, that knowledge base is only approximately one-sixth of the knowledge that they must later master. Thus, they must either continue to read or risk falling behind in their research and teaching.

Detailed Value Analysis of Scholarly Journals

We examined two aspects of the value of information in scholarly journals: the purchase value and the use value. The purchase value is what users are willing to pay for the information; the use value reflects benefits gained from the use of the information. The two values can vary considerably from product to product. For example, air has a low purchase value and a high use value, whereas gems have a high purchase value and a low use value. The purchase value of information provided by scientific scholarly journals has two components: the money exchanged for subscriptions and the time scientists expend in obtaining and reading the information. The use value can be measured in terms of how the information affects the performance of scientists (Machlup 1979).

In our most recent surveys we found that the average university scientist purchased 3.9 journal subscriptions a year, and the average scientist outside the university purchased 2.4 subscriptions a year. The average university scientist spent 182 hours a year reading articles; the average scientist outside the university spent 64 hours reading articles (and another 12 hours just obtaining those articles). Even if the average journal subscription is $100 a year, and the average scientist makes $50 an hour, the value of the time spent getting and reading journals is greater than the cost of the journals. Since a scientist's time is a scarce and valuable resource, his or her willingness to expend it on information found in articles in scholarly publications is an indicator of the value of the information to the scientist.

The average amount of time spent reading scholarly articles has remained relatively constant over the years as shown below. The times are estimated by multiplying the average time per reading, by the estimated annual number of readings. The time spent reading is validated from other methods of observing reading time (King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Griffiths and King 1993). We do not know why the 1984 survey estimates of average time per reading is higher than other years, since the questions were worded the same in all of the surveys.

Table 2: Average Time Spent Reading Scholarly Scientific Journals
University Scientists120 hours259 hours182 hours
Non-University Scientists70 hours86 hours101 hours70 hours68 hours64 hours
Sources: King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Tenopir and King 1997; Griffiths and King 1993; and King et al. 1977-98.

The use value is examined through several indicators, including perceived effects on scientists' activities and their productivity. Nearly all university readers (95 percent) indicated some favorable outcomes from some of their readings. They said two-thirds of the readings improved the quality of teaching, research, or other activity for which they read the article. They also indicated that reading helped them perform the activity better (33 percent of readings), faster (14 percent of readings), or saved them time or money (16 percent of readings).

Scientists in industry and government said approximately two-thirds of their readings improved the quality of the activity for which the article was read, with ratings of quality (ranked from 1 to 7) increasing from an average of 4.04 to 5.82 following the readings (Griffiths and King 1993). The readings also let them perform activities faster (32 percent of readings), reinforce hypotheses or confidence in work (42 percent), initiate ideas for research (26 percent), and broaden (23 percent) or narrow options (6 percent) concerning research. We derived five indicators of productivity: number of formal records of research (e.g., lab notes), number of consultations, number of presentations, number of written proposals or plans, and number of formal publications written. Each output measure was divided by the amount of time spent (e.g., doing research). We found that each of the five indicators correlated positively with the amount of reading; in fact, they were statistically significant in every case.

Another indicator of use value is the scientists' perception of savings achieved as a result of reading articles. Scientists told us that about 26 percent of the readings resulted in saving time or other resources, with the average saving estimated at approximately $300 per reading (including those cases in which there are no savings). (The average does not imply a typical saving, since some readings have no savings and only a few readings — 1 percent or 2 percent — account for nearly all the savings.) Savings are said to result from avoiding having to do some primary research; stopping an unproductive line of research; or modifying research, analysis, or engineering design.

Information-Seeking Patterns

Identifying Scholarly Articles to Read

Scholarly articles are identified for reading in five basic ways: browsing, automated searches, citations found in the literature, mentions by other people, and current-awareness tools. Browsing involves personal subscriptions, library copies (including routed journals mostly in non-university organizations), and shared office or unit copies. Recent surveys show that university scientists identify about 60 percent of their readings in that way; scientists elsewhere identify 63 percent of their readings in that manner. Other methods of identification are also similar in both types of organizations: automated searches conducted online or from CD-ROM (15 percent of total readings in universities, 11 percent elsewhere); citations found in other articles and books (7 percent in each); colleagues, authors, or other persons (10 percent universities and 12 percent elsewhere); and, finally, current-awareness tools such as Current Contents and printed indexes (10 percent universities and 7 percent elsewhere). The principal difference observed between university and other organizations is that many special libraries route journals; about 16 percent of their total readings are identified in that manner. That relatively time-consuming practice is likely to be dropped when journals can be read on line.

"There has been a steady increase in library-provided articles read by scientists"

In summary, the same proportions of scientists still browse to identify scholarly articles to read, but more are using online searches. In fact, the proportion of readings identified through online searches appears to be increasing, while use of the remaining means — except for browsing — has been decreasing. Thus, to the degree possible, electronic publishing should facilitate browsing and automated searching because those are the preferred means of getting information by growing numbers of scientists, and if electronic publication is to be useful, it has to meet the readers' needs.

Table 3: How Scientists Find Articles to Read
University ScientistsBrowsing58.5%54.1%59.7%
Online Searching0.7%1.1%14.6%
Other persons17.7%15.3%9.7%
Non-University ScientistsBrowsing49.6%67.4%72.8%57.1%63.6%
Online Searching0.2%2.7%2.1%7.0%11.1%
Other persons18.1%11.3%12.0%16.9%12.1%
Sources: King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Tenopir and King 1997; Griffiths and King 1993; and King et al. 1977-98.

Obtaining Scholarly Articles

Scientists obtain their articles primarily through personal subscriptions, nearby libraries, and other sources such as shared office collections, colleagues, and authors. Our most recent surveys indicate that university scientists rely on personal subscriptions for approximately 36 percent of readings, but personal subscriptions are used less frequently (24 percent of readings) by scientists outside universities. Scientists in universities obtain 54 percent of their readings from libraries, including reading in the university library or department library, having someone obtain photocopies of articles from the library, and ordering from interlibrary loan or a document delivery service. Approximately 11 percent of university readings come from other sources such as colleagues and authors.

Outside the university, scientists rely on libraries for more than half their readings: 63 percent of them from organization libraries, 23 percent of them from routed journals, 11 percent from interlibrary loans and document-delivery services, and 3 percent from academic, public, and government libraries. The more recent (1998) surveys of scientists working in industry and government show that nearly 10 percent of their readings are from electronic sources. Approximately the same amount of readings came from sources such as shared department or unit collections, colleagues, and authors.

Table 4: Percentage of Readings of Scholarly Scientific Journals by Source
University ScientistsPersonal Subscription60.0%53.0%35.5%
Library Subscription24.8%30.1%53.8%
Non-University ScientistsPersonal Subscription72.0%66.3%53.8%49.0%24.0%
Library Subscription10.4%20.5%32.1%37.3%55.5%
Online Searching0.1%9.8%
Sources: King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Tenopir and King 1997; Griffiths and King 1993; and King et al. 1977-1998.

Thus the sources of scholarly articles read by scientists have changed dramatically over the years. There has been a steady increase in library-provided articles read by scientists in all locales. From 1977 to 1993 the proportion of those readings rose from 24.8 percent to 53.8 percent in universities; from 10.4 percent in 1977 to 55.5 percent during the 1994 to 1998 period in industry and government. That increase in library provision was largely at the expense of reading from personal subscriptions and, to a lesser degree, reading from other sources. The next table shows the decline in personal subscriptions to journals. In particular, scientists working in industry, government agencies, and national laboratories have been subscribing to fewer scholarly journals in recent years (2.44 subscriptions per scientist) than in 1977 (6.20 subscriptions).

Table 5: Average Number of Personal Subscriptions to Scholarly Journals
University Scientists4.213.963.86
Non-University Scientists6.204.604.263.702.982.44
Sources: King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Tenopir and King 1997; Griffiths and King 1993; and King et al. 1977-98.

By pooling university-survey responses with the others for 1993-98, we were able to analyze reading from journals by personal subscriptions, libraries, electronic publications, and other sources. As shown in the first column of Table 6 below, all the scientists average approximately 112 readings per year. In the second column we see that a typical scientist or engineer reads at least one article from approximately eighteen journals, up from sixteen in earlier observations (Griffiths and King 1993). Most (10.7) of those journals are provided by libraries, including interlibrary borrowing and document delivery. Personal subscriptions account for 2.9 of the journals read. The scientists read from one or two electronic journals (either on line or CD-ROM), and approximately the same number of journals provided by colleagues, authors, and other sources.

Table 6: Average Journal Readings by Article Source: 1993-98
Source of ArticlesReadings per ScientistNumber of Journals Read per ScientistReadings per Journal per ScientistTotal Readings per Journal
Personal Subscriptions39.02.913.413.4
Electronic Journals10.51.57.0
All Sources112.017.86.3
Source: King et al. 1977-98.

Each scientist reads an average of 13.4 articles per personal-subscription journal each year (counting articles that are read more than once). Library-provided journals are read an average of 4.6 times per scientist, but collectively each journal is read an average of 49 times per year. (That figure increases to about 136 times a year when readings by students and others are included.) Each electronic journal is read about seven times per scientist per year. Other sources of journals include shared department or unit collections and copies obtained from others, such as authors and colleagues.

"In approximately 53% of the journals a scientist reads, he or she reads five or fewer articles a year"

The average readings from library-provided journals (4.6 readings) has fallen about one-half since earlier observations. We think that the decline reflects both an increase in readings identified by automated searches, which potentially broadens the range of journals read, and a reduction in library subscriptions, which has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of articles obtained from interlibrary loan and document delivery. Perhaps scientists use online searches to identify articles in journals that are otherwise scarcely read, and then they request them through interlibrary loan or document delivery. On the other hand, scientists may shy away from reading articles that their own libraries no longer subscribe to because of the cost of document delivery or the time of interlibrary loan, unless those articles are absolutely required. Such trends have appreciable implications concerning electronic journals.


We believe that there are several aspects of traditional scholarly publishing and use that must be considered in electronic publication of journals. First, there is a clear difference between universities and the rest of the world in terms of the extent to which journals are read by scientists and the purposes for which they are read (although a similarity exists in the ways articles are identified and, to a lesser degree, obtained). University libraries also differ in that they serve students and external users such as researchers from small high-tech companies. For those reasons, we have separated trends for universities and other sites.

Too, electronic publication may serve niche audiences differently than paper publication, especially for journals that have small readerships. The electronic versions may also serve libraries differently than paper versions. Similarly, journals that are infrequently and frequently read in libraries may be served in a different manner.

Another issue involves the very large, and rapidly increasing, number of articles obtained through photocopying, interlibrary loan, document delivery, preprints, and reprints.

Still another issue is that scholarly journals are read over a long period of time following publication very much like a nuclear decay curve, and older articles may not be available electronically.

Readership Patterns

Frequency of Readership

Examination of readership in recent years shows that most scientists don't read every article in every issue of a journal, even if they read some articles. Scientists were asked how many articles they read in the last year from the journal most recently read. The results are summarized below. These results show that in approximately 53 percent of the journals a scientist reads, he or she reads five or fewer articles a year, and in 80 percent of the journals, he or she reads ten or fewer articles. Only in about 1 percent of the journals does a scientist read fifty or more articles per year.

Table 7: Number of Articles Read per Journalby Scientists with Personal Subscriptions: 1995
Number of Articles Read per Journal1-56-1011-1516-2021-2526-5051-100over 100
Percentage of Scientists53.0%27.5%7.0%5.1%2.7%3.8%0.7%0.1%
Source: King et al. 1977-98.

Of course, scientists read only some articles more than once, and they are more likely to do so in frequently read journals: 65.5 percent of articles in frequently read journals are read more than once, versus 43.3 percent of the articles in infrequently read journals. However, university scientists report that the usefulness of the articles in infrequently read journals is greater. Average importance ratings (1 = not at all important to 7 = absolutely essential) of readings used for teaching are 5.11 for infrequently read journals and 4.64 for frequently read ones. Those read for research purposes have ratings of 5.23 and 4.88 respectively. Thus, articles in infrequently read journals tend to be more important. However, those two sets have approximately equal purchase value to university scientists since they spend approximately the same amount of time reading an article from an infrequently read journal as from a frequently read journal. That was observed in both the university and the non-university studies.

Table 8: Percentage of Articles Read, by Source: 1993-98
Readings by University ScientistsReadings by Non-University Scientists
Source of ArticlesTen or FewerMore Than TenTen or FewerMore Than Ten
Personal Subscription16.1%54.1%15.4%28.9%
Source: King et al. 1977-98. Note that proportions differ from Table 4 because some scientists did not respond to the question of how many times a journal was read.

Frequency of readings of journals by individuals is a critical measure, because the amount of reading and the price of the journals have contributed to the decision to subscribe to journals. With high subscription prices, the cost per reading of articles in infrequently read journals becomes prohibitive, yet some journals are relatively inexpensive, for example, those that are priced less than $500 and are read more than fifty times. For those journals, the cost per reading (at most $10) is less than the cost of most alternative sources of articles, since the typical cost of reading library-provided articles averages approximately $11.50 per reading (Tenopir and King 1997). If a scientist reads from seventeen journals on average, and 1 percent of all subscriptions have more than fifty articles that the scientist reads, then nearly one million subscriptions would have at least that level of reading. When the price and cost per reading climb too high, scientists most often use library-provided articles as an alternative to personal journal subscriptions. Thus, as demonstrated in Table 8, most scientists (71.0 percent of those in universities, and 66 percent of the others) rely on libraries to provide the journals in which they read 10 or fewer articles over a year.

Nevertheless, some personal subscriptions are infrequently read, and some frequently read journals are provided by libraries. That is partially because a cost break-even point is dependent on the price of journals, distance to the library, and the availability of journal routing. (Approximately 16 percent of non-university readings are in journals in which the scientist reads many articles, but to which he or she does not have a subscription.) For example, at an average distance to the library and a price of $100, the break-even point is fourteen readings. In other words, for fewer than fourteen readings it is less expensive to go to the library, while above that number it is less expensive to subscribe. The cost to scientists of subscribing includes both ordering and maintaining journals as well as the time to look up citations or to browse. The cost of using a library is based on reading approximately three articles per visit and includes the time to locate, obtain, and/or photocopy the article. At a journal price of $250, the break-even point is thirty-three readings; at $500 it is sixty-five readings; and at $1,000 it is 128 readings.

Browsing is by far the most prevalent means of identifying articles, but Table 9 shows that only 34 percent of the articles in infrequently read journals are identified by browsing by university scientists, compared to 54 percent of the articles in infrequently read journals identified by other scientists. That suggests that electronic journals should provide a strong browsing capability, regardless of the frequency with which journals are read. Online searching of indexes and abstracts also is important for identifying articles located in infrequently read journals.

Table 9: Percentage of Articles Read, by Means of Identification: 1993-98
Readings by University ScientistsReadings by Non-University Scientists
Means of Identifying ArticlesTen or FewerMore Than TenTen or FewerMore Than Ten
Online Searches18.8%3.3%2.7%9.8%
Other Persons12.5%6.7%15.8%9.8%
Source: King et al. 1977-98. Note that proportions differ slightly from Table 3 because some scientists did not respond to questions of how many times a journal was read.

Frequency of Reading of Library-Provided Articles

The distribution of reading of library-provided journals tends to be skewed, because many journals are infrequently read while some are extensively read. For example, Kingma (1995) collected data on the use of 787 journals in university libraries. We show his results in Table 10 (adjusted to readings). In about 30 percent of the journals, fewer than twenty-five articles were read during the year, but in 6.6 percent of the journals, more than five hundred articles were read. Like individuals, libraries have the alternative of obtaining article copies from interlibrary borrowing or document-delivery services if the cost per reading of journal subscriptions is too high. In fact, in comparing costs of subscribing and obtaining copies of articles elsewhere, the break-even point is about ten readings when a journal is priced at $100. The break-even point for a $250 journal is nineteen readings, thirty-four readings for a $500 journal, and sixty-four readings for a $1,000 journal. The cost per reading of heavily read journals — those in which more than five hundred articles are read a year — is very low. The costs of interlibrary borrowing and document delivery range from $6 to $27 (Tenopir and King 1997; Kingma 1995; and Jackson 1997) with costs partially dependent on the number of transactions due to economies of scale. If copies of electronic-journal articles can be made available at a much lower cost, the dynamics of journal purchasing for both individuals and libraries will change dramatically.

Table 10: Readings of Library Journals: 1995
Total Readings per JournalPercentage of JournalsCumulative Percentage
over 5006.6%100.0%
Source: Tenopir and King 1977.

The use of journal collections in libraries is fairly extensive. A full 97 percent of scientists at the University of Tennessee and The Johns Hopkins University indicate that they have used their university journal collection at some time, averaging fifty-seven uses per scientist per year. That use (which is not necessarily the same as the number of readings) is in line with the estimated number of readings from library-provided articles (101 per scientist per year, including external libraries). A smaller proportion of scientists outside universities indicate that they used their organization's library journal collection (56 percent during 1990-93 and 78 percent during 1994-98). The average number of uses is substantially less: eighteen and thirty-eight uses per year for the same range of years. While the overall use per scientist nearly doubled, the number of uses per user increased from less than thirty-two uses per user per year to forty-nine uses.

"Older articles are often read for research purposes; newer articles may be read for casual interest"

We asked journal readers to consider how much it would cost them to find the information they obtained from library-provided articles if there were no library. We asked if they knew about the information prior to reading about it in the article. Could that information — or equally useful information — have been obtained elsewhere? If so, where would they obtain the information (Griffiths and King 1993; and King et al. 1977-1998)? Then, considering the least-expensive alternative source, how much would it cost to obtain the information, including the time to identify, locate, and obtain the source, adding in costs such as telephone calls, transportation, and photocopying.

Approximately 50 percent of the readings involved articles that had information that was new to the reader. Of the readings in which the information was not new, the information could be obtained most frequently from a colleague. Other sources included a journal found at another library (35 percent of articles) and a consultant (7 percent of articles). The estimated cost of alternatives is found to be approximately three times the library's cost to purchase and maintain the journals plus the user's time required to obtain and use them. Thus, shared library collections achieve a substantial savings to users and their employers.

Reading Older Articles

Scientific scholarly journals are read for a long time after publication; the pattern is very much that of a nuclear-decay curve. Whether inside or outside the university, a majority of readings take place in the first year following publication; only 5 percent of the readings involve articles more than fifteen years old. In fact, the oldest critical incident of reading of the sampled scientists involved an article published in 1935.

The age of articles read has implications for electronic journals because most of the older articles are not available in electronic media. When journals become available electronically, they are rarely made available retrospectively (although some digital library initiatives are addressing that concern). The danger is that, in the future, older articles will be ignored because they are not available electronically. The question then becomes whether the older articles are important enough to worry about since they are very infrequently read. Only 15 percent of the articles read by university scientists and 11 percent of the articles read by other scientists are more than five years old.

Table 11: Percentage of Readings by Age of Article: 1993-98
Age of Articles Read (Years Since Publication)University ScientistsNon-University Scientists
over 154.6%5.2%
Sources: King et al. 1977-98.

When university faculty said they needed an article for research or teaching purposes, they were asked: "How important is the information contained in this article to achieving your research or teaching objectives?" They rated importance from 1 (not at all important) to 7 (absolutely essential). The average importance rating for research articles less than a year old is 4.78; for those articles over a year old the rating is 5.26. For teaching the averages are 4.76 and 5.00 respectively. The average time spent reading articles less than one year old is 43 minutes per article: it is 61 minutes for articles more than one year old and slightly more for those over five years of age. Outside the universities, the average times are 35 minutes for articles equal to or less than one year old, 49 minutes for those older than one year, and 53 minutes for those over five years old. Our conclusion is that older articles are often read for research purposes; newer articles may be read for casual interest.

In universities, age is clearly a factor in the purposes for which the articles are read. For example, about one-half of the articles under less than a year old are read for teaching purposes, but that proportion declines as the articles become older (30 percent for articles over a year old, and 20 percent more than five years old). The opposite is true for articles read for research purposes. Under one year, 66 percent of the articles are read for research purposes, compared with 74 percent of articles older than one year and 80 percent of those older than five years. That is consistent with the fact that a higher proportion of older articles are to prepare a formal publication such as an article or book. In other words, approximately 26 percent of new articles are said to be read for that purpose, compared with 42 percent of older articles. It seems clear that, although there are fewer readings of older materials, they are useful and valuable to readers and should continue to be made available in the electronic world.

Libraries become the primary source of articles as they become older and the proportion of readings from personal subscriptions decreases dramatically. Nearly 95 percent of readings of articles over five years old are obtained in or by libraries both inside and outside the universities. Some of the readings of older articles obtained from libraries involve articles originally obtained through personal subscriptions that were later discarded. For example, about one-third of older articles have been read at least once before. Some of the earlier articles were initially read to keep abreast of the literature or, perhaps, for teaching purposes, but later a research need for the information arose.

Table 12: Readings by Means of Identification and by Age of Articles: 1993-98
Age of Articles Read (Years Since Publication)
University ScientistsNon-University Scientists
SourceOne year or lessMore than one yearMore than five yearsOne year or lessMore than one yearMore than five years
Personal Subscription55.3%7.4%6.7%29.6%9.3%
Sources: King et al. 1977-98.

The proportion of articles identified by browsing declines substantially over time, as might be expected. Other means, such as automated searches and citations in other articles, become more prevalent as articles age. Thus, it is also important that traditional bibliographic databases and other comparable sources continue to be updated and made available to scientists and librarians in order to help identify older articles in the electronic era.

Table 13: Readings by Means of Identification and by Age of Articles: 1993-98
Age of Articles Read (Years Since Publication)
University ScientistsNon-University Scientists
Means of IdentificationOne year or lessMore than one yearMore than five yearsOne year or lessMore than one yearMore than five years
Online Searches5.3%14.8%20.0%6.2%17.0%15.8%
Other Persons5.3%18.5%21.1%8.8%17.0%15.8%
Sources: King et al. 1977-98.

Distribution and Use of Separate Copies of Scholarly Articles

We indicated earlier that scientists and their libraries rely heavily on interlibrary borrowing and document delivery to obtain copies of articles not available in their libraries. Scientists also obtain preprints and reprints of articles from authors and publishers. Finally, scientists extensively photocopy articles, particularly those obtained from libraries.

"Ultimately it may be less expensive to obtain copies from electronic sources, particularly if the time the scientists spend locating and reproducing the article is reduced"

The use of interlibrary borrowing and document-delivery services has grown dramatically over the years. Two studies by King Research, Inc. for the U.S. Copyright Office (1978, 1982) showed that there were about four million interlibrary loans (including document delivery) in 1977 and 7.5 million in 1983. It is expected that the number could currently be well over twenty-five million for scholarly scientific articles. A recent survey of 119 libraries by the Association of Research Libraries (Jackson 1997) averaged 12,200 items per library obtained from interlibrary borrowing and document delivery. The 1993 surveys of university scientists showed that nearly 90 percent of them had used library interlibrary loan services, and all scientists averaged 7.5 uses of the service per year. Surveys from 1990 to 1993 showed that about 30 percent of scientists outside the universities used interlibrary loan and/or document delivery services; they averaged 6.1 uses per scientist per year. Studies from 1994 to 1998 showed substantial increases to 64 percent of the scientists being users, with 14.3 uses per scientist per year. If scientists everywhere in the U.S. averaged five items per year, there would be over twenty-five million copies of articles obtained in one year or about four thousand copies per scholarly journal. That, of course, represents a small proportion of total readings (less than 5 percent). However, availability of copies of articles from electronic journals might increase that amount appreciably, particularly if the electronic-access costs are less than the costs of current interlibrary borrowing and document-delivery charges.

In 1977 almost seventy-one million articles were read as separates — articles sold separately from an issue or journal subscription.

Table 14: Separates Received by Scientists: 1977
Document TypeNumber Distributed (In Millions)
PreprintsFrom authors2.0
From colleagues0.1
ReprintsFrom authors26.0
From publishers0.6
From colleagues0.3
From libraries0.3
Photocopies given to usersBy ILL4.0
By scientists themselves25.0
By library staff7.5
By colleagues3.5
By author1.5

In 1985 it was estimated from a series of surveys (University Microfilm International 1984) that there were approximately ninety million copies of articles made by or provided to scientists, including photocopies made by libraries from their collections or by scientists themselves (15.5 million and 32.8 million, respectively). Copies also originated from document-delivery services (8.6 million), authors and colleagues (9.7 million), publishers (13.1 million), and other sources such as information analysis centers and clearinghouses (10.3 million). While we have less-definitive survey results concerning the sources of reading for separate copies of articles, there are some indicators that those sources continue to grow at a rate that exceeds the growth in the number of scientists and their reading. Electronic distribution of individual copies of articles could probably replace most of that activity at a reduced cost.

After 1985 we discontinued collecting data on reading from preprints and reprints. One particularly interesting aspect of the distribution of preprints involves Paul Ginsparg's highly successful system for distributing preprints electronically. Initially, the system — developed at Los Alamos National Labs — involved high-energy physics manuscripts, but it has expanded to other physics specialties and other fields of science. Preprints are commonly distributed in physics (Tenopir and King 1997; King and Roderer 1981): in 1981 scientists read some twenty thousand articles from American Institute of Physics journals that were reprints (2,000), preprints (4,500), or photocopies (13,500). At that time physical sciences authors, including chemists, distributed an average of fifty-one reprints per article and approximately 110 preprints per article. Other fields of science generally had fewer preprints but averaged sixty-nine reprints, with mathematics having the fewest (twenty-one) and life sciences the most (110).

Articles in journals held by libraries are photocopied extensively. In The Johns Hopkins University and University of Tennessee libraries, over three-fourths of the scientists say they have used library photocopy machines to copy journal articles, with the amount of use averaging seventeen uses per scientist per year. About 56 percent say they have asked library staff to photocopy an average of six times per scientist per year. Outside of the universities, approximately 62 percent of scientists say they have used the library for photocopying forty-four times per year (thirty times personally and fourteen times by library staff). In companies, at least 27 percent of all photocopies are made of articles in the scientist's own copy of the journal. Colleagues provide approximately 17 percent of all photocopies. Only 2 percent of photocopying involves interlibrary borrowing or document delivery copies. The remainder — 54 percent — is from journals to which the library subscribes. Photocopying is done in order to read articles more conveniently (e.g., while traveling), to permit annotation or highlighting, for retention in personal files for future reference, or to file with laboratory notes or other documentation. Only about one-fourth of those photocopies are loaned or passed on to others (Griffiths and King 1993).

Photocopying library journals costs the library approximately $1.55 per article in supplies and equipment. The cost climbs to $14.67 when users' time is included (Griffiths and King 1993). When library staff does the photocopying, the cost to the library is $2.13 per article as compared to $4.87 when the scientists' time is included. Thus, photocopying is not inexpensive. In fact, ultimately it may be less expensive to obtain copies from electronic sources, particularly if the time the scientists spend locating and reproducing the article is reduced.

Serving Small Companies

An appreciable number of scientists work in small high-technology research and development firms. A King Research study in the mid-1980s identified nearly 14,000 such firms with a median of eight employees and an average of approximately 100 employees (Liston et al. 1985). Because of their size, only 13 percent of those firms have information-support staff or librarians, and, because of economies of scale, they spend more than twice the amount per scientist for information that larger companies spend. Higher costs arise from having fewer scientists share in the cost of library collections and from the cost in additional time necessary to obtain information services from academic libraries and other sources. In order to avoid the high out-of-pocket costs of scholarly journals, many scientists in small firms travel to academic, public, and other libraries periodically to read the literature. That, of course, is very expensive in terms of labor costs even though the scientists batch their reading by designating long periods of time in the library to do their reading or to photocopy for later reading. It would seem that electronic journals could be particularly helpful to that community of perhaps 250,000 to 500,000 scientists. That is an area in which journal price differentiation could be particularly effective.

Pricing Strategies in the Electronic Era

Costs of Resources in the Scientific Scholarly Journal System

Libraries are experiencing an untenable situation because spiraling prices are causing them spend more for fewer journals. While that fact dominates discussions among publishers, librarians, and scientists, it is useful to examine how many resources (e.g., labor, equipment, space, supplies) are expended in the overall journal system involving authors, publishers, secondary services, libraries, and readers. The systems approach ignores cash exchanged and focuses instead on the total resources expended in the journal system, normalized by the number of scientists. That approach represents the true cost of the journal system to society or the scientific community.

The amount of resources used to write articles is increasing, although not appreciably. Total publishing resources have risen moderately, while library journal-processing resources have fallen because fewer journals are acquired. Resources used to obtain separate copies of articles have risen, however, so that the overall cost of resources, again ignoring exchange of cash, has fallen slightly. The amount of resources applied to secondary services is thought to have risen slightly, but that has not been confirmed, and the readers' time expended has increased appreciably because of the additional time that must be spent traveling to libraries to obtain articles. Thus, the overall system resources expended per scientist and per use has increased, although not appreciably. The biggest change is that the resource expenditures are shifting among the participants.

Another systems view takes into account money exchanged among participants and the effects of price-and-demand relationships. Pricing policies have led to publishers losing subscribers, higher subscription budgets for fewer journals in libraries, readers paying more in their time per reading, and library and reader funding sources receiving less for their expenditures.

Two Reasons Scholarly Journal Prices Are So High

Scholarly journal prices have risen significantly for two compelling reasons: Scholarly journals are characterized by (1) very high fixed costs and (2) a relatively low, and decreasing, number of subscriptions to cover those costs. That is significant because fewer subscriptions require higher prices to recover costs. In fact, the 1995 median number of journal subscribers is approximately 1,900 subscribers, down from 2,900 in 1975. Unfortunately, as unit costs per subscriber decrease with an increasing number of subscribers, the unit cost per subscription does not begin to level out (at about $100) until at least five thousand subscribers. Below that amount, typical costs range from $840 per subscription at five hundred subscribers to $440 at one thousand subscribers and $200 at 2,500 subscribers. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that subscription prices have increased at a rate far higher than inflation, causing a reduction in the number of subscribers, which, in turn, forces the publishers to charge higher subscription prices.

Publishing Costs of Scholarly Journals

We have derived a publishing-cost model for print journals (King and Tenopir 1998) consisting of cost parameters (e.g., number of pages, issues, and subscriptions) and cost variables (e.g., editing cost per page). The cost parameters for scientific scholarly journals (1960-1995) were observed from a sample of journals; cost variables were estimated for the years 1975 and 1995 from data in the literature. The cost model for paper journals consists of five components:

  1. first-copy article processing
  2. non-article processing (covers, tables of contents, editorials, letters, and book reviews)
  3. production (printing and binding)
  4. distribution (wrapping, mailing, or electronic), and support (administration, promotion, and finance)

The model is not described here other than to present typical total costs using average cost parameters and cost variables.

For most publishers of scientific scholarly journals, processing and support — fixed costs, in most cases — are the largest part of total publishing costs. Those fixed costs of a typical journal total about $400,000, while production and distribution costs average $40 per subscriber. A publisher with 500 subscribers must charge $840 per subscription in order to recover costs, but need charge only $80 per subscription to recover the costs of reaching ten thousand subscribers. In that way, the price approaches an asymptote at the production and distribution cost of $40 per subscription. That model helps explain why some journals must charge a high price, while others can charge much less.

Scientific journals tend to address disciplines that range in size from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of practitioners. That wide range of potential subscribers means a wide range of prices. Incorrect pricing can lead to extremely large losses, because the fixed costs are so large. For example, if a journal with the typical costs outlined above charges $200 a subscription, but has only one thousand subscribers, the publisher would lose $240,000 a year. In fact, in all of science the price and demand relationships are such that the downside risks tend to far outweigh the upside gains.

Price and Demand Sensitivities

Since 1960, journal prices have generally increased at a rate faster than inflation (King, McDonald, and Roderer 1981; Tenopir and King1997). However, the rate of increase was greatest from 1975 to 1995. The average subscription price of $39 in 1975 rose to $284 in 1995 — an increase factor of 7.3 (or 2.6 in constant dollars). The increase is in large part attributable to increase in journal size, number of issues published, and other cost parameters (Tenopir and King 1997). However, size increase and inflation account for only half of the price increases. While the cost of publishing resources such as paper, labor, and capitalization of equipment also explain some of the increases, they do not represent nearly the increase in costs that is often stated.

The accelerated price rises began in the late 1970s, triggered by inflation, fluctuating foreign exchange rates, and other factors. As a result, personal subscriptions began to decline because of their high sensitivity to price changes. In fact, they declined from 5.8 subscriptions per scientist in 1977 to approximately 2.9 in recent years. That, in turn, caused a precipitous decline in revenues. To cover costs and recover revenue, publishers increased subscription prices to libraries, where the demand is much less sensitive to price changes.

As personal subscriptions declined, readers shifted to libraries as the source for much of their reading. In universities in 1977, 25 percent of readings were from library-provided journals; that increased to 54 percent in 1993. Elsewhere, those proportions were 10 percent in 1977 and 56 percent during the period 1994-98. That transfer of the source of scholarly journal articles from personal subscriptions to libraries was accomplished at a sacrifice in readers' time, since they were now required to visit libraries more frequently. Because library prices increased at an accelerated rate, libraries began to cancel duplicate subscriptions and also rely much more heavily on interlibrary borrowing and document delivery to replace expensive and infrequently read journals. The 5.7 million scientists in 1995 who personally subscribed to an average of 2.9 fewer journals represented an annual loss of billions of dollars in revenue for publishers that was recovered by raising the price of library subscriptions.

To explain how price sensitivities occur with personal and library subscriptions (Tenopir and King 1997), we developed cost models of alternative ways of obtaining articles: (1) readers subscribing or using the library, and (2) libraries purchasing or relying on obtaining separate copies. For both readers and libraries, we established a break-even point of the amount of reading below which it is less expensive for a reader to use the library (or for a library to obtain separate copies) and above which it is less expensive to subscribe as either a reader or a library. Thus, over a range of prices we established break-even points for both personal subscriptions and library subscriptions. (We recognize, of course, that to both libraries and individuals, those figures are unrealistic because they do not take into account whose budget is being affected. However, for institutions that ultimately provide the funding for both, those are useful exercises.)

Using the distribution of reading by scientists and the reading of library journals, we established the number of journals affected by increasing prices. For example, at a personal subscription price of $50, it would be cost-effective, on average, for a scientist to subscribe to ten of the eighteen journals in which at least one article is read. At a personal subscription price of $150, it is still cost-effective for a scientist to subscribe to one journal. Thus, the amount of reading of individual journals by scientists is very important in determining the sensitivity of demand to price changes.

For the library, however, the total amount of reading of library journals is much higher and, as a result, demand is much less sensitive to price changes. When applying break-even points in a library setting, it is cost-effective to pay a subscription price of $100 to purchase 87 percent of the library-provided journals read by users. Even at a subscription price of $250, it is cost- effective to purchase 76 percent of the journals, while at a subscription cost of $1,000, nearly half of the journals should be purchased.

If personal and library subscription bases are 2,500 subscribers at $150, a price increase to $250 would decrease the number of personal subscriptions to 719 (a loss of 1,781 subscribers), but library subscriptions would only drop to 2,284 (a loss of 216 subscriptions). That is the reason that the price increases over the years that have severely affected personal subscriptions have not crippled publishers who have been able to increase subscription prices to libraries at a greater rate than inflation without seeing a dramatic decline in the library market.

Costs of Electronic Journals

Electronic journals today still comprise a relatively small percentage of scholarly journal publications, but change is coming quickly, as demonstrated by the self-proclaimed, authoritative source of scholarly electronic journals being developed by CIC, a consortium of university libraries for the Big Ten and the University of Chicago. Two types of electronic journals are replicates of paper journals. Some publishers duplicate the journals in parallel, offering both electronic and paper copies; other electronic journals offer no paper counterpart, but nevertheless replicate the features of print journals. A third type of electronic journal includes enhanced features that add value to traditional journals, and may be an electronic counterpart to a paper journal, or an electronic-only journal. A variety of secondary sources are available to assist the user in identifying those journals including the University of Houston index [formerly] supplemented by Charles W. Bailey's Scholarly Electronic Bibliography. The University of California at San Diego also hosts a broader list of electronic journals, NewJour.

Electronic-only journals typically save reproduction and distribution costs of $40 per subscription as well as some costs associated with paper issues such as color processing, cover stock, etc. However, those savings are partially offset by the costs of electronic storage, software, and typically higher labor costs. Holmes (1997) shows that electronic-only publishing saves only $7.14 per subscriber — not enough to make an appreciable dent in subscription costs.

The reason for the similarity in cost structure is that most publishing activities are common to both paper and electronic publishing. Publishing-overhead costs are common to both media, as are the costs for support activities such as editorial work, sales, etc. The major difference between the two media is in production costs — the costs of paper production are replaced by the costs of electronic storage for online access and disk production for CD-ROM. Paper distribution is also replaced by online or CD-ROM distribution; thus electronic production and distribution costs are much lower than paper costs. However, those costs represent a relatively small percentage of total costs for low-circulation journals such as those serving low-population disciplines.

Parallel paper and electronic publications typically cost more than paper alone because systems-related costs are added to the traditional paper publication costs. However, we reiterate that those additional costs are not appreciable. The literature gives numerous examples of the low cost of article processing for electronic journals, including the CIC in its annual report. Nevertheless, it is not clear that all costs are included in those figures, including the costs of preparing intellectual content, computer and telecommunications infrastructure costs, and storage costs. Furthermore, most of the costs are for small journals. We have reexamined both the 1970s and 1980s data and discovered that the unit cost of small journals is less than that of larger journals, contrary to the notion of economies of scale. Evidence suggests that the fixed costs per article tend to be relatively low for small journals, rise significantly for medium-sized journals, and fall again for the largest journals.

The wide range of value-added processes that may be offered with exclusively electronic journals will improve communication, but raise the cost significantly. For example, publishers will be able to provide a database of archival journals, single journals, individual articles, or selected sections of articles. Various levels of information can be made available for reader examination, including titles, abstracts, reviews of the article, accompanying data, and appendices. Sets of articles on specific topics can be sent automatically to users, based on a profile of reader interests. Quality of older articles can be rated by citation counts of authors (before or after publication), ratings offered by readers, or ratings garnered from a panel of invited referees. Multimedia (e.g., sound, motion, and extended graphics) and interactivity among users (e.g., between readers and data, among readers, and between readers and authors) are features that can be added to electronic journals. Pricing strategies will need to be established for each feature, since such changes will affect costs, information and service attributes, and use.

The cost savings to buyers of exclusively electronic journals that have approximately 500 circulation is certainly less than 5 percent. Journals of 10,000 circulation could save approximately 50 percent if the savings were passed on to subscribers. It is useful to examine those costs in terms of buyer type (individual readers or libraries) and the extent to which the journals are read.

Choices between paper and electronic journals depend to some degree on price (circulation) and frequency of reading. Assume that a journal with a circulation of five thousand is priced at $120, and it costs readers approximately $11 to process and store the journal. The cost per reading then varies by the number of readings.

Table 15: Individual Costs for $120 Journal With 5,000 Subscribers
Number of Articles Read102550
Cost per Reading$13.10$5.20$2.60

Some journals priced that low are frequently subscribed to by individuals. It makes sense to provide such a journal by subscription to the frequent readers and provide electronic copies of articles for the infrequently read articles (ordered by the readers or their library, if the article is not easily located).

Assuming that a library purchases the $120 journal (five thousand circulation) and incurs processing costs of $68 and per use cost of $1.34 (Tenopir and King 1997; Griffiths and King 1993), the cost per reading would be:

Table 16: Library Costs for $120 Journal with 5,000 Subscribers
Number of Articles Read25100250
Cost per Reading$8.90$3.20$2.10

At that low price, it may be hard for electronic journals to compete on a cost-per-reading basis for frequently read paper journals in libraries.

Those low costs are what must be considered in comparing electronic and paper access to traditional journals. It well may be that large-circulation journals will continue to have a paper-publication niche that serves scientists who thoroughly read the journal, even considering favorable attributes of electronic publishing.

A 500-circulation journal might be priced at about $840. With the same $11 cost for processing and storage, it would cost a reader the following to subscribe:

Table 17: Individual Costs for $840 Journal With 500 Subscribers
Number of Articles Read102550
Cost per Reading$85.10$34.00$17.00

In that case it might be less expensive to use electronic access considering the likely number of readings. With library subscriptions, the comparable costs are:

Table 18: Library Costs for $840 Journal With 500 Subscribers
Number of Articles Read25100250
Cost per Reading$37.70$10.40$5.00

Depending on electronic-access costs, it may be less expensive for most libraries to obtain electronic access. Thus, there is little economic incentive to publish small-circulation journals in paper whenever electronic access costs are low enough.

Success in the future will also depend in part on inexpensive access to separate copies of articles and the ability to easily identify and locate needed articles by — at least initially — the use of traditional bibliographic databases.


Abundant evidence shows that scholarly journals are well-read and that they are extremely useful and important to scientists' work, whether it be teaching, research, administration or other activities. Furthermore, the value of the information provided is clearly established, whether measured by what users are willing to pay for it (i.e., purchase value) or by the benefits derived from its use (i.e., use value). In addition, information attributes (e.g., relevance, quality, accuracy) and communication attributes (e.g., availability, accessibility, ease of use, cost of use) both contribute to their use, usefulness, and value. Finally, information-seeking and use patterns vary dramatically among journals, articles within a journal, user groups, and channels of dissemination. Yet we find that usefulness and value of the information is high for all the diverse patterns leading to use. Therefore, it is imperative that transformation of journal information from traditional paper to electronic dissemination maintain or enhance information and communication attributes and continue to serve all of the diverse information-seeking and use patterns that lead to the usefulness and value of the information.

On the other hand, while overall system costs of resources have remained relatively constant over the years, journal pricing and other factors have led to libraries paying more for less, publishers' circulation decreasing, readers paying much more in their time getting needed information, and the libraries' and readers' funding sources becoming disillusioned concerning their allocation of funds. In other words, a lose-lose-lose-lose situation has been created over the years, and the affected participants do not seem to know what to do about it. Two areas that need to be carefully considered are the pricing policies of publishers and the purchasing policies of libraries and individuals.

Site licenses appear to make sense for universities and other large organizations, particularly if the licensees are given flexibility to distribute articles in an optimum manner in their organization. The wide range of sizes of research organizations outside of universities (characterized by thousands of small, high-tech companies) suggests price differentiation [formerly] based on organization size or readership. The Copyright Clearance Center has set a precedent with royalty payments based on the size of the organization. Likewise, price differentiation can also apply to individual subscribers. Price differentiation will be necessary for the value-added customization potentially possible with electronic journals (Varian 1996 and King 1998).

One important role of libraries is to ensure that the best information possible is provided to their user communities at a minimum cost to users and their organizations. That rarely means one single approach to dissemination, because the wide variety of information-seeking and use patterns requires a range of dissemination mechanisms. Paper may be best for individuals who read a journal extensively and are not near a shared collection, for library and unit collections of current periodicals available to those who are located nearby, and for centralized older collections that are not available electronically. Electronic access may be best for low-circulation journals, journals that are infrequently read by individuals, journals that are collectively infrequently read in an organization, and older articles from journals that are discarded because they are available electronically. Such an approach is based on minimizing the cost of each situation.

Ideally, site licenses for special libraries (libraries in businesses or government agencies) would be based on a fixed amount that makes all journals provided by a publisher available to the organization served by the library. The special library would then pay a nominal amount for paper distribution or electronic access in a manner that minimizes costs to the library and its users. Paper distribution could be made to current periodical rooms, department collections, and individuals when there is a sufficient amount of reading to make it less expensive than electronic access. Note that the trade-off cost per reading involves only the reproduction and distribution costs of paper journals (i.e., approximately $40) since recovery of the fixed costs is made by the agreed-upon fixed amount mentioned above. Electronic access would be made available for infrequently read materials and older articles, since binding and shelving should no longer be necessary.

Advantages of that approach include minimizing organization costs for each type of use by replacing journal ordering, interlibrary borrowing/document delivery, binding and storing future journals, and duplicate storage at various sites. It also has the advantage of reducing internal electronic-communication congestion, and avoiding excessive reading from the CRT screen. The disadvantages include the difficulty of establishing an equitable, fixed, availability fee and accepting some library budgeting uncertainty (although document delivery already has that element of uncertainty).

Unfortunately, university libraries are sufficiently different from business and research libraries that such a plan may be unacceptable on campus. University libraries' broader user base (faculty, staff, students, and external users) has a wider range of information needs and more fields of interest. A university has to negotiate arrangements with so many different publishers, for so many levels of use, that the contracts themselves could fill libraries. One solution is the growing number of library consortia. Those consortia negotiate availability fees on a much larger base, making it easier to accommodate the use levels for the different groups within each university.

Differential pricing policies based on the unique characteristics of each environment are likely to remain necessary and desirable for electronic scholarly journals. Scholarly journals are likely to be available for quite some time in a variety of formats: exclusively print, exclusively electronic, and a combination of electronic and print. >From both a cost and use stand point, that mixture makes sense.


This study was funded in part by a Special Libraries Association Steven I. Goldspiel Research Grant.

This article is an expanded version of a paper presented at the Socioeconomic Dimensions of Electronic Publishing Workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation and IEEE Foundation in Santa Barbara, California, 23-25 April 1998.

Contributions by Barbara J. Sims are also appreciated.

Carol Tenopir is a Professor at the School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She teaches courses in information storage and retrieval and the information industry. With Donald W. King, Dr. Tenopir is the recipient of the 1995 Stephen Goldspiel Award from the Special Libraries Association to do research on electronic publishing. They are also the co-authors of a forthcoming book: The Transformation of Scholarly Journals: 20-Year Trends in the Economics, Use, and Information-Seeking Patterns of Scientific Print and Electronic Scholarly Journals, Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, expected to be published in 1998. Dr. Tenopir is the author of several other books and over 200 journal articles. Dr. Tenopir holds a Ph.D. in library and information science from the University of Illinois. You may contact her by e-mail at

Donald W. King is the retired President of King Research, Inc. He devoted nearly 40 years to describing and assessing information services and has nearly 300 formal publications in the field. Recognition of his work includes American Society of Information Science Research Award and Award of Merit; Fellow in the American Statistical Association; and several distinguished Lectures. He and Carol Tenopir are co-authors of a forthcoming book: The Transformation of Scholarly Journals: 20-Year Trends in the Economics, Use, and Information-Seeking Patterns of Scientific Print and Electronic Scholarly Journals, Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, expected to be published in 1998. You may contact him by e-mail at


Griffiths, Jose-Marie, and Donald W. King. 1993. Special libraries: Increasing the information edge. Washington, D.C.: Special Libraries Association. Book available from

Holmes, Aldyph. 1997. [Editor's note: the year used to read 1977. This was corrected September 2001.] Electronic publishing in science: Reality check. Canadian Journal of Communication 22(1977):105-16. Plus proprietary sources.

Jackson, Mary E. 1997. Measuring the performance of interlibrary loan and document delivery services. Association of Research Libraries 195(December): 1-4. [formerly]

King, Donald W. 1998. Some economic aspects of the Internet. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 49 (September): 990-1002. [doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-4571(1998)49:11<990::AID-ASI5>3.0.CO;2-X]

King, Donald W. and Carol Tenopir. 1998. Economic Cost Models of Scientific Scholarly Journals. Paper presented at the ICSU Press Workshop, 30 March-2 April, at Keble College, Oxford, UK.

King, Donald W., and Jose-Marie Griffiths. 1984. Article-delivery services market study. Ann Arbor, Mich.: King Research for University Microfilms Inc. Proprietary study with some data made available.

King, Donald W., and Nancy K. Roderer. 1981. The AIP Journal system: Relationship of price, page changes, demand, cost, and income. Part II, Appendix B of American Institute of Physics Function Planning in 1981 for 1982-87.

King, Donald W., Dennis D. McDonald, and Nancy K. Roderer. 1981. Scientific journals in the United States: Their production, use, and economics. Stroudsburg, Pa.: Hutchinson Ross Publishing (Academic Press). Copies available from Donald W. King.

King, Donald W. et al. 1977-98. Ann Arbor, Mich.: King Research. Two national surveys of scientists were performed in 1977 and 1984 by King Research, Inc., under contract to the National Science Foundation. In addition, in the late 1970s two surveys were conducted concerning readership and non-readership for Science and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. After that time, two national proprietary surveys were done, and thirty-six individual statistical surveys were conducted under contract for different companies, government agencies, and national laboratories. Two surveys were performed in the early 1990s for The Johns Hopkins University (Eisenhower Library) and the University of Tennessee (Hodges Library) with Donald W. King consulting. In all instances, those respondents who indicated that they were scientists or engineers (according to the old NSF fields of science) were included in the data for this article. That included 13,591 scientists, but excluded more than eight thousand others from the various professions and business.

Interlibrary Loan/document delivery and photocopy studies included two national surveys done by King Research (1978, 1982) for the U.S. Copyright Office concerning the 1976 revision of copyright law. A national survey of article distribution was conducted for UMI in 1984. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, statewide studies involving interlibrary loan and document delivery were performed by King Research for the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Arizona. A study of small, high-tech firms was done in 1985 for the Small Business Administration.

Kingma, Bruce R. 1995. Economics of access versus ownership: The costs and benefits of access to scholarly articles via interlibrary loan and journal subscriptions. Washington, D.C.: Council on Library Resources.

Liston, David M., Jr., Gail L. Kutner, and Ronald G. Havelock. 1985. A study of technical information services provided to small high-technology firms. Ann Arbor, Mich.: King Research report to the Small Business Administration.

Machlup, Fritz. 1979. Uses, value, and benefits of knowledge. In Knowledge: creation, definition, and utilization. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications

Price, Derek J. De Solla. 1963. Little Science, Big Science. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, p. 6.

Tenopir, Carol, and Donald W. King. 1996. Setting the record straight on journal publishing: Myth vs. reality. Library Journal 121(5): 32-35.

________. 1997. Trends in scientific scholarly journal publishing in the United States. Journal of Scholarly Publishing. 28 (April): 135-70. Article available from The Journal of Scholarly Publishing.

________.Forthcoming. The transformation of scholarly journals: Twenty-year trends in the economics, use and information-seeking patterns of scientific print and electronic scholarly journals. Washington, D.C.: Special Libraries Association.

Varian, Hal R. 1996. Differential pricing and efficiency. First Monday: 1, 2. Accessed 8 April 1998. Article available from First Monday. [formerly]

List of Tables

Table 1: Average of Scholarly Article Readings per Year: 1977-98

Table 2: Average Time Spent Reading Scholarly Scientific Journals: 1977-98

Table 3: How Scientists Find Articles To Read: 1977-98

Table 4: Percentage of Readings of Scholarly Scientific Journals by Source: 1977-98

Table 5: Average Number of Personal Subscriptions to Scholarly Journals: 1977-98

Table 6: Average Journal Readings by Article Source: 1993-98

Table 7: Number of Articles Read per Journal by Scientists with Personal Subscriptions: 1995

Table 8: Percentage of Articles Read, by Source: 1993-98

Table 9: Percentage of Articles Read, by Means of Identification: 1993-98

Table 10: Readings of Library Journals: 1995

Table 11: Percentage of Readings by Age of Article: 1993-98

Table 12: Readings by Source and Age of Articles: 1993-98

Table 13: Readings by Means of Identification and by Age of Articles: 1993-98

Table 14: Separates Received by Scientists: 1977

Table 15: Individual Costs for $120 Journal with 5,000 Subscribers

Table 16: Library Costs for $120 Journal with 5,000 Subscribers

Table 17: Individual Costs for $840 Journal with 500 Subscribers

Table 18: Library Costs for $840 Journal with 500 Subscribers