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    6.5 Effects of Expected User Cost on Access

    As we showed in Table 6.4, at most institutions actual paid usage when users directly paid the user cost was substantially below predicted usage with zero user costs. Users at institution 10 were notable exceptions. We hypothesized that users at this institution might have expected to bear more cost, and they were willing to pay more often when confronted with costs. We explore this hypothesis in this section.

    According to our hypothesis, the frequency with which users are asked to pay for content will affect a user's ex ante estimation of how much she will need to pay. This effect on her estimate can stem from either her previous direct experience, or through "word of mouth" learning. It is our hypothesis that the expected access cost affected the probability that a user paid for access when requested.

    We have two conjectures about user behavior that would cause willingness to pay to depend on prior expectations about cost. The first concerns an induced selection bias. The higher the expected cost to access an article, the fewer the users who will even attempt to access the information via PEAK. In particular, users with a low expected benefit for an article will generally be less likely to use PEAK at all. The result would be that those who do use PEAK are more likely to pay necessary article access fees. Our second conjecture is that context of the request for payment matters, i.e. there is a "framing" effect. It is possible that if a user is habituated to receiving something for free, she will be resistant to paying for that object, even if her expected benefit is greater than the actual cost.[18] Unfortunately, the data that we have do not permit us to distinguish between these two scenarios.

    Table 6.9: Effect of subscription coverage on paid access
    Institution Normalized paid accesses per 100 unmetered Estimated expected rate of zero cost access Percent who log in when requested
    3 13.5 83.6% 8.48%
    10 31.7 6.9% 13.5%
    11 7.6 74.2% 2.6 %
    12 26.4 11.1% 7.1%
    14 15.1 31.4% 29.6%
    NOTE: See text for more complete definitions of the variables.
    Correlation coefficients: Paid access and % of unmetered in subscription base: -0.87
    Prompted login and % of unmetered in subscription base: -0.36

    In Table 6.9 we present some evidence that users' expectations do matter. To explore this hypothesis, we rely on the difference in user cost between accesses to traditional subscription material (no password required) and generalized subscription material (password required). Therefore, we report all institutions at which password entry was required in order to spend a generalized subscription token, plus institution 14, at which users faced similar costs. We use accesses of unmetered content—which has zero incremental user cost for all material, whether in traditional subscriptions or not—as our comparison benchmark. In the second column we report the forecast of unmetered content accesses that were contained within the institution's traditional subscription base. We use this as an estimate of the user's expected user cost of access. For example, if 75% of unmetered access came from traditional subscription material, then we estimate that the user also expects 75% of her demand for metered material to be from traditional subscriptions (with zero incremental user cost), and only 25% of requests for metered material to involve the password user cost (for generalized subscription content).

    In the last two columns we present measures of user willingness to bear user cost. The institution's normalized paid access is a scaled measure of the rate at which (metered) generalized subscription material was accrued (and thus how soon the password cost was incurred). The pecent who login when requested is another measure of user willingness to bear the password user cost.

    The data are consistent with our hypothesis that users with lower expected access costs (see column 2) will be less likely to bear the user cost of password retrieval and entry. The correlation between the expected rate of zero-cost access and normalized paid access is -0.87. We also see a negative correlation of -0.36 between the expected rate of zero cost access and willingness to enter a password when requested.