Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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8.10 Some Alternative Pricing Policies
One way in which the two cost/price component approach can be addressed is with site licenses. We have suggested one possible scheme to achieve this type of site license, as detailed below:
The license would cover the price paid for all journals provided to the organization by the publisher, regardless of whether the organization's library, department, or any employee subscribes to the journal.
The library and publisher would establish the current subscription cost of all print subscriptions to the publisher's journals in the organization.
The library would estimate the total readership in the organization of the currently purchased journals and estimate the subscription cost per reading (i.e., current revenue divided by total readings).
The first annual access cost would be this current total subscription amount.
Any electronic access to currently purchased print journals would be free. Electronic access to any other journals available from the publisher would be at the calculated cost per reading plus some allocated support costs. Distribution of paper issues from any of the journals would be at the reproduction, distribution, and allocated support costs.
During the first year, each access to the articles would be counted electronically and used as a basis for future charges on a cost per reading basis.
The publisher must agree to ensure future access to all the journals covered by the term of the agreement, thus permitting the library to discard all relevant paper issues.
This type of site license provides advantages to every participant. While libraries and their constituents pay the same amount to publishers as they do now, they achieve considerable savings in input processing, storage and maintenance (e.g., approximately $90 per subscription for a large library and $125 for a small one). They also save an estimated $1.43 per reading by avoiding current reshelving, directional reference and photocopying costs which, for a frequently-read journal, can be as much as the subscription price. Libraries also save on interlibrary borrowing or document delivery costs from journals in the publisher's database that they did not purchase. Finally, the library has the option to retain certain current periodicals or department collections in paper. These savings exceed any advantages that might have been achieved from reduced electronic journal prices.
Publishers have the advantage of retaining any cost savings they might obtain from electronic publishing, plus they receive additional revenue from distribution of electronic separates, either from their digital databases or royalties from document delivery services, that previously took place outside of their control.
Readers benefit by having the choice of obtaining articles in paper or electronic versions, both at substantial savings in their time and to their parent organizations. In other words, by this kind of negotiation, publishers win, libraries win, readers win, and funding sources win.
This kind of agreement, of course, may have downsides, but it is given to demonstrate the need to arrive at arrangements that can be beneficial to all participants in order to end the adverse effects of traditional pricing strategies.
Another pricing approach is to extend current price differentiation to reflect potential readership by purchasers. Varian (1996) argues that small niche markets, which accurately describe most scholarly publishing, are generally not well served if the producer is required to charge a uniform, single price. As mentioned earlier, purchasers/users always have alternative sources available to them if cost per reading is too high. Thus, amount of reading serves as a useful means for identifying classes of purchasers for differentiation. In fact, negotiating "bundles" of journals can achieve this objective. Furthermore, electronic journals provide a useful vehicle for charging on a transaction or potential transaction basis.
In another vein, Getz (1999) has suggested that readers be given personal debit accounts with libraries to access separate copies of articles. This would permit scientists to order separate copies from services depending on attributes of speed, image, quality, and accessibility that are provided at appropriate prices. This interesting notion, of course, can be extended to subscriptions in print or electronic media and other related services as well. Getz feels that such an account would end up serving users more effectively and relieve libraries of some clerical activities. The examples given involve academic libraries but are even more feasible in a special library environment.
Several alternative approaches to distribution that will require careful pricing policies are presented by others in this book. For example Halliday and Oppenheim (this volume) discuss three alternative models: one that follows traditional print, without the reproduction and distribution of print; one suggested by Harnad in which authors bear the article processing costs by producing and archiving the articles and providing them free of charge on the web (although recently he advocates institutional archiving); and a free-market model suggested by Fishwich and colleagues. Hunter (this volume) and Gazzale and MacKie-Mason (this volume) explore results of the PEAK experimentation. Hunter presents some innovative approaches to pricing and their advantages and disadvantages. Gazzale and MacKie-Mason examine three access products, how they are used, and what they cost users. Case (this volume) discusses the SPARC initiative and argues its merits.
All of these and other approaches warrant detailed examination, but one must keep in mind that the scholarly journal system has been successful because it has achieved certain minimal objectives, including
serving as a means of communication of new, peer-reviewed, and edited information. Thus, the information should be trustworthy and, to the degree possible, supported by other research findings;
being readily available to readers and accessible to an unlimited audience beyond the author's primary or immediate community;
providing permanent, locatable, and retrievable archives for the information, since many articles are read years after they are published;
continuing to provide alternative distribution means and media so that authors and readers can choose from alternatives that satisfy their specific needs and requirements, particularly to minimize their time and effort;
protecting against plagiarism, copyright ownership violation, and unauthorized modification or altering of the record of ideas, discoveries, and hypotheses tested;
properly conveying the concept of prestige and recognition for authors, their research, and their institutions.
Any proposals for changes in pricing policies or other modifications in the scholarly journal system should take such desirable objectives into account. Then the system use, usefulness, and value will be maintained and future pricing can be an opportunity and not a threat.