Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Much development of digital journals, especially digital parallels of print journals, has been conducted by commercial publishers. Their pricing models do nothing to address the serials crisis. More innovative pricing models have been developed by stakeholders from within the higher education (HE) community (e.g., Harnad and Hemus, 1997; Harnad, 1995b; Fishwick et al., 1998; Harnad, 1996). They seek an effective and affordable system for disseminating peer-reviewed scholarly articles. Their models often bypass commercial publishers; in other words, the journals are produced by the HE community. Proponents of these models claim that digital publishing can be significantly cheaper than print publication. They argue that as much as 70% of the total cost of journal production and distribution is incurred by printing and distributing print copy and that this is saved in a digital environment (Harnad, 1995; Duranceau, 1995; Harnad and Hemus, 1997; Harnad, 1996). This is contested by publishers who claim that the variable costs they claim, including print and distribution, account for only 20-30% of the total (Garson, 1996; Arjoon, 1999; Noll, 1993; Rowland et al., 1995; Fisher, 1997). Some of the difference between these positions is related to level of functionality that writers assume is necessary.
Proponents of alternative models argue that many publisher functions are unnecessary. Their models are often based on production of unsophisticated text articles produced at significantly lower cost. This approach can be criticised for two reasons. First, journal users expect additional functionality (Elsevier Science, 1996; SuperJournal, 1999a,b). They anticipate that digital journals will allow them to work more efficiently. Users consider core features to include the ability to browse, search and print, good system performance, critical mass and currency, and the facility for seamless discovery and access (SuperJournal, 1999a; McKnight, 1997; Electronic Publishing Services Ltd , EPS Ltd; Armstrong and Lonsdale, 1998; Butterworth, 1998; Jenkins, 1997; Rowland et al., 1997; Fletcher, 1999; Prior, 1997; Rusch-Feja and Siebeky, 1999; Petersen Bishop, 1998; SuperJournal, 1999b). User acceptance is essential if digital journals are to succeed.
The second criticism is that the elimination of some of the filtering and organisation that is traditionally done by publishers increases the work of librarians and end users. The net effect on the academic community may be increased cost. For these reasons, we did not study an end product consisting of unsophisticated text. Our models assume the core level of functionality that users demand. The development and inclusion of this enhanced functionality requires technical skill that is expensive. Publishers claim that the additional costs more than compensate for any savings from print and distribution. They argue that digital journals cost at least as much to produce and distribute as print journals.
It is difficult to compare the cost of digital and print journal production and distribution. Publishers are reluctant to disclose costs. Even if they did so, it would be difficult to compare journal costs across companies because different accounting practices are employed. The publishing industry does not employ activity-based costing. There has been academic work on activity-based costing of print journals, notably that of Carol Tenopir and Don King (see Chapter 8 and Tenopir and King 2000). The costs associated with digital publication are, as yet, unknown. The activities involved in digital publishing have yet to stabilise, making it difficult to determine costs.
We are building activity-based models so that we can develop a better understanding of the production and delivery of digital-only journals and of the different roles and costs involved in that process. These models also allow us to explore alternative cost-recovery and pricing mechanisms.
To date, we have built and tested three models of digital-only journal production and delivery. These models were based on a review of the literature supplemented by personal communication with practitioners. The models were built as part of a project which evaluated economic models of a number of aspects of the digital library within a four-month period. In 2000, Leah Halliday conducted interviews with several stakeholder groups and revised the models in line with the data that she collected. The results suggest that publication is most efficiently undertaken by professional publishers within an organisation that is dedicated to journal publishing (Halliday and Oppenheim, 2001a,b,2000b,a).