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SPARC is a membership organization whose mission is to restore a competitive balance to the STM journals publishing market by encouraging publishing partners (for example, societies, academic institutions, small private companies) to launch new titles that directly compete with the highest-priced STM journals or that offer new models that better serve authors, users and buyers. In return, libraries agree to purchase those titles that fall within their collections parameters. By leveraging their subscription dollars, libraries reduce the financial risk for publisher-partners allowing them the time to build the prestige needed to attract both authors and readers.
Over 200 libraries and library organizations from Hong Kong, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, England, Canada, and the United States now belong to SPARC. Members pay a modest annual membership fee and agree to the purchase commitment.
A number of strategies must be pursued for SPARC to be successful. First, it must be able to deliver on library subscriptions to partners. This includes marketing support that reaches both SPARC members and the broader library community. SPARC is also working with prestigious societies and editorial boards. This is essential to build name recognition for SPARC and early interest in new titles. Raising faculty awareness of the issues in scholarly publishing is also a critical component of the SPARC program. Faculty who understand the context and are reconnected with the reality of journal prices are more likely to change their submission habits if there is a reasonably priced prestigious or promisingly prestigious alternative. This educational effort is also intended to encourage editors to become more engaged in the business aspects of the titles for which they work. Editors (or societies) can renegotiate contracts, move their titles, or start up competitors. SPARC must also catalyze the development of capacity and scale within the not-for-profit sector. Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that journals published by societies or other non-profit publishers are significantly lower in price and higher in quality than commercial journals (See for example: Cornell, 1998; McCabe, 1999; Wisconsin, 1999; Bergstrom, 2001). However, STM publishing is clearly dominated by commercial companies. A recent market analysis by Outsell, Inc., estimates that commercial companies account for 68% of the worldwide revenue for STM primary and secondary publishers (Outsell, Inc., 2000). For a true competitive environment to exist, much greater capacity in the non-profit sector is essential.
As it has developed over the past two years, SPARC has categorized its efforts into three programmatic areas: SPARC Alternatives, SPARC Leading Edge, and SPARC Scientific Communities. In addition, SPARC is also supporting the Open Archives Initiative, an effort to develop standards to link distributed electronic archives. SPARC views the development of institutional and disciplinary e-archives as an important strategic direction for the future of scholarly communication.
The first and most directly competitive of SPARC's programs is the SPARC Alternatives. SPARC Alternatives are the titles that compete directly with high-priced STM journals. The first partnership in this category was that with the American Chemical Society (ACS) which agreed to introduce three new competitive titles over three years. Organic Letters, the first of these, began publication in July 1999. Organic Letters competes with Tetrahedron Letters, an $9036 title (the subscription price in 2001) published by Elsevier Science. ACS, one of the largest professional societies in the world and highly respected for its quality publications program, was able to attract three Nobel laureates and 21 members of the National Academy of Sciences to its new editorial board. Two hundred and fifty articles were posted on the Organic Letters website and more than 500 manuscripts were submitted in its first 100 days (Ochs, 2001).
A 2001 subscription to Organic Letters costs $2,438. The business plan calls for a fully competitive journal offering 65-70% of the content at 25% of the price. The effects of this new offering have already been felt. The average price increase for Tetrahedron Letters for several years had been about 15%. For 2000, just after Organic Letters was introduced, the price increase of Tetrahedron Letters was only 3%; in 2001 it was 2%. For 2000, the average price increase across all of the Elsevier Science titles was 7.5% and for 2001 it was 6.5%. If the price of Tetrahedron Letters had continued to increase at the rate of 15%, it would cost $12,070 in 2001. Subscribers have saved over $3,000 as a result of competition. Even if the title had increased at the more modest average rate of the Elsevier Science titles for 2000 (7.5%) and 2001 (6.5%), subscribers would be paying over $800 more for Tetrahedron Letters in 2001 than they are currently paying.
Even more importantly, the introduction of Organic Letters has had a significant impact on the number of pages and articles published by Tetrahedron Letters. During the second half of 1999, the number of articles in Tetrahedron Letters declined by 21% compared to the same period in 1998 and the number of pages declined by 12%. In the first half of 2000, the number of articles decreased 16% compared to the first half of 1999 while the number of pages actually increased 5%. The loss in articles has been compensated for by increasing the number of pages per article, in the second half of 1999 by 11% and the first half of 2000 by 24%. Organic Letters, in the meantime, surpassed its projected pages and articles and has clearly demonstrated that quality, low-cost alternatives can attract authors. The second ACS SPARC Alternative, Crystal Growth and Design, will be introduced in 2001.
Another high profile SPARC Alternative is Evolutionary Ecology Research (EER), a title founded by Michael Rosenzweig, a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. In the mid-1980's, Rosenzweig founded and edited Evolutionary Ecology with Chapman & Hall. The title was subsequently bought and sold, most recently in 1998 to Wolters Kluwer. During these years, the journal's price increased by an average of 19% a year. Fed up by the price increases and the refusal of the publishers to take their concerns seriously, the entire editorial board resigned. In January 1999, they launched their own independent journal published by a new corporation created by Rosenzweig. A subscription to EER was priced at $305, a fraction of the cost of the original title ($800).
As of the end of 2000, EER had published 16 issues while the original title published only 6. Authors had no qualms submitting their papers to this new journal edited by respected scholars in the field. In fact, 90% of the authors withdrew their papers from Evolutionary Ecology when the editorial board resigned. EER was quickly picked up by the major indexes, surmounting yet another hurdle that faces new publications. And, most significantly, EER broke even in its first year. SPARC played a significant role in generating publicity about and, more importantly, subscriptions to EER. EER is another example of how a new title can quickly become a true competitor.
SPARC has a number of other titles in the Alternatives program. These include PhysChemComm, an electronic-only physical chemistry letters journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry; Geometry & Topology, a title that is free of charge on the web with print archival versions available for a fee; the IEEE Sensors Journal, to be published by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2001; and Theory & Practice of Logic Programming, a journal founded by an entire editorial board who resigned from another title after unsuccessful negotiations with the publisher about library subscription prices. New titles added recently include Algebraic & Geometric Topology, a free online journal hosted at the University of Warwick Math Department, and the Journal of Machine Learning Research, a computer science publication offered in a free web version. A number of other partnerships are under negotiation.
SPARC Leading Edge Partnerships
To support the development of new models in scholarly publishing, SPARC has created a "Leading Edge" program to publicize the efforts of discipline-based communities that use technology to obtain competitive advantage or introduce innovative business models. Titles in this program include the New Journal of Physics, the Internet Journal of Chemistry and Documenta Mathematica.
The New Journal of Physics, jointly sponsored by the Institute of Physics (U.K.) and the German Physical Society, is experimenting with making articles available for free on the web and financing production through the charging of fees to authors whose articles are accepted for publication. That fee is currently $500.
The Internet Journal of Chemistry is experimenting with attracting authors by offering them the opportunity to exploit the power of the Internet. This electronic-only journal was created by an independent group of chemists in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany. It offers the ability to include full 3-D structures of molecules, color images, movies and animation, and large data sets. It also allows readers to manipulate spectra. Institutional subscriptions to the journal cost $289.
Documenta Mathematica is a free web-based journal published by faculty at the University of Bielefeld in Germany since 1996. A printed volume is published at the end of each year. Authors retain copyright to articles published in the journal and institutional users are authorized to download the articles for local access and storage.
SPARC Scientific Communities
Another important program area for SPARC is the Scientific Communities. These projects are intended to support broad-scale aggregations of scientific content around the needs of specific communities of interest. Through these projects, SPARC encourages collaboration among scientists, their societies, and academic institutions. The Scientific Communities program helps to build capacity within the not-for-profit sector by encouraging academic institutions to develop electronic publishing skills and infrastructure, and seeks to reduce the sale of journal titles by providing small societies and independent journals alternative academic partners for moving into the electronic environment.
One of the most ambitious projects in the Scientific Communities is BioOne , a non-profit, web-based aggregation of peer-reviewed articles from dozens of leading journals in adjacent areas of biological, environmental, and ecological sciences. Most of these journals are available currently only in print. While there is a risk to societies of offering electronic versions of their titles through institutional site licenses, i.e., the loss of personal member subscriptions, there is a greater danger that scholarship not in electronic form will be overlooked and marginalized. But many of the societies do not have the resources or expertise to create web editions on their own. BioOne provides that opportunity.
BioOne, to be launched in early 2001 with 40 titles out of an eventual 150 or more, is a partnership among SPARC, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the University of Kansas, the Big 12 Plus Library Consortium, and Allen Press. In an unprecedented commitment to ensuring that the societies not only survive but play an expanding role in a more competitive and cost-effective marketplace, SPARC and Big 12 Plus Library Consortium members have contributed significant funds to the development of BioOne. These funds will be returned over a five year period as credits against their subscriptions. BioOne offers participating societies a share in the revenues, protection against accelerated erosion of print subscriptions, and no out-of-pocket costs for text conversion and coding.
Several other Scientific Communities projects have received support from SPARC. These include eScholarship from the California Digital Library, Columbia Earthscape, and MIT CogNet. The goal of California's eScholarship project is to create an infrastructure for the management of digitally-based scholarly information. eScholarship will include archives of e-prints, tools that support submission, peer-review, discovery and access, and use of scholarship, and a commitment to preservation and archiving. Columbia's Earthscape is a collaboration among Columbia University's press, libraries, and academic computing services. The project integrates earth sciences research, teaching, and public policy resources. MIT CogNet is an electronic community for researchers in cognitive and brain sciences that includes a searchable, full-text library of major reference works, monographs, journals, and conference proceedings, virtual poster sessions, job postings, and threaded discussion groups. All three of these projects received funding from SPARC in a competitive awards process.