The Newsletter editorial board had an excellent meeting last week at the Charleston Conference, and you will see the results of our discussions in forthcoming issues. One member brought up the absence of a secondary publisher on the editorial board, and the group decided to invite Isabel Czech of the Institute for Scientific Information to join the board. Isabel has accepted our invitation, and so I welcome her and look forward to her advice and her greater participation in the Newsletter.
The rest of the items in this issue (being sent in two parts) focus on the Association of Research Libraries' Firm Prices Initiative of 1993. Its effectiveness and its value have been questioned within the last few months. We present views for and against the initiative, a historical recap, and further comments. The authors and the editorial board would very much like to hear from subscription agents as to their opinion of the Firm Prices Initiative. Publishers' and librarians' comments are also welcome!
168.2 THOUGHTS ON THE ARL FIRM PRICING INITIATIVE
Susan Davis, University at Buffalo, email@example.com.
There has been some recent interest in examining the effects, if any, of the ARL Firm Pricing initiative, which began in March 1993. The following represent my own thoughts on the matter, and do not necessarily reflect those of my colleagues at the University at Buffalo.
I believe that the order/renew/cancel cycle is the crux of the matter, at least in practical terms. At the University at Buffalo we review our subscription lists during the spring semester for the following subscription year. Acquisitions has used July 1 (subject to some negotiation for special circumstances) as the cancellation date for our unit libraries. This date allows us to process the cancellations in a timely fashion so that we may receive our renewals as early as August, if we wish to take advantage of prepayment credits. Another factor in our favor is the state budget cycle. The State of New York's fiscal year is April 1-March 31, so we have a general idea (even if the state budget is passed 100 days late) where we stand. Acquisitions funds are appropriated by the state legislature, although the University Libraries have some flexibility in applying those funds (for memberships, online database access, computer upgrades, for example). So we know by July 1 if we should expect a 10% decrease or only a 7% cut. And we can depend on our various subscription agents to supply us with fairly accurate pricing predictions for the following year, in addition to considering past pricing practice.
Like many other libraries, we suffer mid-year cuts, usually after Election Day. We have not ever been in a situation where we did not have the required pool of money to return, whether it be from salary savings, acquisitions or student help. I am not saying that we are flush or that we hold a lot of funds in reserve for such cuts, but the fiscal picture for the state university system has been pretty bad for a while. We are accustomed to creating little pockets of savings wherever we can, just in case we may need them. One year we were actually able to apply some salary savings funds to acquistions.
In summary, most of the concerns expressed in the initial ARL letter requesting firm prices are not shared here. Our strategy is to cancel early; we do not review the subscriptions and prices in the fall. Acquisitions has been very firm with the July 1 (it was June 1 in 1996) cancellation deadline. We do a general prediction of the amount needed for periodicals for each subject fund after the cancellations have been processed, and that amount of money is set aside. Around February, each periodical fund is examined and any extra money is released to the unit for monographic (or other) acquisitions.
I *do* appreciate knowing which prices are firm on an invoice, but it is not important to us to have the firm price by September 1.
One concern which I did have was whether publishers would be more conservative with their prices (i.e., err on the high side rather than the low) since they were setting them so far in advance of the beginning of the subscription period. I have no evidence to support or refute this concern, however in looking at the overall subscription price increase for the past 3 years (as per one subscription agent) I note that:
and we are looking at 9.5-10% increase for 1997.
These constant price increases which far outstrip the rate of inflation in the US and the ability of our library budget to keep pace (we experienced approximately a 10% DECREASE in acquisitions funds for FY 96/97) ARE what concerns us. It's not WHEN we find out the bad news, it's the BAD NEWS.
There has also been some interest in determining if prices have been indeed finalized earlier. This year it was my perception that the prices were coming in slightly later. A quick review of a small list of specialized titles revealed that one subscription agent had pricing from Springer on Sept.1, John Wiley on Sept. 25 and Elsevier on Oct. 1. Now the titles I checked are a VERY SMALL subset of the entire lists of these publishers, so please do not assume that all titles from these publishers to all subscription agents arrived on these dates. I had believed that the past couple years saw a significant number of prices from the STM publishing community to agents by Sept. 1. Perhaps publishers and agents would like to comment on any changes they experienced this year.
I am also wondering if the proposed X12 standard for transmission of price/sales catalogs will have any impact on the timing of prices setting and billing by agents. Any thoughts?
168.3 ARL FIRM PRICES INITIATIVE: PRO
Christian Boissonnas, Cornell University Library, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some librarians feel that the ARL initiative on firm pricing should be allowed to die a natural death. I do not agree with them.
First, there is merely a suspicion, but no evidence that, as feared by some, the initiative caused prices to rise. My guess is that it had no impact on prices except, possibly, the very first time, and that this impact would probably have been very minor. There are many variables that go into pricing and they make this process very complex. Publishers, like any other business people, are not going to spend a lot of energy tweaking something that already provides them with double digit profits.
Second, the pricing issue must be kept in front of us. Of all of us, publishers included. As we all know, the issue of pricing is not dead. The firm pricing initiative is one way to keep focussed on it.
Third, there are advantages that accrue to us, the customers, from working in as predictable an environment as possible, so that we can work as efficiently as possible. And that includes having prices as early as possible so that we don't have to rush as much through our renewal processes.
Fourth, we subscribers are the customers. We pay. We have a right to specify how we want our relationship with suppliers to work. One of the reasons we get taken advantage of is that we tend to be perceived as doormats, if not cash cows to be milked as fast and thoroughly as possible. We can, and should, reverse this, and negotiating about terms is one way to do it.
I will ask my University Librarian to try to get ARL to keep this firm prices initiative alive and focussed.
168.4 ARL FIRM PRICES INITIATIVE: YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW
Ann Okerson, Yale University Library (formerly with ARL), Ann.Okerson@yale.edu.
The idea of the Firm Prices initiative originated with and was spurred by Don Koepp when he was Director of Libraries at Princeton. Don felt strongly that libraries needed firm prices EARLY so that price comparisons and cancellation decisions could be made on a rational basis (not his only reason, but a key one these days). For example, if one is reviewing titles in relation to price, using an old price does not give one an accurate basis on which to calculate price increases. Generally one assumes that the prices on renewal invoices are the true prices for the next year but not infrequently one later finds they are not.
Don Koepp interested a number of other ARL (Association of Research Libraries) directors in this matter in about 1992 or so and his interest was written up in the _Chronicle of Higher Education_. He was also at that time Chair of the ARL's Scholarly Communications Committee (staffed by me). We assembled a meeting of interested library directors at an ARL membership meeting and agreed to have meetings at the following ALA with vendors and publishers whom we invited to join us for a dialog. At ALA Midwinter in Denver, we met with the STM (group of publishers) Library Relations Committee Chair (Herman Pabbruwe of Kluwer), as well as serials agents (Blackwell, Ebsco, Faxon, Harrassowitz, Readmore); at ALA Midwinter in Los Angeles, we convened a similar meeting. We also wrote a couple of letters to major publishers and vendors on this topic, first in early 1993 and then a year later in 1994. The letters defined the problem and enumerated research libraries' concerns re. not receiving firm prices in a timely fashion. Both years, this letter was sent to STM and the vendors named above. We polled the ARL directors and just under 100 of them signed onto the letter. We were joined by the UK academic librarians, who also crafted and signed a similar letter.
Along the way, we learned that the matter was not altogether "simple" (nothing ever is, it seems) and involved not only the publishers' methods for setting prices but also foreign currency predictions, electronic information transfer, and vendor procedures. We also learned that the best source of information about receipt of firm prices came from the serials vendor community. The vendors keep track of such information and are an excellent source of data. (See, for example, Sandy Gurshman's /Readmore/ data published in NOSPI Nos. 42 (August 1992) and 48 (September 1992). The vendors pointed out that the large STM (and other scholarly and popular) publishers were in fact a lot more likely to set firm prices early than the myriad of small, foreign scholarly publishers and that those were far harder to reach and influence, for many reasons, so that the STM publishers with the highest serial prices were not generally the source of our problem. (Although Pergamon prices had been very late the previous year and had in fact helped launch the Firm Prices initiative, this situation was not repeated subsequently.)
It was our sense that the first round of meetings and letters, driven by Don's strong leadership and visibility (which garnered the CHE article) had a positive effect and our sense was that perhaps prices had been determined earlier the next year. After that, the level of improvement stayed stable. There were a few mixed feelings about this initiative: on the one hand, vendors and publishers both assured us that they tried to identify real prices for the following year as early as possible; on the other, they told us that asking for prices early also had a downside: absent adquate information for the following year, publishers would tend to guess on the high side or guess inaccurately. In the end, this might result in higher prices for the library customers.
After two years, Don Koepp and the Firm Prices Working Group of ARL felt the appropriate needs had been conveyed and that it was probably time to expend the firm prices energy on other initiatives. In order to productively raise this matter again, research libraries would want to seek a powerful promoter of the idea (such as Don had been) and approach the right players. These are probably the vendors.
Hope this trip down memory lane is of some use.
I don't mean to say that a renewed initiative of the sort we undertook in 1992/93/94 is undesirable, but that it is hard to imagine so visible an advocate and the right political and social circumstances to repeat the initiative that came before. However, it is appropritate for those who care about this matter and find it a high priority, to seek and publish vendor information about percentages of firm prices and when they received same, this year and last. NOSPI would again be a good avenue for distributing such information and perhaps some vendors would step forward to contribute data here. This is about the right time of year to have accumulated such.
For librarians, high serial prices continue to be an issue, one that has now entered into the electronic realm where prices are EVEN HIGHER. At the Frankfurt book fair last month we had the opportunity to see journal publishers' systems for delivering e-versions of print titles. No doubt most of the major publishers who have not already done so, will be offering research libraries large lists of e-journals in the next year or two. In short, the demos we saw were spectacular. They were also projected to carry hefty surcharges over print, so that publishers could recover the obviously non-trivial costs of mounting such efforts.
To my way of thinking, while there are some splendid e-implementations, the investments do not all feel as well-directed as they might (for example, many don't integrate with any other information but rather treat a single publisher's titles in a "closed" system of their own). Even though our faculty will want these e-journals, we can't afford to pay the 25-40% extra without jeopardizing the rest of our collecting, and it's taking a great deal of energy to address this present and future world. It makes firm prices by 9/1 (or whatever) seem a lower priority, by comparison.
168.5 ARL FIRM PRICES INITIATIVE: COMMENT
Danny Jones, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, email@example.com.
I appreciate Christian's advocacy and agree that we must keep the issue of pricing alive. I was happy to see Ann's "history lesson" to explain to those who don't remember what happened, as a reminder that at least some of us are still concerned about firm prices. I'd like to see the vendors include in their databases the date they enter the current price they have for a journal. I think it would be a risk for them to enter the date they receive the prices from the publishers.
It might be interesting to ask a vendor to comment anonymously on their situation. I can only imagine what factors affect them. I've suggested to at least one vendor that they send a message to SERIALST when they receive a publisher's prices and they suggested it might put them in an uncomfortable situation with publishers. If they did it for a few publishers, they would probably feel compelled to do it for ALL, so as not to be accused of singling out the worst offenders, most expensive, etc. And we all know that giving this information for ALL publishers would be unmanageable.
If vendors' online databases indicated the date the price was entered then we could at least make a ballpark estimate of when they got the prices from the publisher. This might be a "firm price" strategy that all vendors would be eager to adopt since it would give them an opportunity to show that they are efficiently entering the data promptly and it takes the onus off of them for price changes after libraries have made their cost projections.
As for "we are the customers," while I agree that we are, I don't think the publishers publish journals for libraries, they publish them for readers. I think the publishers confuse their readers with their customers and that most publishers see libraries primarily as purchasing agents for the readers of their journals.
Statements of fact and opinion appearing in the _Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues_ are made on the responsibility of the authors alone, and do not imply the endorsement of the editor, the editorial board, or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The NEWSLETTER ON SERIALS PRICING ISSUES (ISSN: 1046-3410) is published by the editor through Academic and Networking Technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as news is available. Editor: Marcia Tuttle, Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org; Paper mail: Serials Department, CB #3938 Davis Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 27515-8890; Telephone: 919 962-8047; FAX: 919 962-4450. Editorial Board: Deana Astle (Clemson University), Christian Boissonnas (Cornell University), Jerry Curtis (Springer Verlag New York), Isabel Czech (Institute for Scientific Information), Janet Fisher (MIT Press), Fred Friend (University College, London), Charles Hamaker (Louisiana State University), Daniel Jones (University of Texas Health Science Center), Michael Markwith (Swets North America), James Mouw (University of Chicago), and Heather Steele (Blackwell's Periodicals Division). The Newsletter is available on the Internet, Blackwell's CONNECT, and Readmore's ROSS. EBSCO customers may receive the Newsletter in paper format.
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