I read with interest Ken Rouse's piece on the initiatives of commercial publishers in the transition from print to electronic journal delivery of STM publications. Unfortunately, Rouse has some misleading information about Elsevier Electronic Subscriptions.
For an organization entering into an EES agreement in 1997, the price for full-text electronic delivery is based upon an institution's 1997 holdings, not the 1995 holdings as stated by Rouse. There is no retrospective analysis or requirement to pay for subscriptions that have been canceled prior to the 1997 subscription year.
The price scale for EES is fairly straightforward. At present, newly subscribing institutions pay an additional 6% of the total cost of their current print holdings to receive the electronic files. This price schedule applies to contracts signed before July 1, 1997; after that date the percentage rises to 7.5% for newly-signed 1997 contracts. The 1998 and 1999 subscription prices for print plus electronic delivery are an additional, incremental 9.5% per year based on the aggregate payment in 1997 for print plus electronic. These percentages are guaranteed, regardless of the growth in the number of pages published in these journals or currency fluctuations. Most librarians would consider an annual cap of 9.5% reasonable based on historical increases industry-wide.
We also offer EES on a one-year contract for electronic delivery at 15% additional to the print price for the current year. There is no purchasing commitment required for subsequent years but also no guarantee on future price levels.
Later, Rouse suggests that Elsevier requires electronic subscribers to take our entire list of journals, ". . .we agree by contract to support every journal that the publishers serve up to us." This is incorrect. Subscribing institutions are invited to take electronic versions of those journals currently held in print. Many institutions presently subscribing to EES take significantly fewer than the 1100 primary journals we offer electronically. In other instances, subscribing institutions' holdings included the vast majority of Elsevier Science titles and, upon implementation of the EES program, the libraries decided to take the entire list. This is strictly at the library's option.
It should also be noted that subscribing institutions are not locked into specific journals. The agreement is for an aggregate payment amount for a three-year period. Subscribing institutions may change the mix of titles.
Elsevier Science recently signed an agreement with OhioLINK, the first consortial contract for EES. Both sides entered the negotiation process on a voluntary basis and in the end we have arrived at an agreement that greatly expands the availability of 1100 Elsevier journals to users in Ohio. We will be able to deliver a significant order of magnitude more information to the desktops of a half million researchers, faculty, students and librarians in the state. This is an example of how librarians and publishers can work in a collaborative, constructive atmosphere to develop new models for information delivery.
Rouse also submits some estimates about the costs of mounting a database to handle the electronic files. While there are substantial costs in building the necessary infrastructure to provide full-text electronic delivery, it is an investment made, not on behalf of one or two publishers, but in order to provide users with superior levels of speed, functionality and flexibility in a digital environment. Libraries have recognized the need to invest in integrated library systems in order to improve efficiency, and the technology investment to deliver full-text files is a logical step in the changing role of delivering information to the research community. Certainly publishers continue to spend substantial amounts of money in electronic product development.
Elsevier Science is also trying to offer alternate solutions for those institutions that do not want to mount large-scale files locally. In 1996 we announced ScienceDirect which offers online service, via the World Wide Web, from a host facility. Currently in beta testing, ScienceDirect will begin commercial implementation this summer.
One further point. In paragraph #6 Rouse mentions Tetrahedron Letters and states the journal increased 50% in size from 1974 to 1997. In fact, it increased 100%.
It's unfortunate that Rouse does not see the win-win benefit of increased access to electronic journals via the programs we and others offer. Fortunately, there are now more than 75 institutions worldwide that are getting greater access to Elsevier journals at favorable rates, and the number grows each month. They have seen the benefits to be gained. We invite others to ask us for accurate information.
181.2 PROFITS ARE NOT THE ENTIRE PROBLEM
Andrew Odlyzko, AT&T Labs - Research, firstname.lastname@example.org
A few remarks about Ken Rouse's message. To be brief, I will not present full arguments. Details and further references can be found in the papers (referred to only by title below) at
1. According to ARL statistics, acquisitions take only about a third of research libraries' budgets. Thus even if publishers gave their books and journals away for free, the growth in the volume of STM publishing would bring the crisis back within a decade.
2. Bundling journal subscriptions the way Elsevier and Academic Press do is a logical revenue-maximizing strategy (see "On the road to electronic publishing" and "The bumpy road of electronic commerce.") Ken Rouse complains about being forced to pay "for all the low-use, high-cost titles that many of us have canceled years ago -- those titles, in other words, that we never should have bought into in the first place." However, what is a "low-use, high-cost title" on his campus, might easily be a "high-use, high-cost title" on another one, while for another journal, usage patterns might be the opposite. This is the logic of bundling (for more specific examples, see "The bumpy road ..."). The problem for libraries is that when the next crisis hits, presence of a few extremely valuable journals in the Elsevier package, for example, might prevent cancellations of any Elsevier titles, and so many other subscriptions from smaller publishers might have to be sacrificed. The issues of fairness will become much more acute (as "The bumpy road ..." emphasized).
3. The present system is simply not viable, and neither is the electronic one that the publishers are attempting to establish. Ken Rouse explains why previous appeals to publishers to hold the line on prices and to scholars to publish in inexpensive journals have not had much of an effect. The basic problem is that the scholarly publishing business is full of perverse economic incentives (see "The economics of electronic journals"). That is what allows for maintenance of phenomenal profits, which would be reduced by competition in more efficient markets. Altruism is simply not that strong a motive. Publishers ignore appeals to reduce their profit margins, since they do not see much difference between their profits and the salaries that scholars and librarians earn, and those are not going down. (A 1% cut in faculty salaries, or, more realistically, a salary increase smaller by 1% than what would be granted otherwise, would easily cover the increase in next year's library budget required to maintain all subscriptions, for example.) However, something has to give, as otherwise we will soon have the proverbial journal with one subscription that costs a million dollars per year.
4. Ken Rouse's solution is to "GIVE THEM THE MONEY," that is, let scholars decide for themselves how to spend library funds. Aside from some details (much of library spending cannot be simply allocated to particular departments), that is basically what I have been predicting will happen ("Tragic loss ...," "On the road to electronic publishing"). As administrators realize that scholars do not need journals, since they can obtain the information they need in other forms (possibly not as good, say as unrefereed preprints as opposed to peer-reviewed journal articles), they are likely to offer departments deals, such as an extra position in place of journal subscriptions. (More likely the trade will be offered in a somewhat different form. As predicted in "Tragic loss ...," it is likely to occur during a budgetary crisis, and be of the form "Either you give up paper journal subscriptions, or you give up one position.")
5. It is important to realize that giving scholars control of the money going to libraries is likely to lead to substantial pain for libraries as well. Recall that for every dollar that libraries spend with publishers, they spend two on their operations (mostly salaries). According to the ARL, total library spending comes to about $12,000 per full-time faculty member per year. If faculty members are given control of these funds, they are likely to divert a large share to other uses (equipment, travel, graduate assistants, salaries, and so on). Thus pain for publishers will also be accompanied by pain for librarians (and also scholars, as they learn to rely more on other sources of information than the friendly familiar library).
6. I feel that the transition to inexpensive electronic journals is inevitable. However, this transition might take quite a while. One of the best ways to speed it up is to promote the free distribution of preprints. This is something that is of clear benefit to scholars, and its subversive influence will make a continuation of the current system impossible. Some publishers (including many non-profit ones, such as the AAAS) are fighting a rear-guard action, refusing to process submissions that are available on the Web. It should be easy to mobilize scholars to fight such practices.
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