[This is the "considered response" to MCB's "Message I" referred to in their "Message II," both from PRICES 198.2. It was not available when the Newsletter went out and is reproduced here in abridged form.]
Dear Ms. Toledano,
Thank you for your kind letter in response to my statement in NOSPI....
Although I appreciate your kind invitation to participate in the product and service development of your engineering, materials science and technology journals, I have to decline your offer because I do not wish to invest my spare time in significant enhancements that will only lead to even higher costs of subscriptions to our and other libraries, given your pricing strategy and argumentation in defense of it.
I do such "consulting" for publishers especially from scientific societies who are willing to improve services for the benefit of the scientific community while at the same time acknowledging that academic libraries are facing harsh financial realities and costs must be kept at a reasonable level....
Let me comment in more detail upon some points you raised in your letter.
We believe HFF now enables you to provide a significantly improved service to your library users than you were ever able to provide when the journal was delivered in print only.
This is a truism which is common to the whole "electronic media revolution" -- the key aspect is that all partners in the scientific communication process have to strive for more efficiency in this fast growing electronic world. More efficiency means for us as libraries and central information providers on campus that we have to provide a higher level of service without necessarily (much) higher budgets....
You also forget that changeover to an electronic environment is a slow process, and people will only gradually make use of it. There can be many obstacles, personal as well as infrastructural (e.g., not all Institutes are connected to the campus network, internet connections may be slow, laser printers have to be supplied, etc.). The level of use of new EJournal services generally is quite low at the beginning, of course depending also on the degree of net-orientation of the particular discipline. I wonder whether you could produce any usage statistics for HFF here at Stuttgart University -- which would show how large the interest in the electronic version really is at the moment.
To answer your question about how we justify the higher price. HFF has undergone a number of significant enhancements since its print-issues-only days with the previous publisher in 1996. These include:
The creation of an electronic archive (abstracts only from 1994-1996 with document delivery of these articles via MCB at no extra cost, and full electronic articles from 1997). I note that your subscription to HFF started in 1996, which gives you access to the 1994 and 1995 journal content free!
Thanks for the clarification. That was not quite clear for me. However, there is a limitation to 100 Articles ordered during a subscription period, isn't it?
Electronic access to the current content.
"Current Content" -- what does that mean? Perhaps I am dumb but I still cannot find those articles that should have been put up to the server in monthly updates independent of the arrival of a new issue in print. At least this is not what MCB continues to advertise as "Internet continuous publishing."
Unlimited electronic access 24 hours a day to the current and archive content of HFF throughout your institution -- that is simultaneous access for your faculty and students which is equal to an unlimited number of subscriptions to a paper-only journal.
We consider us really lucky these days if we manage to keep the last subscription of a journal, paper-only or paper-plus- electronic, on the campus.... By the way, I don't think that Students form the main readership of specialized research papers, at least not before they are graduating.
Access via the Internet for you and your library colleagues plus journal users to various forums and other resources
With respect to HFF, forums and resources for this discipline are still largely absent. It doesn't help that there are a lot of other forums.
Next year HFF subscribers will have...
Thus far our electronic developments are enabling wider access to the body of knowledge. In the future we hope to create some of the other value-added features you allude to in your statement to NOSPI.
This is MCB's big problem -- as I see it from a customer perspective: the failure to transform marketing promise into a delivered product, the disproportion between pricing of your product and the state of that transformation. My strong feelings (which I admit) result not from abstract considerations but from my comparison -- in daily practice -- with products of other publishers on the scientific journals market.
[Electronic Journals access to HFF] was further customised upon your suggestion and was fully operational four weeks later. You will be pleased to know that your suggestion has also been rolled out for the benefit of other subscribers
If you want to see what customisation means have a look at the IOP Electronic Journals homepage http://www.iop.org/EJ/welcome if you have the luck to visit a site which has a subscription.
> Your feedback has proved valuable. (...)
I hoped so. Unfortunately, the journals interface has improved only very little. There are still inconsistencies, which are likely to irritate our clients and degrade the usefulness of your product....
In summary, I note that in your response you did not dispute the factual accuracy of my statements in NOSPI, especially with regard to "Internet continuous publishing" which is quite important (already realized by, e.g., AIP/APS and IOP; still a marketing promise at MCB). Apart from this, I appreciate your useful clarifications with respect to the archive and questions of use of copyrighted materials, as well as your outline of future plans at MCB University Press.
I sincerely hope you will not only think once again about how you could further improve your services but also contemplate on what your librarian customers in academia can afford and are willing to buy.
Postscriptum, Jan 15, 1998:
We really appreciate the cooperativeness now shown by MCB. Since at Stuttgart University we have just started a campaign to promote the use of electronic journals on the campus with a limited-time offer by three large commercial publishers (Academic Press, Springer, and Wiley) to open up access of their complete e-journals suite on the campus network for free, we are glad that MCB has accepted our invitation to participate in this trial (especially in view of the fact that there is only one MCB journal still on our subscription list). In this way, our customers will enjoy a really wide spectrum of journals from many disciplines, which is helpful when trying to motivate 14 faculties to actively participate in such a trial, which should help to identify problems still hindering the effective use of the journals literature. It will also allow us a fair overall consideration of MCB's journals program and of Emerald (and related secondary services such as ANBAR). In return, the publisher may get further valuable feedback on their electronic journals service. Maybe one can also discuss about better prices....
201.2 A COMMENT ON FRED FRIEND'S ARTICLE
Aline Soules, University of Michigan, email@example.com
I agree with much of his article (What Publishers are Doing Right, no. 198); however, I'd like to provide a word of caution. In our library, we are moving fairly steadily to web products, but what we find is that the content in the web versions are not as complete as those in other formats (CD, paper). When I talk to vendors about this, the response is generally that publishers permit certain material to be issued in CD or print form, but not over the web. They have concerns about copyright violation and security of the material to the client-base for which the library is contracting. So a great deal of work must be done to determine whether the products will be comparable in content and a decision must take into consideration the results of that assessment. In some cases, we have chosen not to move to the web-based product for that reason.
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