[Received February 27, 1999. Based on a message posted on lis-serials.]
As more and more datasets become available on the web, as well as, or instead of CD-ROM, there is scope for the publishers adjusting the prices of their products in the new format. A number of different models are emerging, but I hope the following example proves to be the exception rather than the rule.
The ISI product, Journal Citation Reports is a highly regarded resource tool for journal evaluation, drawing citation data from over 7,000 titles. As budgets dwindle and departments' research ratings grow in importance the need for data of this kind is increasing. At the University of Kent at Canterbury, we currently subscribe to the CD-ROM version of both editions -- Social Sciences and Science. When a web version was announced, we were naturally interested in this format for ease of use and maintenance and possibly greater currency of data. The combined cost to us of both sections would be in excess of 4,500 pounds. This is approximately five times the cost we currently pay for the CD-ROM version and is subject to value added tax at 17.5%. If we were to consider networking to up to five simultaneous users, a further charge in excess of 500 pounds + VAT would be payable. I was absolutely staggered at this vast gulf between the two prices, which certainly rules out the possibility of our subscribing to the web version.
I have been monitoring the pricing of datasets, in cases where CD-ROM and web versions are both available. The general pattern emerging where the extent of coverage of the two versions is similar is that there is relatively little variation in the cost. Browsing through the price list of a leading UK electronic publisher, the prices of their products in the two formats are very similar, with some web versions actually costing less. As well as a licence to access the data, some of the deals available offer the CD-ROM version as a backup and archive for a modest extra fee.
The example set by Journal Citation Reports may be an isolated one, made all the more striking by its being so untypical. I am not aware of any technical factors that might justify this increase. Although publishers may argue that the Library will reap the benefits of reduced pressure on technical support staff, decreased hardware needs and increased flexibility of user access, these do not constitute in themselves any reason to inflict savage financial retribution on customers. It is a disappointing irony that a tool which may be a cornerstone in an academic institution's attempts to obtain the best value from limited resources should be made into such a financial burden.
[I have asked ISI for a response and am promised one. It has not yet arrived. -Ed.]
217.2 SELLING LIBRARY SERVICE
Jane Holmquist, Princeton University Libraries, firstname.lastname@example.org
[Received February 26, 1999]
In my attempt to respond to and refute some of Andrew Odlyzko's statements in his paper "Competition and cooperation: libraries and publishers in the transition to electronic scholarly journals," I found reading John Archibald Wheeler's (the world-renowned physicist's) article entitled "Selling Library Service" (about his father, who was a very liberal librarian) a useful reminder of the role of librarians and libraries in the search for knowledge.* Among Wheeler's messages to graduating librarians: "It is not enough for you only to give library and information service to those who know enough to ask for it," "Economy every step of the way was part of the ideal of service to the community and membership in the community," and finally, "He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted"!
John Wheeler is a physicist, I am an astronomy librarian and Andrew Odlyzko is a mathematician. I believe the history and cultures of the disciplines we represent color our views of what is possible and desirable in scholarly communication -- the free and unfettered exchange of information and ideas.
I believe there is hope for cooperation and continued sharing of knowledge (at break-even expenditures for all, not exorbitant profits for a few) because the Ginsparg preprint model has shown that it can be done. I also believe that scholars, librarians and publishers can engage in a productive dialogue to resolve many of the obstacles we all face. (Here I would commend the Physics-Astronomy-Math roundtable discussions that are held annually at SLA meetings with librarians, publishers and even some P-A-M practitioners present, and the PAMnet listserv, which continues those discussions in cyberspace throughout the year!)
What are some of those obstacles?
Fair pricing, certainly. The all-or-none ("bundling") approach taken by some publishers is anathema to those libraries which subscribe to just one print title (e.g. Icarus) from a particular publisher. This approach is unacceptable as well to those who pay thousands of dollars for subscriptions to hundreds of the publisher's print titles but refuse to commit long-term to paying premium percentages for electronic access to some titles they would prefer to cancel -- and therefore are denied electronic access to all.
Fair-use licensing. Allowing print copies to be made from electronic versions for inter-library loan purposes is a step in the right direction, but requiring the lender to provide the publisher every six months with detailed records of "who borrowed what" is NOT! (See new Elsevier electronic license at: www.elsevier.nl/locate/esi (no.11, Autumn 1998 issue)
User registration. Why should an individual user be required to provide personal information to the publisher or provider to obtain an (easily forgotten) username/password in order to print the full-text of an electronic journal article? Doesn't this border on an invasion of privacy? Is this an attempt on the part of some publishers to dis-intermediate the libraries and market directly to the user?
In his paper, Odlyzko predicts that this indeed is a possible scenario. In the competition for resources, he believes that publishers have a competitive advantage over libraries. "In order to protect their revenues and profits, publishers will have to usurp much of the role and resources of libraries," and "they can do this only in the digital domain," which renders many traditional functions and costs of libraries (ordering, cataloging, shelving, and checking out material) unnecessary.
Further, Odlyzko predicts that publishers' success is likely to retard the development of an even more efficient system. "What keeps the publishers' situation from being hopeless is the tremendous inertia of the scholarly community, which impedes the transition to free or inexpensive electronic journals."
Nothing is free, but we can certainly continue the search for efficiencies that contain costs.
Reading Odlyzko's paper, I was left with the impression that publishers were on the verge of usurping the role and resources of libraries. Listening to him present his paper a month ago at the AAAS symposium on "The Grand Unified eArchive: Scientific Publishing in the Year 2020," I was left with the impression that both publishers and librarians were on the verge of extinction if the scholars and producers of the information could just overcome their inertia and organize an equivalent infrastructure!
In this competition, I think the fittest will survive by cooperation, and that includes all of us -- scholars, librarians and publishers.
* Wheeler, J.A. 1993. Libraries and culture 28(3): 327-332.
217.3 RESPONSE FROM AIP/APS TO GORDON AND BREACH STATEMENT
Marc Brodsky, Executive Director, American Institute of Physics, email@example.com; and Tom McIlrath, Treasurer, American Physical Society
[Received March 2, 1999]
We are writing to respond to the G&B statement concerning its defeat in the U.S. Courts. G&B asserts that its suits against the societies were necessary to prevent the dissemination of misleading information concerning the cost-effectiveness of journals. But courts in the United States, Switzerland, and Germany have found that the survey at issue by the late Professor Barschall was not misleading. Moreover, although G&B points to a favorable decision in the French courts, that suit is still on appeal. Indeed, G&B argues in France that the survey should be restrained under the rigid French laws even if it is completely truthful. Thus, G&B's assertion that it is seeking to restrain the dissemination of misleading information is shown to be complete nonsense. Others might find the motive in G&B's suits in the fact that the survey revealed that G&B's physics journals were far more expensive than those of other publishers on a cost per character basis.
[This is the last word on this lawsuit unless there is further action. -Ed.]
217.4 THE PRICE OF A JOURNAL: THE PRICE TO THE LIBRARY OR THE
PRICE TO THE USER?
Albert Henderson, Editor, Publishing Research Quarterly, NobleStation@compuserve.com
[Received March 1, 1999]
Considering costs to the users begins to take into account the basic economics of the "knowledge industry" as described by Fritz Machlup in the 1960s. He indicated that information as input to research and education affected its productivity. [Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the U.S. Princeton Univ. Press. 1963:145ff] Whether the price of a journal, including the costs of processing and maintenance, is "worth it" depends on what it does for users and their sponsors.
My experience suggests that Mr. Odlyzko is incorrect when he says, "to a large extent publishers are responding to cuts in subscriptions of large (and therefore expensive) journals by launching smaller, more specialized journals." Small circulation niche journals are usually suggested by scientists interested in a 'selective dissemination' medium devoted to their narrow specialty. In addition to publishing primary papers and reviews, it offers comments and rounds up bibliographic references to other materials scattered in behemoths and cross-disciplinary sources. This saves readers not only the time of attempting to scan Current Contents and various indexes for unpredictable buzzwords. It saves them the costs of subscribing to high-volume low-yield publications. A circulation of 300 worldwide is quite respectable for a niche journal. Misunderstanding the value to users often leads to unfair conclusions. R&D is characteristically esoteric.
This was forcefully argued by S.C. Abrahams and R.A. Matula [Acta Crystallographia A44:401-410. 1988]. They pointed out that much of the literature of crystallography was scattered through the sciences, ranging from physics and chemistry to biology. For the user, evaluating prices means counting only relevant articles. Thanks to specialized publications, crystallography flourished and crystallographers often prefer to submit their papers to niche journals that are read and browsed rather than accessed via indexes.
Taking the point a further step, it seems reasonable to me to include indexes when comparing prices of niche journals to general publications. Either add the prices of the relevant indexes essential to finding anything in the behemoth publication -- or subtract them from the niche journal.
Mr. Friend points out that users may be bypassing the library. Indeed they are. Subscriptions to niche journals taken by researchers -- often working in non-academic settings and/or using direct grant funds to pay for subscriptions -- has demonstrated this phenomenon for decades. Of course, having subscribed directly the researcher has no obligation to share.
I also argued the cost to users of incoherence. [Society. 35, 6:38-43. Sept/Oct 1998]. How much duplication and error results from researchers and referees being poorly informed? That figure is probably much larger than any library expenditure. Academic research spends $15 billion while academic research libraries spend around $2 billion to serve the entire spectrum of academic interests. Incoherence and "innocence" impose enormous costs on the unfortunate researcher and sponsor.
Increased speed of dissemination, possible through information technology, is highly desirable. There is no technical justification for any journal to hold a backlog of articles in its editorial back rooms. The reason is financial. The library crisis discouraged investment in the very electronic distribution being recommended by Odlyzko, Harnad and others. Witness, for instance, the reluctance to invest expressed in the recommendations of the American Physical Society task force. It took a 'wait and see attitude' less than 10 years ago. [APS Bulletin 36, 4:1119-51. 1991] Ginsparg's preprint server demonstrated the potential. Unfortunately, it rests on a unique grant and so fails to meet the basic test of market viability. If the Federal government cannot support the libraries used by its researchers, its prospects for the XXX server are dim.
Naturally, these issues are difficult to assess when the government shut down research into science communications in the 1970s. I believe they are, nonetheless, germane to the mission of the research library, its host institution, and to the concerns of sponsors of research who are banking on a high level of productivity. My simple solution is to connect science library budgets directly to the growth of research spending, even if it means intruding on the independence of higher education management and demanding excellent conditions, just as the government does when it buys cheese.
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