I am writing to respond to Jennifer Weintraub's article, "Too Many E-Versions of Print Journals?" in the June 3, 1999 issue. Weintraub's article raises many interesting and important points about the current state of affairs in electronic publishing, some of which I would like to elaborate on in this note.
The system Weintraub describes, and calls `open linking', sounds a good deal like what is already being developed by many publishers in cooperation with gateway sites or with government agencies. Here at Science we distinguish between aggregators and gateways. An aggregator is an entity that licenses content to be maintained on its own server, or that wishes to present its own version of the content directly to end users, either from its own website or in another fixed medium, such as CD-ROM. The critical difference between a gateway and an aggregator (from our point of view here at Science) is that the gateway does not seek to present their own version of the content to end users.
It seems that, to some extent, Weintraub's proposal is a wish that aggregators would act as gateways. Of course, it's fine for her to want this, but it isn't something that is within Science's control. These are simply different business models. Some companies, like EBSCO, are in fact trying it both ways. For Science, the issue is whether to work with gateways and aggregators as they presently exist, or to exclude one group in favor of another. We have concluded that we can work with both, but we work differently with aggregators, where we can see the possibility of lost subscription revenue, than with gateways, where there are no such concerns.
The open linking, or gateway, form of access that Weintraub describes and encourages in her article is indeed being pursued by various entities, both commercial and governmental, and Science is participating vigorously in these efforts. For example, the "Pubref" system being developed by the National Library of Medicine at the urging of many scholarly publishers including Science, is intended to generalize the well-regarded functionality of PubMed to a broader range of scientific articles.
Besides this government-led initiative, any number of subscription agencies and other organizations are beginning to recognize the value they can provide by creating an attractive and functional `front end' and becoming a very good `pointer' to high quality material held on other sites. EBSCOOnline, SwetsNet, and SilverPlatter, to name but a few, are all examples of gateway systems that are attempting to create an added-value system not dissimilar to Weintraub's idea of `open linking.' They need not own the content (or even license it) to provide this value.
Weintraub suggests that an open linking system, if implemented broadly, would reduce the costs for electronic journals such as Science. While I don't expect the prices for Science Online to be much affected by the types of linking that might occur, I can envision two ways that widespread open linking could make lower costs possible. First, and perhaps most immediate, I would expect that gateway systems would charge less for their front end and search engine than aggregators would for a finished product including `processed' content from a variety of publishers. Science does not require content licensing fees merely for pointing at our site. Of course, in order to reach Science content through a gateway, the library must already have a subscription to Science Online. Science is not in a position, however, to assess whether the same added value can be provided by an open linking method as by the aggregator's technique of processing the content into a unified database. If it can be achieved, one would suppose that libraries could save money by selecting lower-cost gateways products and foregoing aggregations.
A second possibility for achieving lower prices would be for publishers' subscription bases to expand substantially beyond what they can currently expect. This outcome would be more likely if the content were not available through many other channels. This effect should be generally applicable to any publication, since a broader subscription base would enable the publisher to spread the fixed costs - by far the largest portion of online publishing costs - among a larger group of paying customers. In addition, the open linking scenario could result in bringing more traffic to the site, thereby enabling a publisher to defray a higher percentage of its costs through advertising, if their market is inherently attractive to advertisers.
Science is working with both aggregators and gateways because they each may add value useful to some market segment. They operate on different business models for adding that value, and we are not in a position to `pick' which model will `win,' if indeed there must be a winner and a loser in this process. If the market ultimately chooses one or the other model, we will respond appropriately.
In closing, I want to provide a complete list of aggregators who have licensed some of Science's full text content to include with their own aggregated collections or databases:
Ovid's Core Biomedical Collection
Gale Group's InfoTrac (and also as a reseller to Lexis-Nexis and Compuserve)
EBSCOHost (a deal not quite concluded yet, but expected)
Weintraub's article also listed Wilsonweb, but by Science's definition, it should not be included because it does not currently have the right to include full text Science articles in any aggregations or databases it may be producing. It may act as a gateway to Science content, but does not act as an aggregator of our material.
230.2 A SECOND LOOK AT MCB UNIVERSITY PRICES
Eleanor Cook, Serials Specialist, Appalachian State University, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Newsletter No. 223, June 4, 1999, I shared a message I had sent to Ilene Rockman, the editor of Reference Services Review, concerning the pricing of that and other library-related journals now published by MCB University Press. In a reply to me, Ms. Rockman urged me to talk with the publisher about my concerns. I had the opportunity to do so while attending the American Library Association Conference in New Orleans recently. I also had several discussions with various colleagues who are serving on editorial boards for some of these journals. I also talked with Ken Wachsberger, who is the editor of Library Hi Tech News and is now serving as Managing Editor for several of the library science journals published by MCB.
There were two consistent themes in these discussions:
1. MCB is actively attempting to change their image. They told me they are focusing more on the markets they serve instead of being product-driven. I suppose that translates as they want to understand us better as consumers so they can offer publications for which we'll be willing to pay.
2. A number of well-known librarians have joined the editorial ranks of several of these publications with the hope that by being "up close and personal" they can help influence policy.
If you read the lead editorial by Ken Wachsberger in the April 1999 issue of Library Hi Tech News, I think he gives good historical background about how the Pierian Press journals ended up where they are today with MCB University Press. After talking with Ken, I am confident that he will do everything in his power to have the library-related journals he's responsible for at MCB continue to be of high quality.
But the prices are going up. MCB has a commitment to providing electronic access to these titles and that is an added value. Let us not for one minute think anyone is giving us electronic access "for free." Hardly! Considering that these recently acquired journals are DOUBLING their price, that clearly is not the case. But, if a price like $154.50 will now be (for 1999/2000) $299 (the combined new price for Library Hi Tech and Library Hi Tech News) and if Reference Services Review which was $80 will now be $169, I suppose I can accept that. What I and many others cannot accept is something like Library Management which is over $6,000.00. I checked OCLC and have only found two libraries in the U.S. that still have an active subscription to this title. If MCB wants to show us some good faith, either kill off that title or repackage it at a more reasonable price.
Another aspect of MCB's editorial focus that makes them a bit different is that they deliberately strive for international coverage with their journals. Many of us are used to a domestic focus for our professional journals. I challenge us to accept and embrace that, living in a global community, we can find value in the experiences reported to us by our colleagues in other countries and cultures. However, I do not think that international editorial emphasis should equate in higher prices.
A point concerning pricing that MCB University Press, and all other publishers for that matter, need to be aware of is that we librarians are not interested in negotiating every single price for every single journal. Most of us are managing subscription lists of thousands of journals and we simply do not have the time to do this - and I wish they would also realize this is true for the electronic versions as well!
Everyone I talked to was anxious to know if I felt any better about
the situation now that I had had a chance to discuss it with them.
Yes, I do feel better because they do seem interested in making a
difference. I hope my colleagues who have decided to sign on to
serve on editorial boards for this publisher will also be vocal
with their concerns. They assure me they have been and will
continue to be so.
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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