236.1 PRICING CRISIS REVISITED, J. C.
236.2 A SECOND OPINION ON ACADEMIC PRESS PRICING FOR 2000, Tony Kidd
236.1 PRICING CRISIS REVISITED
J. C. Gerrard, University of Kent, email@example.com
[Both Colin and Tony have been kind enough to expand upon remarks in messages posted recently to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
The year 2000 promises to be a significant one in terms of periodical pricing for academic libraries in the UK. Judging from the contents of our renewal invoices from Academic Press prospects look bleak. To place these prices in the correct context, it is necessary to reiterate recent developments. Following the Follett report(1) in 1993 the Pilot Site Licence Initiative (PLSI) emerged. Set up by the HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council) on behalf of the four higher education funding bodies in the UK, the initiative was the first concerted attempt to harness the constantly soaring prices of journals, which were severely reducing the spending power of academic libraries. Another aim was to tackle the problem of restrictions caused by copyright laws. Lump sums were allocated to four publishers, allowing them to produce imaginative pricing models. Cushioned by this subsidy, they each offered their package of print titles at a significant discount over the period of PSLI, which began in 1996.
Coinciding with acceleration in the growth of electronically available journals, electronic access was also offered by the publishers concerned, namely Blackwell, Blackwell Science, Institute of Physics and Academic Press, the latter being a major participant in the scheme. The scheme in their case extended to the end of 1999. Due acknowledgement must be paid to AP for the enlightened approach they showed during this period. However in the cold light of October 1999 their year 2000 prices to UK HE libraries appeared. I do not intend to quote specific prices for titles, as this might unnecessarily open up an argument about subscription agents' pricing, which is not relevant in this instance. However among the forty odd titles we take from Academic Press are five on our Biosciences list. The pattern for the pricing of these applies to the other titles we take. The annual total cost of these titles in the last six years in UK Pounds is as follows:
1995 - 5,889
1996 - 4,563
1997 - 4,563
1998 - 5,381
1999 - 6,362
2000 - 12,302
Thus freed from the shackles of the Pilot Site Licence Initiative, the Academic Press prices for next year for our library and presumably for others in UK HE institutions hover around a 100% increase over 1999 rates.
The only two unsubsidised prices in the above are of course those for 1995 and 2000, and we should no doubt be grateful to the publisher for co-operating in the scheme which allowed us to enjoy reduced prices for four years. Careful monitoring of the real price increases over this period, even but substantial, will have made the 2000 pricing unsurprising, although it represents the worst case scenario and plays havoc with budgets. What is depressing is that periodical pricing norms are back to square one (well, 1995 anyway).
That is of course the story for printed materials, but there is always the alternative of electronic access, which developed over the same period. IDEAL from 1996-99 seemed a model scheme in both name and nature, allowing access to all Academic Press titles. NESLI (National Site Licence Initiative) became prominent in 1999, charged with negotiating good value deals for electronic access in the wake of PSLI's progress in this area. New budgeting strategies were anticipated, as the HEFCE subsidy, which contributed so greatly to the perceived success of PSLI, disappeared. Paying for publisher driven packages including a wide range of subject material was always going to present problems not normally associated with budgeting for individual print title subscriptions. Recent years have seen the power of funding library material in many cases devolve increasingly to departments, reducing the librarians' options to invest in rational initiatives not dictated by a subject approach.
A variety of deals have been negotiated by NESLI with surprising variations in cost per title, as publishers seek a level of cost acceptable to libraries, while retaining profit margins. Disappointingly, recent deals have required retention of print subscriptions with reduced value of the terms on offer. The anticipated unbundling of electronic and print subscriptions seems out of favour with the major players. It was therefore no surprise that this was to be the case with Academic Press, but the talk of a reasonably priced package with print versions at 25% of full cost sounded promising. However this appetising prospect turned sour when the lump sums payable were specified for each of the potential participating institutions. I shall not reveal our own sum, which is probably sub judice NESLI, but suffice it to say that we were not alone in thinking that the charge was for three years not one! The number of NESLI takers of this offer is not yet known, but for whatever reason, Academic Press appear to have misjudged the funds available for both print and electronic versions.
Although Academic Press will appear to be the primary target in this contribution, my main concern is the overall cost of providing research periodical literature to the academic community, which continues to spiral uncontrollably. Early evaluations of PSLI found that libraries had used the savings either to maintain titles from other publishers which would otherwise have been cancelled or to take out new subscriptions. Prospects for these titles must be uncertain now that year 2000 prices have returned to the levels they would have reached had PSLI never existed. Opting for electronic only subscriptions is one possibility, but for all the groundbreaking technology, the cost rarely falls below 90% of the print charge, and Academic Press prices are set at 122%.
I feel sure that publishers share my fears that despite the immense enhancements offered by desktop delivery of research articles, before long current pricing policies could claim as victims academic departments, shorn of vital materials. Not only that, publishers themselves will be in jeopardy and the victims may include some of the big names.
(1). Joint Funding Councils' Libraries Review Group (1993). Report (Follett Report)
236.2 A SECOND OPINION ON ACADEMIC PRESS PRICING
Tony Kidd, Serials Librarian/Document Delivery, Glasgow University Library, email@example.com
I very much share Colin's concerns on the pricing of some electronic journal offers, including in this particular case the individual "lump sum" offers that Academic Press have made to higher education institutions in the UK, via NESLI, as described by Colin.
Putting aside for the moment the particular sums in this case (in the "real world," of course, the financial aspects are vitally important), I think there are positive aspects to the Academic Press offer, if the financial arrangements can be made affordable.
First, there has certainly been widespread use made of the electronic Academic Press journals, available at Glasgow and throughout UK universities over the last four years. In the last twelve months, there have been around 10,000 downloads of Academic articles at Glasgow. I appreciate the recent arguments on e.g. the liblicense list, on whether researchers are using the 'best' information, or merely the most readily available, but this figure still represents substantial demand.
Second, the structuring of the offer, while still excessively priced, does encourage libraries, and users, to look towards electronic access at the expense of print. While this will certainly not be appropriate in every case, I believe that it is useful to have incentives to move in that direction.
Third, it may be helpful to run an "experiment" providing only electronic access to a substantial, but not huge, number of research journals, to check out the advantages and disadvantages of such an arrangement, before such a shift becomes universal.
Having said all this, there were unsurprisingly still reservations (in addition to financial concerns) when these questions were discussed at a recent meeting of the university's Library Committee. University academics still require reassurance, as to some extent do library staff, on questions of access and archiving, and are wary of 'risking' a move towards electronic only access. There are also serious concerns over commitments for more than one year, when journal cancellations are a fact of life; and a desire for access, on reasonable terms, to individual journal titles, as opposed to bundled deals covering the whole output of a particular publisher.
If nothing else, offers like Academic Press's have the salutary effect of encouraging and focussing discussion on all these matters, and perhaps hastening the move towards electronic journals -- although how electronic access will be organised and paid for in the medium term is still very much an open question.
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