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Open Access and "Membership Costs"

Ann Okerson hit the nail squarely on the head about who will be paying for
open access -- libraries will. Despite the name "institutional
membership", these are in essence library subscription fees designed to
extract rents from the institution. Because authors are adverse to paying
to publish, an institutional membership model is in the author's and
publisher's best interest. But it is in the best interest of the

Institutions will pay more money in this model than the sum of all author
payments in the initial model. Because we are dealing with a for-profit
publisher (i.e. BioMedCentral), it is completely rational that
institutions will see their membership fees rise precipitously if this
product and its journals become prestigious. We have seen this for all
other commercial publisher products, and shouldn't believe otherwise. Individual authors will push for the library to continue its subscription
despite a clear price discrimination model being in effect. In effect, we
find ourselves in the same inelastic price model we currently have in the
traditional model. The additional problem with the membership fee is that
it "bundles" all open-access journals together from a publisher.

The only economic model where institutional-membership fees might work is
if the publisher is a non-profit society or association, whereby the
prices charged to the institution will reflect the actual cost of
publishing and not the price the market will bear.

Respectfully submitted,
Phil Davis, Cornell University

At 05:45 PM 7/6/2003 -0400, Ann Okerson wrote:
Phil Davis is right to suggest that there can be various acceptable ways
of paying for e-content, i.e., a variety of business models.  We all need
to work together to identify models that will *work,* whether they be the
kind of behind-the-scenes, up-front payment that the open access movement
supports, or some kind of subscriptions, or...

On a related note, Jan Velterop's posting below suggests that in open
access models, libraries will somehow *not* pay for e-content.  Yet I
would observe that at our institution we have paid and are paying for at
least some open access e-journals, through what look to me very much like
subscription prices, though they are called memberships.  We can call such
annual payments memberships, or founders fees or supporting fees, but in
the end they are a business model that feels like a subscription by a
different name.  Libraries who have budgets will be essential in paying
for open access.  If we think that's not the case, we could be fooling

**NOTE:  I'm not writing here about the pros and cons of open access, but
rather how we all will support ejournals in the present and future. These
two concepts seem often to get mixed up.**

Sincerely, Ann Okerson/Yale Library