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Re: Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey 2009

This is an intersting and cogent line of reasoning, though I'd 
add a couple of complicating factors.  One is the massive market 
distorting influence of consortia purchasing.  By guaranteeing 
inflationary revenue increases to a privileged set of STM 
publishers, the end effect was to reduce journal competition, 
create a package of must have titles, and to raise the percentage 
cost of journals in our library to 80% of the collection budget.

Another complication is the tradition bound promotion and tenure 
process which over the last 15 years operated in a manner 
congruent with consortia to create the "big publisher"  journal 
bubble that we  now find ourselves in -- and given the economy, 
it is a bubble which  every library will eventually have to find 
an answer for via layoffs,  uncomfortable cancellations, branch 
closures, shrinking services,  dramatically reduced book 
purchasing, etc.  The "big publisher"  publishers  are now the 
academy's version of the "too big to fail"  banks and aside  from 
breaking the publishers up, it is hard to see  how this situation 
ultimately ends up with a suitable outcome for all  involved.

This type of potentially mutually assurred destruction situation 
is  sometimes called a "Mexican standoff," and  it is entirely 
possible  that everyone of us: publishers, libraries,  and the 
academy, could  end up participating in a sudden, unplanned  for, 
unpleasant, and very  uncomfortable conclusion to the entire 

Academic readers are used to wide-ranging easy access, publishers 
need a predictable revenue stream, and libraries are financially 
tapped out with little hope of stopping the revenue bleed. If we 
continue down the path we're on: libraries will stop buying, 
publishers will go under, and readers will get what they need 
some other way.

We've now gone through several decades of what are essentailly 
supply-side-based academic  publishing business models.  We've 
managed  to keep these models aloft primarily  through the 
library habit of  speculative purchasing, aided by an 
unwillingness to look at data and make serious hard decisions. 
If a book had no readers over ten years, there were no 
repercussions.  If a $2,000 journal couldn't even attract 100 
campus readers a year, no one got fired, if a library bought a 
package of 1200 journals of which less than half had serious 
usage, no library dropped their big deal. All the mattered was 
that the supply side kept churning out content, that consortia 
kept corralling customers, and that libraries kept buying.  This 
is all about to enter a new and disturbing phase in  which 
various chickens are heading home to roost.

It's not a good idea for any of us to continue to enable business 
models that are based on throwing dollar bills out the window in 
the hope that they somehow magically result in a reader and 
content come into contact and falling in academic love.  Don't 
get me wrong, I'm all for librarians attending conferences, 
tipping back their Stetsons, flashing wads of cash, sipping 
bourbon, and meeting publishers in back rooms over cigars and 
private entertainment -- all while doing deals that the timid and 
poor have no hope of ever replicating.  But fond as those 
memories are, they probably don't represent a sustainable path 
forward for anyone who does't have an oil well on their campus. 
But there are things we can do.

We can shift our long entrenched mental models from the supply 
side to the demand side.  I'd much rather take a portion of 
library collection funding and use it to keep a group of proven 
academic publishers on  retainer.  A library could give 100 
publishers  25% or 50% of past  revenue, the publishers could 
provide a portfolio of 75% or 100% of  content, and  at the end 
of the year the library could divide its  remaining funds among 
whichever titles got the most usage until an  ownership cap is 
hit, thereby rewarding those publishers whose titles got the most 
usage.  An infinite number of variations of this type of "shared 
risk" model are possible.  The critical component is that good 
content is rewarded, bad content is not, and that both the 
library and the pubsliher have to be careful in  their management 
of  the risk pool and the terms of the deal.

In this model, the publisher takes the risk that they are 
producing content that no one wants to read, cite, or assign in 
class; and the library takes the risk that  the content will be 
too frequently read, cited, or receive too much classroom use and 
will consequently have to pay higher usage rates.  Over time, 
this would reduce some of the friction and inefficiencies of the 
current supply side system, in that libraries would buy less 
content that is never used, and publishers would have a direct 
incentive to produce content that is used, and would be getting 
direct feedback as to what readers want.

A demand side model does has inherent pitfalls and it is 
certainly not a panacea, but it can be part of a portfolio of 
collecting approaches that included traditional supply-side 
models, open access approaches, institutional repository content, 
and inter-library loan, and it reinforces the buying function 
role of libraries in a new way while providing academic 
publishers with both a new revenue incentive and the possibility 
of increasing both their audiences, product lines, and 

In the past Texas has bought all the output of some academic 
publishers whether that content was good or bad, whether the 
content was used or not.  The sales figures from us for heavily 
used readable content, was exactly the same as for unreadable 
content that was never opened.  We are trying to systematically 
reduce our unthinking support these kinds of supply side 
approaches.  By moving to different variations of demand-side 
models, there is no doubt that we are aligning ourselves with the 
needs of the academy, because it is the academy that is driving 
the usage.  If we are all willing to take the risk of thinking 
seriously about demand-side models, we may find a method that 
allows us to back away from our financial Mexican standoff with 
big publishers without a sad and mutually detrimental outcome.

--Dennis Dillon
Associate Director for Research Services
University of Texas at Austin

from  Sandy Thatcher <sgt3@psu.edu>
reply-to  liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
to  liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
date  Thu, May 13, 2010 at 11:24 PM
subject Re: Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey 2009

This new Ithaka report, read in conjunction with an earlier 
Ithaka  report on "University Publishing in a Digital Age" (July 
2007), leads  me to an interesting hypothesis: scientists are 
responsible for  changes in the ways both libraries and presses 
operate in  universities that may threaten job losses in the 

I mean "responsible" in a causal, not moral sense, in the way we 
often say that the bad weather was "responsible" for the closing 
of  schools. Indeed, it is easy to see what happened here as a 
prime  example of the law of unintended consequences, or even 
Murphy's  Law-just the sort of phenomenon that my college 
classmate Edward  Tenner wrote about in his best-selling Why 
Things Bite Back:  Technology and the Revenge of Unintended 
Consequences (Knopf, 1996).

Since the line of reasoning that brings me to this perhaps 
startling  conclusion is somewhat circuitous, I may need to flesh 
it out in a  longer piece, perhaps the next one I write for 
Against the Grain.  But I'll provide the bare bones of it here in 
a series of  propositions:

1)  The economic backbone of university press publishing up to 
the early 1970s was sales of hardback monographs to academic 
libraries, averaging close to 3,000 copies per title.

2)  As first documented by the classic Fry/White NSF study 
(1975), the ratio of expenditures on books compared with journals 
began to shift from 2:1 until it eventually came to be almost the 
exact opposite.

3)  The main driver of increased journal expenditures was the 
proliferation and price rises of STM journals.

4)  Less able to count on sales of hardbacks to libraries, 
presses gradually from the 1970s on began to diversify their 
lists,  hoping to capture revenues from new markets outside 

5)  This economic necessity was partly rationalized as an 
extension of presses' mission to serve the wider cultural life of 
our  society, with the publication of more trade books, including 
fiction  and poetry. Here necessity became the mother of 

6)  For their part, librarians came to realize that their role as 
suppliers of essential resources to their campus constituencies 
was increasingly jeopardized as budgets failed to keep up with 
the  rate of journal price hikes and they were forced to start 
canceling  subscriptions.

7)  This predicament was the primary driver for the open-access 
movement, which led to the creation of SPARC and other OA 
advocacy  organizations.

8)  Again, necessity became the mother of invention as librarians 
became more outspoken evangelists for academic libraries serving 
a  wider public beyond their own campuses, including citizens 
wanting to  learn more about health issues (hence support for the 
NIH  initiative), individual scholars not having any academic 
affiliation  (that provides access to site-licensed electronic 
resources), and all  those inhabitants of underdeveloped 
countries disadvantaged by the  "digital divide."

9)  Now, notice this interesting parallelism between the 
responses of presses and libraries to their respective crises, 
both  of which are attributable to the rising costs of STM 
journals: they  both looked to justify their responses by 
emphasizing what had been a  latent but theretofore secondary 
mission to serve publics outside  academe.  But this strategy 
entailed significant risks, ultimately  for the very survival of 
presses and for the maintenance of  traditional library 
functions, as the two Ithaka reports reveal.

10)  The principal recommendation of the 2007 report was for 
presses to align their missions more closely with those of their 
parent universities. Failure to do so could lead, in tight 
budgetary  times, to a university questioning whether its press 
was really  serving a mission important to the university. I 
began worrying about  this possibility as long ago as 1991 when, 
in a talk at a plenary  session of the AAUP's annual meeting 
titled "Back to Basics:  Reflections on the Cultural Role of 
University Presses in a New Age,"  I noted the boast of then 
Rutgers press director Ken Arnold that "we  have almost stopped 
publishing the short-run monograph." The Ithaka  report of 2007 
makes it perfectly clear how dangerous a strategy this  can be 
for a press-and the recent announcement of the closure of  SMU's 
press, which concentrated mainly on publishing fiction, shows 
that the risk is very real.

11)  The 2010 report on faculty attitudes reveals that the 
"gateway" function of libraries has steadily declined, the 
"archive"  function has remained about the same in importance to 
faculty over  time, but that the library as "buyer" remains far 
and away the most  crucial function. Newer roles in supporting 
teaching and research  have gained some traction but have not 
come close to challenging the  more traditional functions in 
importance to most faculty.

12)  The irony is that the more the OA movement succeeds, the 
more the remaining primary role of library as "buyer" will erode. 
And  it seems likely that to the extent specialized search 
services  increase in importance, they will be developed along 
disciplinary  lines, perhaps by professional societies, as the 
2010 report shows  that this is the way that scholars continue to 
choose to organize  their professional lives.

13)  The report also shows that OA itself is not important to 
most  faculty, but that publishing in places that will gain the 
most  attention from their academic peers is, whether OA or TA. 
The fact  remains that the vast majority of research scholars 
have ready access  to the best TA journals in their fields 
through their campus  libraries, and they are thus being well 
served in what they regard to  be the most important ways for 
their career advancement. If and when  those journals migrate to 
OA, the library will no longer be needed to  provide such access.

14)  Thus, the unintended consequence of the OA movement's 
success, which has focused on the STM arena, may be to 
disintermediate so many of the library's traditional functions 
that,  if libraries do not become completely expendable, they may 
well lose  significant budget support and need to downsize their 
staff radically.

15)  Ergo, the line of causation from scientists' needs for ever 
costly resources leads eventually to both presses and libraries 
risking, if not their very survival, major financial support 
required  for them to carry out what remaining functions they are 
seen to be  needed to serve.

I would welcome comments on this argument.

Sandy Thatcher