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Re: Future of the "subscription model?"

>What do you all imagine as the future of
>the "subscription model" for purchasing academic library
>collections?  Is it alive and well and growing or is it on its
>way out, supplanted by memberships, open access, and a growing
>variety of other options for obtaining publications, particularly

Here's my (probably very predictable) $.02:

As a model for acquiring scholarly articles, I think the 
subscription's days are numbered. Why? Because it's fundamentally 
irrational, and models that are fundamentally irrational tend not 
to do well in the long run.

When a library subscribes to a journal, it's saying to the 
publisher "I'll pay you up front to send me all the articles 
published under the rubric of Journal X for a year, regardless of 
how many of those articles turn out to be of any actual use or 
interest to my patrons." In the print environment we had no 
choice but to buy articles that way, but in the online 
environment that level of waste isn't necessary anymore, and our 
shrinking budgets are making it much harder to justify. It makes 
much more sense to let  pay only for those articles that actually 
get used.

There are several problems with that approach, one of which is 
that we're functioning in a scholarly economy that has been 
significantly shaped by the necessary inefficiencies of the print 
environment. Publishers can't make as much money selling only the 
articles that people want as they can selling articles in 
12-month bundles. This means that to the degree that the 
marketplace for articles becomes more rational and efficient, 
those publishers that have benefitted (however unintentionally) 
from the inefficiencies of the old system are going to suffer. 
That's a real problem, and I'm not sure what the solution to it 
is. But I'm pretty sure that the long-term solution will not 
involve libraries paying for articles their patrons don't want, 
because the money to do so just isn't there anymore.

Rick Anderson
Assoc. Dean for Scholarly Resources & Collections
J. Willard Marriott Library
University of Utah
Office: (801) 587-9989
Cell: (801) 721-1687