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RE: Future of the "subscription model?"

Rick's post does remind me of his remarks at the Charleston 
Conference last year.  I think the "pay for what you need" 
approach to electronic journals is a rational one for a library 
to take, particularly during difficult financial times.  My 
question to the readers of this list revolves around the effect 
this would have on scholarly communication, and I hope you will 
humor me as I think this through.

Traditionally, "value" or "impact" of an article is determined by 
the academy, yes?  Publishers present a collection of articles in 
the form of a journal which libraries subscribe to and make 
accessible to their patrons.  Academics filter through these 
articles, choosing to use certain articles in their research and 
passing over others.  By virtue of the citation, some articles 
then become more "valuable" than others.  How does this work in 
the environment Rick describes?  Do the publishers take on the 
responsibility for determining value and only publishing articles 
THEY expect to be the "best" or most valuable to academics?  Do 
libraries determine value by only buying the individual articles 
THEY believe will be used by their patrons?

My hunch, though, is that the expectation would be for publishers 
to continue to produce a full range of articles and for libraries 
to keep providing access at least to the abstracts for a full 
range of articles, and instituting some type of PDA model to 
purchase the full text for "valuable" articles using tokens or a 
similar purchasing model.  This makes a certain amount of sense 
to me, however the challenge would be that the price for the 
"valuable" articles would inevitably have to subsidize the cost 
of publishing the less valuable articles, correct?  Is this model 
preferable to libraries?

I recognize the dilemma and the numerous challenges currently 
facing libraries.  My concern, I suppose, would be if the article 
based approach to purchasing content resulted in a significant 
reduction in how much research actually gets published.  What 
impact might this have on the ability of faculty to get published 
and on research as a whole?

What solutions can we collaborate on that address Rick's point of 
view and also promote scholarly publishing and communication?

Hob Brooks
Senior Library Sales Manager
SAGE Publications
(805) 410-0907

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
[mailto:owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu] On Behalf Of Rick Anderson
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 8:19 PM
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: 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 electronic?

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