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Re: Future of the "subscription model?"

>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?

This is exactly what publishers do now under the current system, 
isn't it?

>Do libraries determine value by only buying the individual 
>articles THEY believe will be used by their patrons?

What I propose is not a system whereby librarians try to guess 
what their patrons will find valuable -- that's what we do now 
(with both books and journal subscriptions) and we're very 
frequently wrong. What I think would make more sense is a system 
whereby we make documents _findable_ by our patrons, but we don't 
pay for them unless they're actually used.

>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?

Hob brings up what I think is a fundamental problem for the 
scholarly communication system. Over the past several centuries, 
the entire scholarly communication system has been built on what 
seems to me a very shaky foundation: publishers make articles and 
monographs available based on their quality (not their relevance 
or usefulness, which are much more difficult to determine), and 
then they get paid for doing so based on librarians' speculations 
about the future interests and needs of their patrons 
(speculations which, all studies seem to indicate, are wrong 
about 40% of the time). The result has been the publication of 
great numbers of high-quality, low-interest books and articles, 
all of which get bought by libraries on a "just in case" basis 
and many of which never get used by their intended audiences. In 
other words, I would argue, the current system consistently 
rewards publishers for publishing the wrong materials.

Here are the very difficult questions that I think the current 
economic crisis is quickly forcing us, at long last, to face:

*Do all high-quality articles and books "deserve" to be 
published, regardless of whether there is any demand for them?

*If so, what entity should underwrite their publication, and why?

One problem with trying to answer that first question is that 
it's impossible to say whether an apparently low-interest book or 
article is going to be of interest to someone in the future. But 
obviously, the whole tradition of library collecting is based on 
trying to guess exactly that. We need a better system, and the 
current fiscal crisis in libraries (which can be summarized as 
flat or declining budgets combined with frequently-extortionate 
journal pricing) is finally forcing us to try to find one. Hence 
all the interest in patron-driven acquisition models, which may 
not save us any money on a per-unit basis but do at least 
minimize the likelihood of wasted money.

Of course, there will be casualties of a more rational system. 
One will be those publishers who (whether intentionally or not) 
have benefitted from the wastefulness of the old system by 
successfully selling copies of documents no one actually wanted. 
Another casualty will be scholars who have greater difficulty 
finding publishing outlets for their high-quality, low-interest 
scholarly products. Both of these outcomes strike me as genuinely 
regrettable, but probably inevitable -- because the only 
alternative is for libraries to continue buying documents that no 
one wants to use, and we simply can't afford to do that anymore.

Rick Anderson
Assoc. Dean for Scholarly Resources & Collections
J. Willard Marriott Library
University of Utah