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Re: Future of the "subscription model?"
- To: "email@example.com" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: Re: Future of the "subscription model?"
- From: Rick Anderson <email@example.com>
- Date: Thu, 27 Oct 2011 19:25:49 EDT
- Reply-to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sender: email@example.com
>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 firstname.lastname@example.org