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Summary: Self-funding an EJ: some issues

About 10 days ago, I sent to 'lis-elib' and 'arl-ejournal' a description of
some of the issues being considered by the Management Board of Sociological
Research Online as it faces up to a future as a self-funded electronic
journal.  The original message is appended below.  The posting elicited
some very helpful responses and I thought it would be useful to summarise
these in a further message (especially since the original posting went to
two lists, and this summary is being sent both to those and to a third
list, 'liblicense-l', which was recommended to me in a couple of the

This short summary cannot do justice to all the points made in this thread
and I hope the respondents will forgive me if they feel that I have
misinterpreted their views. Further responses will of course be very
welcome.  My own views are in brackets [].

a.  There was general assent to our view that an institution-wide site
license arrangement should be explored, and a repeated plea that licensed
readers should be identified through the IP (sub-) domain from which they
accessed the journal rather than through a username/password system.

For some sites, it would be necessary to allow multiple IP domains within
one institution.

b. It was suggested that library directors will prefer to license journals
through an 'aggregator' - an organisation which contracts with the journal
providers on behalf of several or many libraries.  It was argued that this
will also reduce the journal's administrative costs.

A candidate for an aggregator could be an existing database vendor who
markets abstracts and indexes in sociology.

c.  Libraries should be encouraged to link to the journal from their online
catalogues.  There were mixed feelings about our proposal to include a
CD-ROM in the subscription, with several pointing out that libraries found
CD-ROMs a nuisance to deal with.  One respondent observed that the CD-ROM
might become useful if the library decided to cancel its subscription.
Several replies noted that a CD-ROM would guarantee the long-term
availablity of the journal contents, even if the journal ceased publication.

d.  Several respondents thought that the journal would be more attractive
if it broke away from the traditional constraints of paper based
publication [Note.  We are doing this, but cautiously.  Retaining the
respect of our academic community, many of whom are unused to EJs and the
internet, is more important than exploiting all the available technical
wizardry.  We must lead, but not get too far ahead of our readers].

Other respondents emphasised the attractions of 'added value' such as links
to other relevant sites, ongoing discussions etc. and pointed out the
benefits of having a well-known 'brand name'.

e.  Some offered an alternative scenario to the library site license,
suggesting that individual readers would want access to single articles as
rapidly as possible and at a small unit cost.  While the technology for
collecting such micro-payments is not yet widely available, it will come.

[Note.  I am doubtful whether most sociologists actually read journal
articles in the way implied: going for a specific article and being
uninterested in the rest of the context.  Personally, I enjoy browsing
through contents pages, looking for the serendipitous reference.  Is there
evidence on this point?]

f.  Some wondered what the journal 'is for'. It appears to reproduce the
'traditional' mode of publication of commercial or semi-commercial
publishers working in a market.  An alternative vision of readers and
writers involved in complex webs of interdependence was proposed.  [Note:
The funds we seek to acquire are just enough to pay the salary of a
part-time assistant and to do enough marketing to publicise the journal].

Finally, in my original posting I wondered how we could accommodate the
lone scholar in an institution which could not afford to purchase a site
license.  I don't think any reply addressed this point.

Nigel Gilbert

The original posting was:
Sociological Research Online is an electronic journal receiving funds from
the UK's eLib program for three years, 1995 to 1998. After that date, the
journal is expected to become self-funding.

The Management Board (of which I am Chair) is now debating the value of a
number of alternative schemes for raising income after 1998 and would value
the views of members of this list.

The context is that SocResOnline published 4 issues during the calendar
year 1996 (averaging 4 full length articles and several reviews per issue)
and expects to continue to publish at this rate. The journal is a fully
refereed academic journal covering the central issues of sociology. Papers
are published in HTML. One indicator of the journal's impact is the number
of submissions it receives - and the rate is already up to that expected
for a successful and established paper journal covering general sociology.
Another indicator is the number of readers - it averages a 'hit rate' of
about 200 per day, from all over the world.

We estimate that once the tools and procedures we have been developing to
run the journal have been completed, and the journal is established, it
would cost about 15,000 pounds per annum to run.

One possible route to raising this sum is by selling site licenses and
restricting access - at least to the complete papers - to sites which have
purchased a license. We estimate that we could obtain the income we need if
site licenses were to cost 100 pounds each, which is the same order of
magnitude as a library subscription to conventional paper sociology
journals. We would include in the subscription an annual, cumulative CD-ROM
of past issues. This would be the only tangible and permanent aspect of the

The advantages of a site license over individual subscriptions relate to
the difficulties of developing an acceptable and low-cost scheme to charge
readers. Charging authors ('page-charges') is not feasible because unlike
in the sciences, there are few authors (about 20 per year maximum) and so
the charges would have to enormous to raise the required income. Our
experiments with advertising suggest that it will bring in relatively small
amounts of money.

The disadvantages of a site license scheme include:
* it imposes additional costs on libraries
* it disadvantages peripheral scholars and countries (e.g., the sociologist
working in a technical university; the sociologist working in Lithuania)
* it might be cheaper for libraries to buy 'inter-library loans' (whatever
they might look like!) than to subscribe to the journal.

The decisions we will eventually make on these matters will also have an
impact on our policy on matters such as: - we are beginning to receive
requests to allow direct links from Library catalogues to articles in the
- we have been asked whether a library can be permitted to maintain a
mirror of the journal.

Your reactions to these ideas (which I should emphasise, are matters of
ongoing debate within the Management Board, not settled policy) would be
very welcome.

Prof G. Nigel Gilbert, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey
  Guildford GU2 5XH, UK. Tel: +44 1483 259173 Fax: +44 1483 306290
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