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An interruption (Re: Re[2]: Science Online model and Princeton)

I'd just like to interrupt this interesting exchange for a moment to make
sort of a parenthetical remark.

Here's what I think I'm hearing in this debate, in a nutshell:

Publishers say:  "First of all, we're not realizing significant savings by
presenting our materials in electronic formats.  Second of all, libraries
should be willing to pay more for online access because electronic formats
add value in the following ways: (a, b, c...)."

Libraries respond:  "First of all, electronic formats may or may not
provide us with significant added value.  Second of all, publishers need
to be sensitive to our budget problems, which are considerable, and should
set prices accordingly."

I probably tend to force my perceptions of the world into artificially
neat patterns, but it looks to me as if each side in this debate has one
valid and one invalid point.  If publishers are finding that electronic
formats are not, in fact, cheaper to produce than paper, then they should
certainly say so.  Librarians should feel free to hypothesize about how a
publisher might economize, but unless we're the ones balancing the books
we probably need to take the publishers at their word when they tell us
that electronic publishing is more expensive than we might think.  
However, by the same logic, publishers are wrong to lecture librarians on
how much more those electronic products should be worth to us.  
Publishers know how much money they've put into product development, but
they do *not* know whether that money was well spent as far as added value
is concerned.  Only we, their customers, know that, and publishers should
take us at our word when we tell them that, in fact, the online version is
not worth the money.  Just because you invest more in a product does not
necessarily mean that you increase its value.

Libraries are right to tell publishers when a product is worth less to
them than publishers think it should be worth.  The producer may set the
price, but only the customer can determine the *value* of a product.  
However, I think it's a little silly for us to say "Quit setting prices
that bust our budgets."  Publishers have to set prices that make sense in
light of both their needs and ours, and we can't realistically expect them
to say "Oh, is that too much?  Sorry, we'll just take a loss, then."

I think part of the problem, however, is a lingering suspicion on the part
of librarians that we're being gouged -- that despite all of publishers'
protestations to the contrary, there really is no justification for the
enormous price increases we see in subscriptions every year and for online
access to information we often have already purchased.  Publishers are
monopolies -- I can't buy Science Online from any other publisher -- and
therefore have us over a barrel, so we naturally tend to assume that any
price increase is due more to the publisher's advantageous position than
to outside market pressures (real as those may be).  I actually suggested
to one publisher recently that the solution to this particular problem
would be for him to open up the books to his customers.  You say costs are
increasing?  Show me.  Heh heh.  Actually, he didn't think it was that bad
an idea, but then, he was a nonprofit...

Okay, flame away!

Rick Anderson
Head Acquisitions Librarian
Jackson Library
UNC Greensboro
1000 Spring Garden St.
Greensboro, NC 27402-6175
PH (336) 334-5281
FX (336) 334-5399

"There must be good thinking and good
talking about music to preserve its noble
rank as a fine art for all of us."
                  -- Elliott Cartet