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Re: Science Online and general e-journal pricing models

Although I have respect for Mike Spinell's views on journal pricing, I
accept neither his model nor his prices. I have given my reasons before,
here and elsewhere; instead of repeating, I will use this excuse to talk
about the problem in a more general sense:

1/ Cost. Here I have no particular expertise, and I generally refer to
Peter B. Boyces's contributions to this list and elsewhere, where he gives
his personal experience that it should not cost much more to publish a
journal in electronic format as well as print than it does to publish it
in print only.

2/ Profit maximization. This should not be a consideration for a
non-commercial publisher, which should only be concerned with recovering
costs, or at most making a small surplus to support other activities of
the society.  (As for the commercial publishers, it seems obvious that
many have left the path where any stable equilibrium can be found, and are
caught in the spiral of positive feedback.)

3/ Value. I am not aware of any adequate treatment of this. But, with
respect to research journals, we have been paying for:

	preparation and distribution of the material
	copyright permission
	availability on campus;

we are now considering paying additional for:

	greater availability on and off campus
	higher quality printing and graphics
	links and other features. 

>From a research library perspective, what is the relative value of the
basic availability of the journal versus its greater convenience?  When I
ask faculty whether we should consider canceling 1/3 of our titles to pay
for electronic access to the other 2/3, they say,

	Certainly not!

When I ask them if it is reasonable to consider canceling 10% of the
titles to pay for electronic access to the other 90%, they say,

	Quite possibly. 

And that's the value users put on the increased availability and links for
research journals: 10%.

Now, this is approximate--it depends on the journal, and the general
adequacy of the current collection. There are also additional factors the
users customarily do not consider, such as networking, archiving, and
alternative ways of paying for access. There is also the likelihood that
when links improve so all journal articles are interconnected regardless
of publisher, and all are actually available at an institution, then the
value of the links will be considerably higher. (I will attempt to be more
precise about all this elsewhere.)

Science also has a newletter/review component, which needs to be
separately considered. I agree with Mike that availability and convenience
is relatively more important here. I disagree with him that electronic is
necessarily a better format than print for this component; what users seem
to prefer is printed copies--to the extent that I think they will still
want personal subscriptions where possible.

4. There is the related question of what the library community can afford.  
I know that publishers hope that the society as a whole will increase the
money spent on academic information resources. Librarians may hope so too,
but they know academic institutions pretty well, and just don't think it
very likely! Therefore, with a finite sum of money, which will undoubtedly
continue to increase much less than the cost of printed materials, there
are only three possibilities for the system as a whole:

	fewer journals,
	cheaper journals, or  
	an alternative system altogether.

It is true that the share to a particular publisher can increase, but only
at the expense of other publishers. I will gladly increase any publisher's
share, but only on the basis of the quality of the journals.

5. As Mike says, number of users is crucial. Every industry in the world
except scholarly publishing would meet the problem by cutting prices to
increase sales. Mike offers the possibility, which he and I both think not
very likely, of "a price decrease because we sold so many more than we

I think it would be more successful to have a price decrease first, in
order to sell more. Since the incremental price per user of an online
service is extremely low, if Science were to charge 1/10 their current
online price and every US college and university buys it, as I think they
would at that figure, they would do very well financially.  The price
sensitivity in deciding how many copies of a journal to buy, or whether to
buy a supplementary access service, is considerably greater than for the
basic subscription to an important individual research title.


David Goodman 
Biology Librarian, Princeton University Library 
dgoodman@princeton.edu         http://www.princeton.edu/~biolib/
phone: 609-258-3235            fax: 609-258-2627