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Fair pricing for Print plus Electronic

Three non-profit publishers of key biology journals will be charging those
libraries who want both the print and electronic versions of their
journals in 2000 the sum of the print and the electronic prices:

o American Society for Microbiology (publisher of Applied and
environmental microbiology, Antibiotics and chemotherapy, Clinical and
diagnostic laboratory immunology, Clinical microbiology reviews, Infection
and immunity, J. of bacteriology, J. of clinical microbiology, J. of
virology, Molecular and cellular biology, and Microbiology and molecular
biology reviews).

o Rockefeller University Press (publisher of J. of cell biology, J. of
experimental medicine, and J. of general physiology). 

o American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (publisher of
Journal of biological chemistry). 

ASBMB has been doing this for some time; RUP previously charged only a 15%
premium; ASM last year would not issue campus licenses at all, but would
only license for use within the actual library.

I fail to see how these prices can be justified. Prices are normally based
on the production costs, the value, or the overall social utility, the
competition, or on what the traffic will bear.

The production of print and online versions of a journal are not
independent; estimates of the common costs from the publishers involved
are on the order of 75%. In order to have some actual numbers, since each
of them has a lower price for online only than for print only, if we
approximate that the cost of the online only distribution is 1/3 the
common cost and of the print only is 1/2 of the common cost, then simple
arithmetic gives a relative price ratio of online:print:combination ration
of 100:112:137. Note that neither the absolute nor the relative values of
the actual costs are relevant: if there is any common cost at all in the
preparation and editing of the material, the publisher's cost for the
combination is always less than the sum of its separate costs.

Most of us would be prepared to assume that the value of a online journal
to the user community is greater than the corresponding print journal. A
considerable part of the value, though is that of getting the journal
locally at all in any format--the value for the use of the copyright.  
The same arithmetic holds. Regardless of whatever value is placed upon the
print and on the online, if the copyright is worth anything at all, then
the value of the combination is less than the sum of the two.

I think it is generally held that the social value of a journal is its
availability to users. Unless the users of the print and the online form
entirely separate groups, again the same arithmetic holds.

Very few online journals are priced on this basis. It would hardly make
sense except for the top journals, as no one at all would even consider
paying such combination prices for anything else; most of the equivalently
prestigious titles, though, are not priced on this basis.

Publishers may assume that major libraries will automatically get both
versions, and thus provide them revenues in excess of the costs.  This may
be rational for a few libraries, for a few of the titles. Since it
wouldn't be for most, perhaps they assume librarians are irresponsible
enough to get them anyway. I don't think they're right, but I admit I'm
not quite sure.

There is another possibility: the prices are being set to discourage
print. I think print should in many cases be discouraged, but not
necessarily for these titles. User preferences vary. I suggest that we can
no longer afford a dual publication system for the less important
journals, and that it may be necessary to compel readers of relatively
less used material to accept electronic even if they would prefer
otherwise. For the most important few titles in each field, I suggest that
we should try to also accommodate those who prefer conventional formats.
But in biomedicine these publishers are the ones publishing just these
titles for which it would be the most rational to preserve the dual
formats if it could be done at a reasonable expense, and which have
sufficient subscribers to pay for it.  

The most frequently mentioned reason for continuing print versions is
archiving.  To me, this is not necessarily a long-term consideration, as
the technology and the organization of archiving electric formats is in my
opinion a solvable problem. But many disagree, and in any case no one can
hardly be confident about it quite yet. A library which takes archiving
seriously might still need the paper for at least a little while longer;
but at double the cost, for each title they archive there must be a title
they cannot get at all. Many conservative libraries will do the exact
opposite of what the publishers intend, and get the print version only.

What reasons do the publishers give? All three lay great stress upon the
usefulness of their titles, and on their high production and development
costs. They are indeed among the most valuable titles, and along with
other well-produced journals undoubtedly have high costs. (They also have
high numbers of subscribers, both personal and institutional). All this
does affect the price and the value, but the arithmetic about the
combination still holds. As for a specific justification of the
combination pricing: The ASBMB has told me explicitly that "we tried and
are continuing to try to discourage print."  The ASM says "our reasoning
is a bit of both. We must begin to recover the costs of our investment
[and discourage print]".  RUP thinks no library will have difficulty
paying both, because they "could simply drop some of its duplicate print
subscriptions..." (In reality, most but by no means all of the
institutions with separate medical libraries have duplicates of some of
the RUP titles; hardly anyone else does.)  I think I am giving the
arguments fairly, and I will forward copies of the publishers' entire
letters on request.

I consider the actions of these publishers a shame, and a defeat for the
cause of a reasonable transition to electronic journals.

David Goodman 
Biology Librarian, and
Co-Chair, Electronic Journals Task Force
Princeton University Library 
dgoodman@princeton.edu         http://www.princeton.edu/~biolib/
phone: 609-258-3235            fax: 609-258-2627