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Re: Fair pricing for Print plus Electronic


Much of what you say here makes perfectly good sense. I'm not privy to the
economics or internal decision-making for these publishers, but they are
all friends and colleagues, and I will say they strike me as very
earnestly trying to grasp the 'new' world of electronic publishing we all
face. I don't think your suggestion that they are attempting to gain
excess 'profits' is a fair characterization of their actions, *even* if
their assessment of the economic situation is incorrect...and I'm not
nearly as certain as you appear to be that their assessment is incorrect.

What you don't seem to have considered is that the costs for maintaining a
slowly eroding print base can escalate very rapidly. Perhaps they have
recognized that--if the desired and expected future for their publications
is an all-electronic one--then the really dangerous time for them
financially is the transition period, when they have to produce print and
online. Perhaps they are wisely seeking to hasten the movement.

My key point is that recognizing the dynamics of print publishing
economics might render their actions considerably less than 'shameful',
even if we all agree that the situation isn't ideal for them or for

By the way, for what it's worth, Science doesn't even share the goal of
eradicating print, so I'm really not saying this to ratify any particular
action or strategy -- only to point out that this isn't always as simple
as bad guys trying to fleece libraries, and good guys trying to bring
enlightenment to the world. Would that it were so.

Mike Spinella

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Fair pricing for Print plus Electronic
Author:  David Goodman <dgoodman@Princeton.EDU> at Internet 
Date:    10/27/99 10:18 PM

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