Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Incentives, incentives, incentives ...

The transition to electronic-only format: cost and considerations -- Roger Schonfeld, Ithaka

Only with an examination of *incentives* can we find a viable path forward

Based on studies in 2003 (11 libraries), 2004 (publishers):

Larger publishers (including NFPs, university presses) have already flipped business models from principally print to electronic-with-print-as-add-on -- pricing has evolved to mitigate the effects of print cancellations on the bottom line (site licenses/tiered pricing).
Larger publishers have significant resources to invest in making the transition, and considerable in-house expertise on which to draw.

Smaller commercial publishers, scholarly societies and university presses -- in a few cases, journals are not yet available electronically; where e-versions do exist, costs have not always been separately tracked, which makes it hard to develop pricing outside of the print model. Focus is more likely to be on humanities/social sciences, which may be responsible for a perceived lack of urgency for going electronic/developing new business model. As may, for example, high dependence on advertising, or high image content (e.g. art history or biology). If there were a dramatic move away from the print format, what would their future be?

Costs include not only subscription but selection process, cataloguing, storing etc -- these costs are all lower in electronic format in comparison to print, which is a non-trivial incentive to move away from print and to de-duplicate multiple-format collecting. E formats have provided opportunity to increase size of journal collections.

Economies of scale
For libraries, economies of scale exist primarily for print, not electronic; as print journals are transitioned to electronic, unit costs go up dramatically. Thus the decline of print subscriptions *raises* non-subscription costs substantially at large libraries (which would seem counter-intuitive). "As print collections shrink, will libraries be motivated to move away from print all together?" -- at the very least, there does seem to be an incentive to redesign library processes to try to recapture some of the costs.

It seems inevitable that all scholarly journals will have an e-version before long (this is not necessarily the case for books). Several different models could be used to help the transition e.g. collaborations such as BioOne; outsourcing to commercial publishers... each option has its own tradeoffs.

In some cases, could there be no sustainable way to publish an e format? -- some journals may end up replaced by disciplinary/institutional repositories, blogs, and other less formal distribution models.

A business model which is entirely reliant on print today, but is intent on flipping to e format, may result in significant price increases. Libraries should employ programs to consider percentage cost increase and "respond with empathy, else they may unintentionally punish lower-price publishers".

Does OA have a disproportionate effect on lower-price publishers who (a) haven't made the transition to OA and (b) haven't even made the transition to electronic -- this additional pressure on smaller publishers has not really been given much air time in the great OA debate.

Library process
The move away from print is inevitable, "whether or not it is managed strategically". A 'strategic format review', whereby a target for journal cancellations is planned over a timeframe, offers an opportunity for a tactical retreat from print and can permit effective cost savings. This is nonetheless politically complicated.

Collecting in an e-only environment means libraries don't *own* their acquisitions in the same way, which can complicate archiving when one ceases to collect print. Which types of e-archiving processes are appropriate -- are any ready for comfortable dependence? Efforts include Portico, LOCKSS, British Library legal deposit for e-journals, Dutch National Archive.

Following the transition to electronic formats, is the cost of print holdings justifiable?

What incentives can be developed to ensure the survival of "appropriate print artefacts"? e.g. libraries paying one another to continue holding print.

1. We (the entire serials community) should consider with greater care how traditional society and university press publishers will make a transition to an e-only environment
2. A strategic format review has significant advantages over a chaotic transition
3. Archiving must not be forgotten, for both electronic and legacy print collections.

Q: Diana Leitch, Univ. Manchester. What about the users? We've gone a long way down the e-road, and the demand across all subject areas for e-content is high -- there's a lack of realisation/understanding that some content is not yet electronic.
A: It's clear that there's a growing acceptance of the electronic format, certainly in the sciences and growing elsewhere. Faculty members may not use the bricks-and-mortar library at all, whilst still making regular use of its services; they increasingly suspect that they will cease to depend on libraries, which translates to less economic demand for libraries (there is a lack of understanding about what libraries do). Libraries need to be making a case for themselves in a way that hasn't been necessary previously.


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