23:3 (2008:09) 23rd Conference (2008): Strategy Session: Is There a Future for the Traditional Subscription-Based Journal?

August 25, 2008 at 5:44 pm | Posted in Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


Is There a Future for the Traditional Subscription-Based Journal?
Robert Boissy, Springer; Sean O’Doherty, Berkeley Electronic Press
Reported by Dawn Stephen

Robert Boissy from Springer presented the first portion of the presentation titled “Serials Business Models.”  In the legacy of subscription-based journals, institutional print subscriptions have been the gold standard. The model has changed to institutional access, such as consortia deals. As journals gain prestige and high manuscript counts, the impact has been raised rates; increased content; and a reputation for selectivity and quality. This legacy fallout has made it difficult to think flexibly with print journals and move away from traditional pricing models.

There are other factors impacting the stalling of print to electronic subscriptions. There has been 17 ½ percent higher tax in European and Asia markets, considered a high value added tax on print. Also, in 1996/1997, librarians did not have the expertise to manage e-journals. Publishers have worked diligently to find value in the transformation to electronic formats. They recognize the need to repurpose people to support new pricing models. They have added sales staff responsible for direct sales who understand what the market wants and needs. It is still difficult to get away from the traditional subscription model. Small institutions pay less but get the same amount of content as higher paying customers. This is the value added approach based on historical spending.

With the migration to electronic subscriptions, more institutions are looking to consortia deals. There has been a gradual shift to base deals in online formats, with optional deep discount pricing. Deep discounts are offered so that institutions can have perpetual access to all paid content. Both publishers and clients want a sustainable solution. However, consortia models are not always possible due to publisher restrictions.

Sean O’Doherty from Berkeley Electronic Press continued the presentation with “Subscription-based Journals: The BEPress model: A Third Way”. Sean discussed the emergence of open access models. He described “gold open access” as the model that makes articles available as soon as they are published. There are drawbacks to this model. It is not yet financially sustainable, and it may not work for research areas with less funding where authors do not have grants.

“Green open access” is a self-archiving model. Mandates for this model are growing. At PubMed Central and Harvard, all published articles must be submitted for open access archiving. PubMed may embargo access for up to one year. Harvard may apply for a waiver.

In the area of scholarly publications, publishers can provide strategic journal development, including advice to editors and offering improvements to the peer review process. They can also provide web optimization solutions, marketing to new readers and authors, and creative business models for access and financial sustainability.

BEPress has sustained its success by offering better traditional journals, quality and credibility, and improved technology. Their Author and Reviewers’ Bank enables contributors to earn credit for submitting articles rather than paying submission fees. Their Guest Access Policy allows anyone to download any articles for free after creating an account. No BEPress subscriptions cost more than $500, and the average price increase 2003-2007 was 2% as opposed to 20% in social and applied sciences. BEPress believes that their offerings will help sustain the future of the traditional subscription-based journal.

Questions and comments from the audience included:
•    Pricing makes current publishing model unsustainable because it is too expensive.
•    Would publishers consider a per article pricing model rather than a per journal pricing model?
•    Workforce and thereby prices could be cut if there is a commitment to radical simplicity.
•    What can we do to convince our consortia to purchase the packages, including ERMs like Serials Solutions, to save all stakeholders money?
•    What are the benefits, drawbacks, and challenges of consortia purchasing and new technology packages like Serials Solutions? Surveying customers was suggested.
•    Single line invoicing for packages may be radical simplicity, but procurement laws prohibit this type of invoicing.
•    When the idea of faculty members’ professional societies absorbing cost of subscriptions is raised, faculty responds defensively by saying, “You’re just trying to pass your money problems onto us.”
•    The provost will question why the library has such a large budget if the departments are footing the bill for subscriptions.
•    Can publishers consider usage statistics or lack of use in decisions to increase or not increase prices?
•    Journals in which institutional faculty have published should not be cancelled, regardless of usage or lack of use.

PowerPoint slides of the presentation are available on the conference handouts website, http://www.nasig.org/conference_handouts_2008.cfm.


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