Posts Tagged ‘academic research’

Will the traditional journal subscripton model make a comeback?

July 1, 2014

The other day my good friend Kent Anderson’s blog post on the Scholarly Kitchen “Hiding in Plain Sight — Is the Subscription Model the Optimal Business Model for the Digital Age?” is spot on as he sites several companies and industries that thrive successfully on the subscription model.  However the scholarly publishing industry has experienced significant growing pains and struggles going back to the eighties with the subscription model as the publishers increased their prices significantly due to changes in currencies, subscription cancellations, additional pages, etc.   I thought it would be useful to provide some further insights on this topic.

These developments prompted the library community to put in place their annual journal cancellation renewal program to balance the needs of their user community with their budget.  Prior to the launch of the digital initiatives like the one I launched for Elsevier, “ScienceDirect” in the Americas, librarians really did not have great usage stats to assist them in their annual review program.

 One of the key factors that I stressed to our customers was the significantly increased utility value they would receive with Elsevier’s subscription model for ScienceDirect.  In the print world they would have to buy multiple subscriptions of a popular journal.  In the digital world the limitations of print access are eliminated the utility value of a journal and or articles are greatly expanded.  Some time later we increased our digital offering with the introduction of the “Freedom” collection.  This allowed an institution to gain access to additional journals at a fraction of the cost.  The Freedom Collection the researcher to search across wider collections of journals/articles.  These plans allowed the librarian community to leverage their investment in scholarly journals and provide more content and value to their community.

 Consortia’s grew consistently over the ten-year period 1996 – 2006 and each participating institution was able to further leverage their access to additional scholarly content at cents on the dollar

Unfortunately, as the recessions (2001 and 2008) hit our economy, the budget pressures on the library were further exacerbated and the “Big Deal” became the “Big Villain”.  The Big Deal in my opinion was a very easy target as the librarians discounted the publisher’s arguments that it provided the consortium members access to a “huge” amount of content, some of which that was cancelled due to their previous budget constraints.

As the Counter statistics indicate, the utility value of the subscribed content has exploded over the last 10 – 15 years.  The library community has benefited from the “Big Deal”, in the face of their budget cuts however the serial crisis is still a serious problem for the entire scholarly publishing industry.  The scholarly publishing community (Publishers, academic institutions, researchers, etc., must come together to solve this puzzle.  I say puzzle as the pieces to solve the puzzle are there in front us, but the community must decide what pieces will comprise the new puzzle.

I would suggest that advertising will play a role in the new model to alleviate some of the financial burden and challenges facing the scholarly industry.  The role for advertising will need to be defined and will require experimentation.

Subscriptions are very good for the scholarly publishing industry but there must be a balance between cost and the utility value received by the academic community.  As I said the pieces to the puzzle are in front of us and collectively we must work together to put the new puzzle together.


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