Re: Effect of free access on subscription revenues

From: Steve Hitchcock <sh94r_at_ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Thu, 14 Sep 2000 11:20:53 +0100

At 16:31 13/09/00 -0400, you wrote:
>I have long thought that scientific societies should allow immediate free
>Web access (IFWA) to the articles in their journals so long as they could
>do so without negative fiscal consequences.
>Here I report that revenues from library subscriptions to Florida
>Entomologist have _increased_, even though the Florida Entomological
>Society (FES) has facilitated immediate free Internet access to its
>contents since 1994.
>First some background: In May 1993, FES decided to experiment with free
>Internet access to its long-published (1917-) refereed journal. In November
>1994, with the advent of the free Acrobat reader, FES succeeded in posting
>a current issue on Gopher. Because its authors and members liked free
>access and because providing it cost very little, FES continued its free
>Internet offerings and enhanced them ( It
>also carefully monitored library subscriptions to Florida Entomologist, in
>case lose of library revenues would force FES to charge for its new
>service. [FES expects its journal to pay for itself, but does not require
>that journal revenues subsidize other member services.]
>Library subscriptions to Florida Entomologist declined a total of 4.9% from
>1994 to 2000. That may be well below average for scientific journals. It
>is indeed less than the decline in library subscriptions for the four
>principal journals of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), which
>dropped a total of 21.9% from 1994 to 1999. (Until this year, ESA made none
>of its articles freely Web accessible.) Revenues from library
>subscriptions to Florida Entomologist did not decline between 1994 and 2000
>because FES increased the price of library subscriptions by 25% (from $40
>to $50). The revenue enhancing effect of this increase was mostly negated
>by a 16% increase in the Consumer Price Index. Nonetheless, in constant
>dollars, FES's revenues from library subscriptions were 2.5% greater in
>2000 than in 1994.
>Libraries are apparently reluctant to drop journals to which they have long
>subscribed. Therefore scientific societies can give away IFWA and not risk
>sharp declines in library subscriptions.

I'm pleased for Tom Walker and those who are prepared to innovate to
improve access to scholarly materials when their efforts appear to be
succeeding. The problem is that we are in a transitional period, as most
acknowledge, and Tom's approach is for the product with a limited future,
the printed journal, to support that with the longer-term future, the
electronic product. So where does the transition become effective here? The
future for e-publishing is not in being bound to print.

>With even less risk, scientific
>societies can sell IFWA at a very attractive price to those authors who
>want it--and make money by doing so.

We probably don't want to reopen this debate, but this doesn't seem to fit
naturally even with the argument advanced above. Authors will not pay for
access when access is already free. The key to for-pay services is enhanced
access, and I'd like to hear the ideas of others on that.

Steve Hitchcock
Open Citation (OpCit) Project <>
IAM Research Group, Department of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)23 8059 3256 Fax: +44 (0)23 8059 2865
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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