Effect of free access on subscription revenues

From: Thomas J. Walker <tjw_at_GNV.IFAS.UFL.EDU>
Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2000 16:31:53 -0400

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 (http://www.fcla.edu/FlaEnt/). 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. 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.

Tom Walker

Thomas J. Walker
Department of Entomology & Nematology
University of Florida, PO Box 110620, Gainesville, FL 32611-0620
E-mail: tjw_at_gnv.ifas.ufl.edu FAX: (352)392-0190
Web: http://csssrvr.entnem.ufl.edu/~walker/tjwbib/walker.htm
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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