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Blogging “In the Transition Zone” – Part I

September 21, 2008

Blogging “In the Transition Zone” – Part I, Judy Luther
Well, I’m finally getting around to blogging the excellent CRD workshop, “In the Transition Zone: Making the Move from Print to Electronic Journals,” held in Grantville on Sept. 12. (I know, I should have live-blogged at the event itself, but I didn’t, so that’s that.)

Joe Fennewald, PaLA president-elect, opened the day by giving what Judy Luther called the absolute best ‘pitch’ to join an association she had ever heard. And I assume she’s heard a few. (At PaLA Leadership Orientation this week, I suggested that Joe film his spiel for YouTube or some such and post it to the PaLA web site; it was that good.) Joe also distributed “Funds for the Future” brochures, which were snapped up by attendees apparently inspired to at least donate money to PaLA to support its advocacy work if not actually join it.

Judy Luther, president of Informed Strategies, gave her presentation entitled “Crossing the Digital Divide: Navigating the Changing Landscape.” I had never heard Judy speak before and found her very engaging and easy to listen to. She compared an earlier study on growth in electronic resources with a newer one she recently completed with Rick Johnson for ARL, entitled, The E-only Tipping Point for Journals: What’s Ahead in the Print-to-Electronic Transition Zone. Much of her talk was based on this study. The rate of change in ARL libraries from print only to electronic from 2002 to 2006 has exceeded her predictions, but there still remain some glitches or “bumps in the road” as she termed them. This quote from the study nicely sums up the problem:

Publishers and libraries today find themselves in an extended transition zone between print-only and e-only journals. The persistence of dual-format journals suggests that substantial obstacles will need to be surmounted if the transformation to e-only publication is to be complete. Approximately 60% of the universe of some 20,000 active peer-reviewed journals is available in electronic form. Online journals are popular with readers; online use of library-provided journals exceeds print use by a factor of at least ten, according to a University of California study. While electronic formats offer powerful attractions for users, the costs of supporting hybrid collections are straining library resources and the economies of the e-only collection are still speculative. 

Just as libraries currently support hybrid collections, publishers are investing in both print and online publishing. A declining number of mostly smaller publishers still offer their journals only in print and a growing number of journals are available only in electronic form. But today’s norm is dual print and electronic publication of a title. A few publishers, having adjusted their pricing to the dual-format model, are trying to hasten the day when they can discontinue print and the associated costs. But most are either navigating a gradual transition or holding onto print.

Judy noted the difference in organizational perspective between libraries and publishers. Libraries have moved more quickly to e-only, while publishers are moving more slowly to drop the print. Publishers are still designing their publications as print ones and are challenged by the whole idea of metadata. She noted that XML is vastly preferred to PDF format for making this transition.

Factors affecting libraries’ migration to e-only:
1) The readiness of readers to accept e-only
2) An e-only pricing model
3) Perpetual access and archiving provisions, such as those offered by LOCKSS and Portico
4) The management of e-only. For example, libraries should consider using SERU as an alternative to e-resource licenses. SERU stands for Shared Electronic Resource Understanding: “publishers and librarians agree on the products for which they wish to reference SERU and forgo a license agreement”

Factors affecting publishers’ migration to e-only:
1) The readiness of readers
2) Assessment of risks of e-only option; for some publishers it means the potential loss of revenue, especially in clinical areas
3) Workflow and production issues
4) Distribution issues

She cited MIT’s Technology Review as a good example of how more can be done with online publication but noted that change is and will be incremental.

Judy answered questions at the end of her session. Someone asked about the relationship between aggregators and publishers as more publishers are publishing electronically. She noted that there is lots of tension between the two groups. Aggregators do offer lots of content to libraries that could not afford it otherwise, and while the visibility is good on aggregator databases, it is also riskier for publishers, many of whose subscriptions are dropping 8-10% a year (for “core” publications in the Wilson indexes). If publishers are smart, they are imposing embargoes.

Someone else asked about the relationship between Open Access and e-only publishing. Judy said Open Access relies on e-only publishing but is not a business model. It works OK in the sciences, but not so well in the humanities and social sciences because of funding.

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