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Publishers, Hyperbole, and the “Don’t subscribe” pricing model

April 6, 2012

Commercial publishing is no stranger to hyperbole. “Essential research for your institution.” “Best information resource available.” “Exclusive time-limited offer.”

But I recently came across an interesting case of publisher hype. Multi Science Publishing, publisher of many mid-range scientific journals, recently sent an email to an email discussion group, touting its new pricing model, “Pay only for Usage.” Their tag line is “Don’t subscribe.”

The email claimed that announcements of the new model had caused “quite a stir” and the author of the email, a W Hughs, the “director” of Multi-Science Publishing, suggested that he hadn’t seen “anything like” the scale of libraries response to the new plan.

That stuck me as quite interesting, because a search for information about this new plan yields little information about the plan.  The most prominent resources are a link to the email discussion group archives and a single blog post, both dated March 27.  I can’t seem to fins information about the package on the publishers website.  The only stir on twitter I can find are tweets from @billhughes6 directed towards libraries:

In short, I’m not convinced that this announcement has caused a stir at all.

And so you may ask, is the new model deserving of the hype?

The pricing model they’ve declared revolutionary is simple: libraries sign up for access and pay $5.00 for each article their users download. For folks in the Sciences, the $5.00 per article price point is less many publishers charge, and it’s even less than the interlibrary loan fees that libraries might have to pay.

It isn’t a bad deal. The big part seems to be the unmediated bit – users get direct access to the article, without having to request that the library buy it for them (although some new methods of making these requests have reduced the time needed to get the article to you, you still have to ask.)

So, how does this compare to other journal packages out there? That’s a difficult question to ask, because libraries don’t pay per article. In same cases, we can easily pay $1, $10 or $40 an article, depending on the journal, publisher and package.

Libraries may also be reluctant to sign up for a plan that will make it difficult for them to budget their expenses.

I like to see some experimentation in journal pricing models, because the status quo isn’t really helping anyone (except company shareholders).

I’d be less cynical about the plan if the publisher had simply promoted the plan, without informing us of how much “stir” and “excitement” it had already caused – earn the buzz for your new service, don’t just say it exists.

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4 Comments
  1. Bonnie perhaps I am overstating, perhaps not. First we live in a world where you have to shout to be heard. Second, to have signed up 7 institutions inside a month strikes me as pretty good going, given how slow response usually is, and having a number of others in the pipeline, asking questions etc. Third, I don’t think any other STM publisher is actually doing this in quite the same way.
    best
    Bill

  2. Hi Bill, thanks for your response. I think the Multiscience plan might turn out to be pretty good ($5 per article beats the price per article of the last big package I looked at in detail).

    I just think that your marketing plan was disingenuous, and I don’t like the feeling that the goal of the emails you sent out was to manipulate.

    Again, tell us about your plan, tell us why it’s new and interesting and worth a look. But don’t tell us about hype that doesn’t yet exist.

  3. Well I have sent out quite a lot of detailed information to a number of librarians and, as I say, the feedback has been pretty good, compared to anything else I’ve experienced in 30+ years, so why its unreasonable to say its causing a stir, from my perspective, I don’t quite understand. If all you’ve seen, however, is that twitter message, then you might well think it manipulative, disingenuous etc. Context is king.
    Why is my approach new and interesting? i) its a direct response to librarian complaints about high journal prices and big deals containing unwanted content. – you don’t have to subscribe to anything, and you only pay for what you use ie want. ii) one of the corollaries of high journal prices is its harder to meet the needs of specialist researchers – no budget left; this offers a solution thats affordable, flexible, cheaper & quicker than ILL. To not properly serve special needs seems to me exactly not what a university library should be about. iii) I’m not against OA as such but it seems a complicated response to the ‘scholarly communications crisis’ – absurd, unaffordable journal prices, in essence – PofU uses technology to create a simple solution. iv) If I get sufficient support from the library community over this, and can demonstrate that its viable for both libraries and publishers, gradually other publishers will start offering it and, possibly, over time, a new way of doing things, entailing a rebalancing of relations between libraries and publishers, will come about. v) finally, instead of just talking about it, we are actually doing it and in STM I believe that makes us pioneers – whether crazed or inspired, time will tell.

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  1. Around the Web: Undecided on paper books vs. e-books, Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? and more : Confessions of a Science Librarian

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