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