Remember when purchasing a library product was simple? The routine went something like this: Send the order, pay the bill, receive the item, catalog and mark it, and place on the shelf. Collection management for journals meant performing use studies to decide whether to maintain a subscription. For books, you would determine if the item could be weeded or perhaps sent to an offsite shelving facility. No licenses, no passwords or IP address validation, no differential pricing options, no host platform decisions, and no complex equipment compatibility issues. One person could often perform all the analysis required to make a subject selection decision.
Forget those days. We have moved from a simple (but somewhat unfair) one-cost/one-product environment into a more complex selection process. Decisions are now based on many criteria. Librarians are reviewing multiple access options for enhanced online products, considering possible buying partners for services, and increasingly using (perhaps) more accountable differential pricing models.
In addition, these new online products make it possible to customize and unbundle portions of product packages based upon local user profiles. This more complex evaluation and selection process significantly changes the roles of the selector and the subscription/purchasing agent.
As we move from simple subscriptions to alternative costs models, we see a variety of approaches-tiered levels of subscriptions supplemented with prepaid blocks of articles from collections of journals and transactional billing; purchasing portions of articles or pieces from related types of materials (sound bytes from supplementary materials); the seamless integration of various media types (imagine importing a movie review within an online movie); and passthrough charges for supplementing purchased materials with free non-- peer-reviewed, Web-based materials (imagine pointing to equipment suppliers for required materials mentioned in articles). The tiered levels of subscriptions is further explained in an article I wrote for Serials Librarian ("Pricing Models: Past, Present, and Future?," vol. 36, no. 1/2, 1999: pp. 301-319).
Use-based pricing is another option. The advent of electronic distribution has allowed tracking of article use, making it possible to determine costs based upon actual use data. Tracking every use is not always efficient: In some instances, there will still be a logical place for some types of subscription and/or packaging services. This will often depend on the type and level of services required by an organization.
WHY SO COMPLEX?
The traditional paper-based journal, preprint, and technical report distribution mechanisms are now available online. Electronic books are soon to follow. New access options require additional subscription considerations and increased local needs analysis.
More importantly, new information technologies presage a complete revolution in the traditional scholarly communication network. For example, online materials can be modified, enhanced, and personalized. One new option is hyperlinked references and connections to nonbibliographic resources, as with GenBank.
With online access to unbundled portions of articles and monographs (charts, tables, images, sound bytes), these newly released materials can be redistributed as individual unbundled items or as repackaged material collections. Virtual journals can be created across traditional publishers based upon individual user search criteria (one-time subject searches, saved subject searches, current awareness profiles, citation histories).
More than just multimedia and nonjournal material are becoming part of the mix. In addition to providing virtual journal packages, there is also movement toward including other types of data within publisher packages. For example, Springer-Verlag offers journal information within its LINK system, plus other material (online reference information and chapters from book series). …