Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Predicting Publication Prices: Are the Old Models Still Relevant?

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Predicting Publication Prices: Are the Old Models Still Relevant?

Article excerpt

The three brief articles here are based on presentations given in June 2002 at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Atlanta at a program sponsored by the ALCTS Committee on Library Materials Cost Index, titled "Predicting Publication Prices: Are the Old Models Still Relevant?"--Editor

Predicting Publication Prices: Introduction

Pamela Bluh

For many years, the library community has maintained an exceptional and persistent interest in monitoring price increases for library materials; during periods of economic uncertainty or recession, this topic takes on added significance. In 1957, perhaps in response to market conditions in the late 1950s, an ad hoc Committee on Cost of Library Materials Index was established. Its members spent the next two years developing a methodology to predict publication prices for the library community, and in 1959 the committee shed its ad hoc designation and became a standing committee of the Acquisitions Section of the Resources and Technical Services Division, the forerunner of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, a division of the American Library Association. The initial members of this committee were James W. Henderson (New York Public Library), William H. Kurth (National Library of Medicine), who served as chair, Sidney E. Matthews (Ohio State University), Frank L. Schick (U.S. Office of Education), Helen Welch (University of Illinois Library), and Avis Zebker (Brooklyn Public Library). They were responsible for assembling the pricing information, which first appeared in Library Journal (Kurth 1960).

This modest beginning paved the way over the years for additional cost studies and, in 1965, a name change to Library Materials Price Index Committee to more closely reflect the group's activities. The committee's succinct charge, "to prepare and publish price indexes of library materials," gives it considerable freedom and flexibility. Over the years, the composition of the committee has increased and so, too, has the number of price indexes for which it is responsible.

As with any venerable group, the Library Materials Price Index Committee has struggled from time to time with questions about its role and the relevancy of its activities. Several of the indexes seem to be in a state of limbo, and recent difficulties in the subscription agent community have raised concerns about the timeliness with which the data can be obtained, as well as the future of the indexes in general. The meteoric rise of e-journals and the overabundance of acquisitions models for e-journals are making price predictions much more complicated. The current dire economic outlook is one more factor to be considered as the question of the relevancy of the committee's current and future work is examined.

The convergence of all these factors precipitated discussion among members of the committee about whether the price indexes, as they are presently constituted, still provide useful information and whether they are worth continuing. Could external factors signal the demise of the price indexes? Should new methodologies for tracking prices be explored? How could prices for electronic publications be handled? Has the time come to "retire" some of the indexes permanently? What might the role of the committee be with regard to preparation and publication of the price indexes in the future?

To search for answers to these fundamental questions, the committee sponsored a program in June 2002 at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Atlanta titled "Predicting Publication Prices: Are the Old Models Still Relevant?" at which presentations by two librarians (published in this issue of LRTS), an economist, and a vendor examined the role of price indexes in various settings in an effort to shed light on their relevancy in today's marketplace. Mark McCabe, Assistant Professor of Economics, Georgia Institute of Technology, has done considerable work for both the Association of Research Libraries and the American Association of Law Libraries to analyze the trends that influence publishers and ultimately result in increased publication prices. …

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