Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

"Enhanced Customer Loyalty" and the "Stockholm Syndrome"

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

"Enhanced Customer Loyalty" and the "Stockholm Syndrome"

Article excerpt

Dentist, n. A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.1

Accelerated migration from print to electronic products, which have demonstrably greater capability to extend services and add further value. A clear pricing policy has been introduced to facilitate this migration and enhance customer loyalty.2

Thoughtful. Deliberate. Contemplative. Respectful. These are good words to describe a librarian. Aggressive. Relentless. Fierce. Fearless. These are good words to describe a hockey player. [The Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey team must] take o∂ the wire-rimmed glasses, put down the Sylvia Plath anthology and take some chances.3

I

Several years ago Documentatieblad, which had been compiled, published, and distributed at very nominal cost by the Afrika Studiecentrum in Leiden for many years, fell into the clutches of a bottom-line publisher, who rechristened it African Studies Abstracts. Our library became aware of this only when we received an invoice telling us that the subscription rate had tripled from one year to the next. Once the cover was opened however, everything was exactly as it had been: format, typography, level of annotation, indexing had not changed a whit. True enough, the cover did look a little more polished and had become semi-glossified. This gentrification must have been more expensive than it looked, since libraries that continued to subscribe to African Studies Abstracts would be paying about twice as much for this cover as for the contents.

Shortly afterwards I ran into the representative of the new publisher and asked him what the excuse was for tripling the price while doing nothing to improve the publication. He seemed unprepared for the question, hemming and hawing and finally shrugging Gallicly, only to utter the timeless phrase, "business decision." I shrugged in return, less Gallicly I suspect, and told him that our library would not be renewing our subscription to African Studies Abstracts and that this too was a business decision. He looked as if thunderstruck and assured me that popular demand would force me to renew. Since then I have heard not a peep from any dissatisfied patrons, who appear not to share the publisher's representative's sense of African Studies Abstracts' at-any-cost indispensability.

The African Studies Abstracts a∂air is a useful microcosm of some of the issues involved in the current serials crisis. I was particularly struck-and frankly a∂ronted-by the undisguised incredulity that a library would actually go so far as to think in business-like terms by seeing the tripling of cost, with absolutely no increase in service, as unacceptable. Then too, the notion that every journal is worth owning and-subliminally-that the more expensive the journal, the greater its value, hung in the air like a miasma. More to the point, as it happened, this notion was evidently not shared by the presumed clientele when it was given the chance to vote. Clearly, the case suggests that it might be too facile to accept claims by interested parties (publishers, publishers' representatives and apologists, masthead editors) about the fair value of the product they are selling.

II

From time immemorial, producers of goods and services have set their sights on achieving monopolistic status, for reasons too obvious to require comment. In this country the spoor goes back at least to the circumstances surrounding the Boston Tea Party, then onto the bank wars of the i830s, the railroad companies of the i870s and i880s, and follows through to John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil, AT&T, pharmaceutical patents, and the mergermania of the i990s. These attempts were largely successful, at least temporarily. But not, usually anyway, totally so. When the goods or services in question were tangible and partially replaceable, it was possible for consumers to evade the worst e∂ects by doing without, doing with less, finding an alternative product, changing habits, etc. …

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