Technology, economics and human factors are combining to force publishers and librarians to establish new ways of managing the information flow. Librarians, driven by the financial constraints that affect the university and research community world-wide, can no longer maintain complete and coherent collections of all the literature required by their patrons. Publishers are faced with the twin challenges of increased investment in and management of publishing in several media simultaneously. Scholars and researchers face great difficulty in keeping abreast of the literature in their fields.
The traditional cost structure of journal publishing will be described, with its breakdown between fixed and variable costs. Changes in circulation affects profitability and the longer term return on investment. That cost structure, and the subscription pricing mechanisms publishers have established since the 1950s, have failed to respond to the inability of library budgets to keep pace with the growth in research literature. The historical reasons for this will be addressed.
The paper will then describe and analyse the impact both on publishers’ businesses and on the community they serve of a number of factors driving fundamental change:
The principal issue facing publishers is how to maintain the viability of their activities, and the role they play in scholarly publishing. That role is especially important in relation to managing and certifying the quality of published output through the peer review process.
The environment is ready for new business models, and some tentative steps have already been taken to develop new pricing and purchasing models, including consortia or regional licensing. What changes in library purchasing management will be required to match some publishers’ readiness to experiment with new strategies? What is the role of the aggregator of information? Will the journal evolve as a ‘brand’?
The need for, and financing of, new journals will be discussed. New titles are launched in response to the emergence of new areas of academic research. Publishers are nothing if they are not part of a dynamic academic community. Strategic partnerships are likely to develop. Traditional adversarial publishing and business relationships embodied in the editor/author, publisher, subscription agent, library, reader information chain are likely to be replaced by more collegial patterns of working together.
The role of the paper based journal, and the unique features of the printed medium, will be contrasted with the benefits of on-line dissemination of scholarly information, reaching the conclusion that the foreseeable future is one of multiple media, and that the business model will be complex, as both producer and consumer behaviour changes.
28 April 1997