APS News

APS Council Approves New Journal Pricing Model

The APS Council approved a new, multi-tiered pricing model for the Society's journals at its November meeting, which includes differential prices between institutions to reflect differences in size and online usage. The new scheme - developed by APS Treasurer Thomas McIlrath with input from the APS Publications Oversight Committee, and in consultation with various librarians - was prompted largely by the rapid growth of electronic access to, and usage of, online APS journals, as well as concerns over declining subscriptions to the Society's paper journals, particularly the nonmember (library) subscriptions, which form the core of the financial support for the Society's publishing activities.

Recent years have brought major changes in both the usage of APS journal content and in subscription patterns supporting the journals, according to APS Treasurer Thomas McIlrath. The APS now has electronic versions of all its journals available to APS members at low cost, as well as special electronic publications such as Physical Review Focus and internal monitoring of usage shows these products are immensely successful, with high usage by the research community. In addition to current articles, members can also subscribe to the Physical Review Online Archive (PROLA), which contains half of all material ever published in the Physical Review, with plans to extend the archive all the way back to the journal's genesis.

However, the development of electronic distribution of the journals and PROLA represents a multi-million dollar investment by the Society, and the cost of maintaining these products now exceeds 10% of the overall Publications budget. At the same time, nonmember subscriptions dropped 4% between 1997 and 1998, and another 5% between 1998 and 1999, while member subscriptions to print journals also continue to decline at a rapidly accelerating rate.

Furthermore, large research-intensive institutions that have maintained multiple subscriptions in the past are also abandoning this practice in favor of downloading electronic articles, reducing their level of contribution to journal support. In fact, the only sector that shows rapid growth is member online subscriptions, causing the Society to consider charging more for electronic access to offset the continued economic squeeze on publications.

According to McIlrath, the proposed new pricing structure will feature a base price for the journals charged to all non-member subscribers, but will institute a surcharge for research intensive institutions, based on the standard Carnegie Classification scheme. [The revenue expected to be thus obtained is roughly equivalent to the cost of maintaining the APS journals on the Web.] Since there is no equivalent to the Carnegie classification for foreign subscriptions, records of online usage will be used to establish these prices. Institutional subscribers with multiple subscriptions will only be required to pay the enhanced charges on their first subscription.

For the first time, there will also be an online-only option available at a 15% discount below the print-plus-online price, as well as the possibility of special consortium agreements for institutions or non-traditional subscribers who may have special needs and don't fit within the confines of the new pricing model. Unlimited online access through registration of an IP address will still be included with all subscriptions.

Subsequent modifications to the new pricing scheme will be made as needed, based on experience and further consultation both with librarians and the scientific member communities. "As with any fundamental change, it is expected that the model will evolve as experience is accumulated and as reaction is obtained from subscribers and users," says McIlrath, adding that preliminary discussions with librarians revealed broad support for such a change in pricing. "The involvement of the community is essential to acceptance of the change by the libraries and various user communities."

APS Editor-in-Chief Martin Blume noted that "Three years ago it was decided to include access to electronic versions of our publications at institutions who subscribed to the print versions. It is now appropriate, with the reliability of electronic access no longer in question, to charge for the electronic products, and to charge more for access by larger research institutions."


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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
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