Selling Online Academic Content: New Business Models

Most scholarly publishers have been feeling the adverse effects of difficult market conditions over the past few years. Libraries have on the whole been investing more in online products that provide access to more content than traditional books-on-shelves would. Academic publishers are rethinking the ways in which they package their content. Digital products such as University Press Scholarship Online (Oxford University Press), University Publishing Online (Cambridge University Press), SAGE Knowledge and Wiley Online Library (John Wiley and Sons) mean a thousands of books are at the fingertips of researchers, students and academics at institutions around the world. However, the collections that these products are split into are still prohibitively expensive for many smaller institutional libraries, leaving a chunk of the potential market untapped. So, what are academic publishers doing to make these products accessible for all?

The answer lies in the models which publishers are adopting to make these products appealing for smaller libraries. Over the last few years, several models have been adopted to allow libraries to continue expanding their e-book collections, answering their patrons’ content needs but remaining within budget. Two of the more common models are evidence-based acquisition (EBA) and demand-driven acquisition (DDA) (or patron-drive acquisition, PDA), which allow libraries to purchase access to e-books that their patrons will actually use. Under these models, the patrons’ use of resources (which is monitored by the library and the publisher) ultimately decides which titles are purchased for perpetual access. The difference is that under the DDA/PDA model patrons make recommendations and collection data is reviewed, whereas EBA allows for a full title-by-title analysis of usage at the end of an access period.

How these models work is that a library purchases access to a collection of e-books up-front for an extended period of time (normally six to twelve months). Throughout the access period, usage is monitored, to ensure the library’s patrons are getting as much out of the collection as possible. The library will at last decide, based on usage statistics, which titles they wish to include perpetually in their e-book collection.

Early trials of these models proved to be unconvincing in arguments for libraries to change their purchasing habits, as libraries spent too much too quickly and the models were rather more complex than purchasing print. However, as more information and evidence is available, purchasing content is this manner is becoming more desirable. Experiments are still being conducted with how to attain ultimate cost effectiveness for libraries (e.g. this pilot at the University of Central Florida Libraries), aiming to understand how patrons use scholarly content and how publishers can best deliver it.

Digital platforms for scholarly publishing will continue to gain in importance, and publishers need to recognise this by adapting sales models to answer this demand. With EBA and DDA/PDA, there is a slow change in this. Time will tell whether these models become the norm in accessing academic monographs from leading publishers.

More information about these models can be found in the white paper Demand Driven Acquisition of Monographs prepared by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO).

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