At the ALAMW Conference I sat in on a brainstorming session with ebrary folks and about 50 librarians. The topic was patron driven/initiated purchasing models. ebrary is in the beginning stages of creating a model and wanted to get feedback from librarians. Some common themes that came up included:
budgets – librarians weary of budget control, who has the right to buy, how to budget, which budget, and what happens when we run out of money, is the service turned off?
access – when is the book purchased? first click, after 5/10 minutes? how much “free” time does a user have to browse a title before they decide to access/pay for it? is it just one user or simultaneous, and how does price change that?
usage – what type of usage statistics will be available? these will be important to analyze the cost effectiveness of this program. can we get usage stats on printed pages? downloads? pages viewed? and, what consitutes a “usage” in terms of purchasing the ebook?
ILL – purchasing ebooks essentially means we no longer have ILL rights. So, will ebrary work this model into consortial agreements or could ILL fees be instituted?
pay per view/rent-to-own – paying a smaller fee to use the ebook one time, two times, etc. If the book price is reached, the library would own it, if not, its a cheaper way to provide access to many more titles. Librarians were concerned about spending money on intangible items and how to educate the auditors and penny pinchers about this new model.
Thanks to ebrary, I was able to get some comments from one of the moderators.
Allen McKiel, Dean of Library and Media Services at Western Oregon University summarized his thoughts on one of the ebrary Patron Driven Models sessions. He said:
I heard librarians flirting with pay-per-view in a number of their comments as Leslie plied them with leading questions. The responses labored around a mixed subscription/pay-per-some-features model until patrons had encumbered a charge that was equal to the price of the book, in which case the library would then ‘own’ the book. Librarians find it hard to realize that e-books no longer require charging structures that are based in physical objects. The conversation from my hearing leaned toward resolution in a pay-per-view model. Five hands shot up when Leslie asked if anyone was interested in pay-per-view. Then he dropped the subject and never went back to it. I think librarians may finally be ready to talk about pay-per-view as a real option. Pay-per-view compliments research and educational environments. Discovery and learning are facilitated by access to information particularly information that is produced by the academy. Pay-per-view would optimize access and thereby facilitate research, the production of information, and learning. Publishers would provide an editorial selection role based in their being able to identify resources that researchers and students would find useful since they would receive compensation for their service proportional to use of their publications by faculty and students.
I think publishers have a window of opportunity to develop access to everything on a pay-per-view model that can evolve gradually using a mixed subscription/pay-per-view model. A variety of collections available through subscription/pay-per-view would permit reasonable access to a variety of academic institutions at affordable prices that would also permit reasonable profit margins for publishers. It would also permit publishers to experiment with models that would optimize their revenue while simultaneously optimizing access for all students and faculty. Library budgets that are driven more directly by faculty and student use would be more likely to increase than budgets dependent upon librarian requests.