The price of knowledge is worth knowing

We all pay a lot of money for the product of our own collective academic enterprise. With 2.5 million downloads of pdf's by Harvard University patrons from our top three publisher packages, I wondered what the costs might be. Well, thanks to Betsy Eggleston, we now have a better idea:

Elsevier package 2008 article downloads: ($.76/download)
Wiley package 2008 article downloads: ($1.52/download)
Springer package 2008 article downloads: ($2.98/download)

That is a lot of money per click but several questions pose themselves:

a) Do all libraries have a similar cost per download?

b) Is the relative cost per download similarly ordered for each of these three publishers in other libraries?

c) What is the equivalent cost for a circulated book/monograph per patron-use? Is that a fair comparator?

d) What is the equivalent cost per download for open access publications (including the author cost)?

I suspect that knowing the answers to these questions is a source of leverage and power. How can we make decisions with and on behalf of our researchers, faculty and public without knowing these answers? Should we not insist on greater transparency of the relationship of academic value and cost. If you have any additional data, feel free to enter a comment regarding this post or send me an email and I will add it to this post.


booksandbisquits said...

Even at $2.98/article this is a deal when you consider that without a subscription the cost per download can be anywhere from $25 to 50.

Books would not be a fair comparator--books are referenced in a totally different way than journal articles.

When you say open access publications do you mean when an author pays a subscription-based journal to make their article open access or an article in a journal that is entirely open access? An electronic article must be uploaded and kept on someone's server, if there are bugs in the file, those need to be fixed (this happens more often than you may think), the information for that journal/article must be sent to PubMed so that those lovely icons you see there are maintained, etc., and all of this has its cost (not the least of which is the manpower it takes to do these things).

David said...

I believe that the point of this post is that the system of scholarly communication is broken. What Dr. Kohane does not say here is how many millions of downloads took place to access these journal articles. At that cost University libraries simply cannot maintain the access to these resources that are needed to support their mission -to provide access to research materials and scholarship. When Elsevier PROFITS are $1750/minute (http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.com/2008/08/elsevier-profits-1750-per-minute-and.html) but libraries cannot afford to fulfill their mission even though most scientist simply give away their work their is something seriously wrong. This is why librarians would like to see open access become more widely used. Though it will not be free at least everyone would be able to use the material with no one acting as a gatekeeper.
The apparent reason for comparing the use of books and journals in this way is that libraries must balance the amount of money that is spent on the two types of resources. This generally means balancing spending between the sciences and the humanities as the sciences tend to be very serial-centric in their use of research materials while the humanities tend to be book-centered. This has nothing to do with the mode of citation but with the cost of providing access.