In a relatively short session, we heard from Swets' Robert Jacobs (view slides – .pps) and Karger's Moritz Thommen (view slides – .pps) about the supportive role agents can take to simplify life for both publishers and libraries as licensing models/pricing diverge, and about some specific activities being undertaken to reduce subscription fraud.

Robert addressed the increasing range of licensing models, which has come about largely as a result of the squeeze on institutional budgets. The more choice a model offers for libraries, the more complex it is (print = simple, usage dependent pricing = relatively complex). Libraries primarily want clarity of pricing, so title-based subscriptions remain dominant. As the models fragment, so agents can increase their value to the library by:
  • increased management of e-resources
  • driving standardisation
  • data discovery and evaluation
  • maintenance of centralised metadata databases.
Moritz presented an interesting overview of some of the work Karger has done to slow the decline in personal subscriptions during the last few (30?) years, and to avoid abuse of personal rates by unscrupulous institutions/agents. As background, Moritz noted that personal subscriptions began to decline during C20th as library copies became more readily available/accessible to scientists. As subscriptions are cancelled, so prices increase – but due to higher price sensitivity in the personal subscriber market, personal subscription prices cannot rise as much as institutional. Thus, there is now a (widening) gap between individual and institutional prices for a journal. (Moritz cited a journal for which individual/institutional rates were £80/£125 in 1985, for which the gap is now £300+).

This kind of price gap evidently encourages exploitation, such as:
  • society members
  • donating their issues to the library
  • or ordering on behalf of the library
  • or reselling their copy to the library
  • agents purchasing personal subscriptions, and reselling them to libraries at lower prices than the publisher's list price
  • Karger's efforts uncovered instances of multiple "personal" subscription orders coming from the same address, accompanied by cheques signed by the same drawer. When the personal subscriptions were withheld, they were chased by an agency which in the end re-ordered institutional subscriptions. Karger have implemented new measures to prevent such fraud, for example, requiring evidence of personal membership to a scientific/professional association, or ensuring that subscriptions are paid by private funds. This has caused some unhappiness amongst Karger users but seemingly amongst those who cancel their personal subscriptions only to reorder institutional ones! (Moritz noted that the ASA's guidelines on the subject are firm and clear). Publishers have won court cases against such unscrupulous agents, and many now offer personal subscriptions only directly. Could societies (in particular) do more to vet members to prevent "phony" members joining and reselling lower-price subscriptions? It is in the interests of all links in the information chain to eliminate this problem.

    Moritz suggested that the problem may be easier to manage in an online era, due to the data required to set up online access; Chris Beckett (Scholarly Information Strategies) later commented that online access presents its own problems such as username/password sharing, which is equally hard to control. Ian Johnson (Robert Gordon University) made the analogous point that library associations have noticed members moving from institutional to personal memberships.