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If, in addition to satisfying the criteria discussed above, an online journal delivers valuable enhancements over the print—such as rich multimedia functionality—institutional subscribers may well adopt it at a faster rate. Assuming that the pricing of the online edition reflects the added value of the multimedia features, this may increase the society’s overall revenue from the publication.

Academic library purchase behavior

For almost a decade after the introduction of online editions of peer-reviewed journals, academic libraries continued to maintain print subscriptions in addition to online access. The retention of print subscriptions reflected the concern of academic libraries about the long-term access to, and digital archiving of, online journals, as well as researchers’ initial reluctance to forgo print.

Increasingly, however, academic libraries have grown more comfortable with providing online-only access to peer-reviewed journals. Several factors have contributed to this trend:

  • Publisher pricing policies have evolved to make online-only access a cost-effective subscription option;
  • An acceptance by libraries of licensed access to, rather than ownership of, journal content; See Okerson (1996), 55-76.
  • Recognition that online-only journals are substantially less expensive to process, manage, and archive than print journals; See Schonfeld, King, Okerson, and Fenton (2004) and Montgomery and King (2002).
  • Growing confidence that long-term digital preservation solutions are emerging;
  • Increasing faculty acceptance of online-only access; See Housewright and Schonfeld (2008), 13-16. and
  • Academic library budget constraints, exacerbated by the increasing volume of published research and the exorbitant prices of some commercially published journals, which force libraries to adopt the least expensive access available. Tenopir and King (1999), 251-258.

Purchase preference by medium

Given the combination of factors listed above, many academic libraries have adopted a policy to opt for online-only access when a journal’s pricing makes it cost effective to do so. However, a relatively small percentage of libraries—fewer than 5 percent according to one survey—have eliminated the use of print journals in their libraries. See Primary Research Group (2008), 29. Other factors affecting institutional purchase preferences include online license terms and, in Europe, value-added tax. (In Europe, online-only journals are subject to VAT, while print journals are not.) An analysis of the changing purchase behavior of North American research libraries has demonstrated that “university libraries are clearly, steadily, and rapidly shifting away from print format and accepting electronic format as the dominant medium for journal collections.” Prabha (2007), 12. Although many U.S. libraries continue to purchase dual-media subscriptions, outside the U.S. the practice is far more limited. One survey indicates that U.S. libraries outspend foreign libraries on dual-media subscriptions by a ratio of 4-to-1. See Primary Research Group (2008), 27. This analysis indicates that online-only subscriptions increased from just 5 percent of subscriptions in 2002 to over a third of all subscriptions just four years later. The table below shows the distribution of subscriptions, by medium, at academic research libraries.

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Source:  OpenStax, Transitioning a society journal online: a guide to financial and strategic issues. OpenStax CNX. Aug 26, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11222/1.1
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