Sage Publications (http://www.sagepub.co.uk) has decided to remove its "content from the aggregated databases known as EBSCOhost and ProQuest," according to Carol Richman, the company's director of licensing and electronic publishing. While this will become effective at the end of this year, "EBSCO and ProQuest will continue to fulfill subscriptions to their conclusion up until the end of 2003" in consideration of the 12-month embargo period for the journals. Electronic access to Sage journals will continue through existing intermediaries EBSCOhost Electronic Journals Service (formerly EBSCO Online), ingenta, Minerva, OCLC FirstSearch, divine/RoweCom, Swets Blackwell/SwetsNetNavigator, and Hans Huber. "Any institution that subscribes to a Sage journal can have electronic access through these services." As expected, news of the withdrawal has caused quite a stir among librarians.
According to Richman, libraries are increasingly substituting full-text database access for print journal subscriptions, thus jeopardizing "the continued viability of Sage's journal publishing program. Journals cannot sustain themselves without income from subscriptions." (This is what precipitated the instatement of the lengthy embargo period for Sage titles on EBSCO and ProQuest in the first place.) Evidently, royalties earned from EBSCOhost and ProQuest were "not substantial enough to support the cost of publishing a journal," and Sage would have been ultimately forced to cease publication of certain titles, thus decreasing the amount of available scholarly research.
To better serve the library and academic communities, Sage has announced that it is launching a new venture in partnership with Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA; http://www.csa.com). Full-text collections and subject-specific databases covering Communication Studies, Criminology, Sociology, and Politics/International Relations will comprise Sage journals that are published in that discipline, including 20 years of back files with full search functionality. The product, announced by CSA at the ALA Annual Conference in June, will be launched in January.
Richman said that Sage is planning to "continue to grow" in each of the subject-specific areas mentioned above and intends to announce two additional collections for launch in 2004. The publisher is looking forward to having greater control over content distribution and maintaining more direct contact with subscribers than was possible when users were accessing the journals via EBSCOhost or ProQuest. Sage hopes that users will provide feedback on the types of content they would like to see, thus helping it to create long-term plans for subject areas in which to develop journals.
What the Vendors Are Doing
EBSCO has said that it will replace Sage titles with "full-text journals of appropriate quality." EBSCO will attempt to license these titles with a shorter embargo period than was stipulated in its deal with Sage (or possibly with no embargo at all) and with "a significant backfile of data." Already on board are Duke University Press and Marcel Dekker. EBSCO may continue to index and abstract select Sage titles.
According to Vince Price, ProQuest's vice president of marketing, his company will continue to offer full text for the 99 active Sage titles in its databases through December 2003. He said: "ProQuest has new agreements with important publishers that will provide full-text coverage in the business, humanities, and social sciences area. In 2002, ProQuest added more than 100 new full-text titles from scholarly publishers such as Emerald (MCB University Press), Henry Stewart, North American Publishing Company, and Aspen Publishers. ProQuest already has signed agreements with Oxford University Press, INFORMS, Idea Group, and Barmarick Press to bring more full text to our databases."
In recognition of Sage journals' importance in their respective subject areas, ProQuest will continue to index and abstract them beyond December 2003. According to Price, ProQuest "believes that providing bibliographic access to these publications is important to fulfilling customers' and users' needs to access information. ProQuest aims to provide complete coverage with our indexes within the targeted subject areas, whether we have full-text rights or not. We believe this gives customers the greatest value."
Dealing with Outraged Researchers
Apparently, access to electronic journals is in a state of flux. There are many options on the customer side and just as many avenues for the publisher. The appropriate mix, with adequate compensation for publishers' efforts and bells-and-whistles access provided by intermediaries, is a continuing experiment. What works for one journal may not be the optimal solution for another.
Librarians make decisions about which services to purchase based on the expressed needs and interests of their institutions' researchers. Most of those who may have resisted a particular choice eventually come around just about the time the precise title in which they are interested is removed from a service. Explaining what has happened to a title is a chore left to the librarian. Some institutions that are locked into multiyear agreements find that making an immediate shift to a new service with the desired journal title is impossible. Ultimately, it comes down to money. Moving to a new service for the sake of some titles may not be economically feasible if the existing service must be maintained for other researchers and reasons.