One trend that I've been happy to track in the information industry is the increased number of services and sites that provide users with access to good information, in the context that they need it, and at the time of need. Increasingly, this has meant the ability to purchase just the piece needed, rather than committing to a subscription in advance of the need. Of course, reasonable per-item pricing will make a service that much more attractive. And, libraries appreciate having this option available as much as individuals do.
OCLC has recently announced that per-article purchasing is now available from the OCLC FirstSearch Electronic Collections Online (ECO) database on the OCLC FirstSearch service. This new feature means that libraries have another way to extend access to valuable just-in-time information for their patrons. Having access to usage statistics also provides a way to monitor use and demand for titles and then plan for future subscriptions. The service is available now to all FirstSearch users. Libraries can activate it through the FirstSearch administrative module.
ECO lets libraries subscribe to individual electronic journals. Users can do both cross-journal searching and extensive browsing, and they've been able to retrieve abstracts and full-text articles for the journals in their library's collection. They can also retrieve article citations for journals not subscribed to and now will have the option of purchasing that article.
"Per-article purchase from Electronic Collections Online journals will help libraries not yet subscribing to electronic journals test this form of access in their library environment," said Frank Hermes, vice president of OCLC Marketing and Planning. "This added option is a way for libraries to expand access to electronic journal content. Library management can decide which titles they use the most and pick up titles according to users' subject interest. The option allows users to find information ‘just-in-time,' and extends a library's serials collection."
The service is being implemented in stages. Per-article purchase is available now for articles in over 1,100 journals from 22 publishers. In the coming weeks, 2,500 journals from 42 participating publishers will be available. There is a chart on the site indicating participation in the program (http://www.oclc.org/firstsearch/documentation/pappublishers.htm). There are actually 57 publishers included in ECO with 3,409 journal titles currently available, so there are 15 publishers that have not yet agreed to participate in the new program.
Currently, per-article purchase is available only for journals included in the Electronic Collections Online database, but a spokesperson for OCLC indicated that the system has been built to accommodate the possibility of future databases being added.
Libraries are billed monthly for each article purchased. Article prices vary by journal and are set by the publishers. According to a company spokesperson, most articles are priced between $10 and $35. Some publishers have set lower prices for archival material than for current material. While this might seem high-priced to users accustomed to $2 to $3 for consumer titles, the ECO collection comprises scholarly titles that carry fairly high subscription rates. Current year and back-file prices for each journal are listed on the Journal Settings screen of the administrative module.
The module also allows administrators to customize access, including turning on and off access by individual journal title and requiring a password. A company representative said that users are pleased with the functional controls built into the system, especially the ability to set a maximum per-article price and to set a monthly budget.
To help libraries decide when to subscribe to journals in which they purchase articles, OCLC FirstSearch Usage Statistics report journal-level monthly totals of the number of articles purchased and the total expenditure for each journal title. This is obviously a very helpful feature for collection development and should prove attractive to cost-conscious librarians.
While some publishers might have been reluctant to participate in the per-article purchase program, hoping to sell subscriptions rather than individual articles, it may in fact drive more traffic to less popular and expensive titles and prove to be an additional source of income for the publishers.
OCLC reports that the individual article purchasing option was added at the request of FirstSearch users, and that the company encourages users to offer suggestions for future enhancements. This new feature looks like it benefits all parties: OCLC, the publishers, and library users.