Netflix Meets Academia

The recession has seen libraries pushing back against periodical price increases that can be as much as $1470 per title annually in the case of health sciences journals, according to our 2011 periodicals price survey. One result of this, according to the same report, is that 50 percent of publishers say that they plan some kind of change to their pricing structure. Most of those anticipating a move to a different pricing policy said they would implement a tiered arrangement.

Cambridge Journals, publisher of more than 280 peer-reviewed titles, is trying something a little different: 24-hour rental of some of their articles for $5.99 each, compared to outright purchase of the same material for $30-$45 (scientific, technical, and medical articles unsurprisingly command the higher end of the price range). The articles available for rent are those from the 116 journals owned by Cambridge University Press; the journals published by Cambridge that are owned by Learned Societies are expected to be added later.

Just like users who purchase an article or view it through a database subscription, prospective renters can view a citation and abstract first. Users who then choose the rental must register and pay and are then emailed a link through which they can read a view-only pdf of the article an unlimited number of times during the 24-hour window. It is not possible to copy and paste from the article or download, email, or print it. Cambridge is considering allowing the rental price to be deducted from the purchase price if the reader buys the article at a later time. Also in the pipeline is article rental through the publisher’s CJO Mobile service, the mobile version of Cambridge Journals Online.

Given librarians’ dissatisfaction with “big deal” subscription arrangements of late, any willingness shown by users to embrace alternative, or in this case complementary, pricing models is encouraging. Tristan Collier of Cambridge University Press in England says that while it is too early to discuss rental figures, as the program is still being rolled out, Cambridge University Press has been surprised at the level of activity that occurred even before the publicity started to spread. Readers,” he says, “were finding and using the service as soon as it appeared at article level, so we’re definitely regarding the launch as a success.

Henrietta Verma About Henrietta Verma

Henrietta Verma is Senior Editorial Communications Specialist at NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore, and was formerly the reviews editor at Library Journal.