Commercial publisher recognizes appeal of differential pricing

27 February 2000 - A major commercial player in international publishing has endorsed differential pricing as an effective way of combining a broader visibility of science with a healthy profit margin. This was the central message of the address by Chief Executive Officer of Elsevier Science, Derk Haank, to the Second Conference on Electronic Publishing organized by UNESCO and ICSU Press in Paris (France) last week.

Some 250 experts from around the world representing all links in the science information chain – publishers, librarians, scientists, copyright specialists, etc. – were meeting at UNESCO Headquarters from 20 to 23 February 2001 to take stock of developments in electronic publishing in science since the first conference was held in 1996 and to prepare guidelines for best practices that will range from standardization of citation, through peer review and integrity to archiving of the scientific record (see also WCS Newsletter, 23 November 2000).

Differential pricing for electronic science journals figured among the best practices recommended by the Conference. In presenting a publisher’s view on the final day, Derk Haank took up this theme, explaining why – in addition to widening access to science – the recommendation also made sound commercial sense.

‘When circulation of a scientific electronic journal drops because those less interested in the journal fail to renew their subscription’, he said, ‘the journal is forced to increase its prices, which only further limits circulation’. By proposing differential pricing calculated according to the means of a given university, corporation or library, both reader and publisher stand to gain. The university library in Zimbabwe, for example, is able to maintain its subscription and the journal becomes better known while bringing in healthy revenue.’

Besides economic models for electronic publishing, the Conference recommendations address the impact on science of new legislation governing copyright and databases, the role non-profit organizations can play, referencing and retrieval of scientific articles, ethical and privacy issues affecting the biomedical sciences, among others, and ways of seizing the potential offered by the new technologies to improve the two-way exchange of information between North and South, and between countries of the South. As Richard Smith, Editor of the British Medical Journal put it, the digital divide is the most important ethical issue in electronic publishing today.

The conference proceedings are to be published – electronically of course – at the UNESCO website.