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Statement of Current Perspective and Preferred Practices for Selection and Purchase of Electronic Information: Update No. 2, Pricing and Economics

Issue Date


Increasingly, today's publishers act globally to provide electronic information, and it is incumbent upon libraries to act globally to express their market positions about pricing and other terms and conditions related to purchase of published information.  This document updates the ICOLC's earlier statements about today's electronic information environment, our desired environment for the future, and preferred practices for library consortia and their member libraries to achieve these desired outcomes.  In this general update, we emphasize economic and pricing matters, which have remained a significant concern since the first meetings of the ICOLC in 1996 and throughout the Statements we have issued.

Once again, although this Statement may have general applicability, the adopters expect that its primary relevance will be within the higher education community.  We aim to foster a continuing dialog among information providers and academic library consortia.  Thus, members of ICOLC invite information providers to engage in meaningful and practical discussions about how this document and its predecessors might advance ubiquitous and affordable information resources for library users in educational and research institutions.

Although the Statement intends to be broad enough to encompass all types of academic consortia and to set general boundaries within which consortia usually operate, it is not intended to preclude individual consortia from taking specific actions that may be appropriate to their own needs.

Enduring Goals for Access to Information

*  Need to Facilitate Information Technologies.  Academic libraries and information providers must use information technologies to facilitate increased information delivery and to make electronic information more generally, readily, and flexibly accessible than its print counterpart.

*  Importance of Educational "Exceptions" in National Copyright Laws..  Most national laws provide for exceptions, or limitations, to the exclusive rights of owners.  These exceptions favor the interest of the public. These exceptions, which take library reproduction and educational uses seriously, are to stay intact in the electronic environment.

*  Permanent Access and Archiving are of Paramount Importance.  As with traditional print materials, it is critical to libraries and the constituents they serve that permanent archival access to electronic information be available, especially where that information exists only in electronic form.  Agreements to procure electronic information must include cost-effective provisions to purchase and not just to lease or provide temporary access.  Libraries, consortia, and publishers that are concerned about archiving need to take appropriate action to realize long-term availability and access.  In addition, libraries and consortia should explore new options that can ensure permanent access.  For example, publishers should cooperate with ICOLC members to foster the creation of national or regional live repositories of electronic journal information in addition to publisher provided access. Publishers should provide the archival data at no additional charge beyond the regular subscription price.

When a title(s) to which a library has electronic archival rights transfers from one publisher to another there is no guarantee that the library will continue a licensing relationship with the acquiring publisher.  Therefore, the obligation to provide a means of access to issues up to the point of transfer remains with the original publisher.  The publisher must not fail to provide a practical method of continuing access.

This obligation includes the complete acquisition of one publisher by another. In this case the acquiring publisher must provide the method for continuing access to acquired publisher's titles up to the point of the acquisition. ICOLC expects that a condition of any sale of an entire stable of publications to another publisher must include as a condition of sale that perpetual access will be provided for titles that a library or consortium purchased perpetual rights to up to the date of sale.

*  Information has to be Affordable.  Pricing models for electronic information must result in a significant reduction in the per-use, or unit cost, of information.  The savings accrued through the production of electronic information should, over time, be passed from the provider to the consumer.  Eventually, the methods for pricing electronic information must dovetail with both the financial requirements of information providers and the budgets and missions of academic libraries.

*  Usage Data Provide Much-Needed Measures of Success.  Libraries and providers must jointly develop and agree upon what constitutes effective measures of the use and value of electronic information so both parties can demonstrate better returns on investment.  Improved measures of electronic information value will be essential to enable libraries to secure future funding to procure these resources.  ICOLC has developed guidelines regarding usage data[[2]] and also encourages the continued development of collaborative programs, such as the COUNTER Project,[[3]] that bring libraries, consortia, and publishers together to improve definitions and measures of usage.

*  Broadest Possible Access.  Scholars, academic institutions, publishers, and libraries share a common and compelling interest in fostering systems of publishing that result in broad information access at an affordable price.  To achieve this, each group (universities and colleges, publishers, academic libraries, and academic authors) must take steps to improve the current system.  All parties must be willing to take risks to create and implement new, technologically enabled research outlets for initial publication of scholarship and research results. Publishers should develop new policies allowing author archiving and access of published material through self or institutional archives. Authors should only publish where such rights are granted.

* Affordable Access on a Global Scale.  ICOLC applauds the growing number of recent partnerships with publishers who provide electronic journals for free or at very affordable access to countries in transition, such as the programs of the WHO, FAO, and[[4]].  ICOLC members hope that publishers will next address the needs of more developed nations that may be experiencing weak national currencies, i.e., pricing models that are fair for users in all countries in the world, though they need not all be based upon a single pricing construct.

* New models for Widest Possible Access.  ICOLC supports the widest possible access to information and encourages experimentation with new business models such as Open Access and other scholarly information and access programs.  These new experiments need to be mounted thoughtfully and tracked carefully so that authors, publishers, and libraries may generate the most benefit for readers.  To accomplish this goal, ICOLC strongly encourages all abstracting and indexing services to include article-level citation to freely-available peer-reviewed scholarly journals, so that these become fully integrated into the most commonly used scholarly access mechanisms.  Such access can be expected not only to increase the use of these journals, thereby reducing costs, but also to make the abstracting and indexing services more valuable to the scholarly community.  Article-level metadata should be generated in a standardized format by all freely-available journals, for easy incorporation directly into abstracting and indexing services.

Preferred Pricing Practices - Reaffirmed

A.        Non-disclosure language should not be required for any licensing agreement, particularly language that would preclude library consortia from sharing pricing and other significant terms and conditions with other consortia.

B.         Providers should not expect libraries to pay the entire cost of their research and development to bring new electronic products to market.  These costs should be shared by the company shareholders and amortized by the provider so current prices for electronic information are sufficiently affordable to encourage experimentation and ultimately widespread use.  This strategy will offer providers a better long-term revenue stream from which to recover their research and development costs.

C.        Libraries should have the option to purchase the electronic product without the paper subscription, and the electronic product should cost substantially less than the printed subscription price.  See Section A. below for more detail.

D.        Bundling electronic and print subscriptions in non-flexible multi-year packages must not be the sole pricing option for purchasing electronic information. For example, licenses and purchase agreements for electronic journals, after the initial pricing year, cannot remain on an unchangeable fixed economic course.

Preferred Pricing Practices -- Additional Statements

Library consortia are increasingly part of today's "information chain."  They work closely with publishers and vendors in the electronic space.  Through aggregating buyers for numerous educational and scholarly information resources, consortia create for information providers an increasingly efficient process for negotiating and administering licenses.  Consortia increase the sale and penetration of information suppliers' materials into the educational and research arena.

ICOLC members are concerned that, amid all the changes in scholarly publishing, the annual cost to libraries of maintaining information access continues to rise far more rapidly than either inflation or library budgets, which are, in many cases, flat or decreasing.  Publishers continue to ask libraries to invest in new publishing initiatives, often while maintaining or expanding the print versions of publications, and the latter also continue to increase at rates above inflation or budgets.

Consortia must achieve greater value for their money.  This goal can be achieved in various ways:  for example, by purchasing titles that receive actual use and discontinuing low-use or unused titles, by pricing incremental cost of low use titles in proportion to their use.  Intense discussions about journal costs have spawned many opinions about appropriate solutions.  These solutions may vary based on the constituency of the consortium and its particular business arrangement.  ICOLC supports ongoing dialog and encourages publishers to work with customers and other organizations to develop additional alternative models for electronic journal literature access.

It has always been and will remain library practice to prioritize purchases to those materials of most value and use to its users.  Through the improved accessibility of electronic journals, the publishing industry will realize the benefits of increased readership, but the licensing arrangements must not preclude (or make impractical) the ability of libraries to continue to evaluate the use and value of journals and to cancel those of low use and value with non-punitive economic consequences.

Outlined below are specific changes in business models currently being sought by library consortia.

A.        Move From "Print Plus" to "Electronic Plus" Purchase Model.  Today, publishers price most e-journal content using print publications as their base price (the "print-plus" model).  In many offers from publishers, the pricing of the electronic journal is still expressed as an "add-on" to the price of the print product, or, alternatively, the price quoted is linked to a "no-print cancellation" clause in the contract.

A few publishers now offer an "electronic-only" or "electronic-plus" model, with the electronic journal being supplied for a base price and a price for print copies being added to that base price.  ICOLC endorses this model, provided:

1.         The purchase of the print copies is optional, and

2.         The base price for the electronic content is no more than 80% of the price for the electronic-plus-print (thereby reflecting the savings that the non-supply of print copies can bring), and

3.         The combined electronic and print price is no more than the price of the current print-only subscription.

B.         Eliminate No-Cancellation Clauses.  ICOLC members object strongly to "no-print cancellation" clauses in licenses and contracts for e-journals, and to pricing models that impose financial limitations or penalties when cancellations are permitted.  Publishers should direct more effort toward new pricing models that break away from print-based models, as above.  To the extent that publishers adopt properly allocated Electronic-Plus models, the non-cancellation issue becomes mostly insignificant if not moot.

C.        "Big" or "Package Deals" need Breathing Room.  Package deals have been useful for various consortial customers and will continue to have utility.  As true group packages they can simplify title level administration for both libraries and publisher while maximizing access to the publishers’ collection.  However, given current needs and uncertain multi-year budget situations, publishers must also build reasonable possibilities for "orderly attrition" into all such arrangements, which are seen as fair to both publishers and libraries. Structured properly, the best arrangement for both libraries and publishers should be  broader rather than narrower title access, with orderly attrition as a necessary but secondary tool.  This will enable customers to contain or reduce spending, if needed.  For example, listed are some ways in which attrition might be offered, and there are likely other possibilities:

1.         Shave off unused titles and provide a credit for them.

2.         Shave off titles that libraries choose to do without (or buy by the drink) and provide credit for those.

3.         Let libraries delete titles and recoup a percentage of the dollar value of the subscription price for those titles.

4.         Provide cancellation allowances for each year.

D.        Do Not Repackage Content.  Publishers should curtail the practice of repurposing or repackaging content (such as republication of articles in multiple electronic journals) in ways that require libraries to pay for the same content multiple times.

E.         Change -- but do not eliminate --the Roles Of Intermediaries.  All parties in the information chain -- scholars, publishers, aggregators, agents and librarians -- are re-evaluating their roles in the light of new electronic delivery developments.  In the long run, each must add value to survive.  ICOLC members are supportive of changes in the arrangements for purchase of and access to electronic content, but many continue to wish to work with serials agents and other parties to manage their subscriptions during this period of change.


1.  See "Statement of Current Perspective and Preferred Practices for the Selection and Purchase of Electronic Information (March 1998)," and "Statement of Current Perspective and Preferred Practices for the Selection and Purchase of Electronic Information (Update no. 1: December 2001)."  Both are found at:  <;

2 See "Guidelines for Statistical Measures of Usage of Web-Based Information Resources (Update: December 2001)," at:  <;

3 See the home page of the COUNTER Project, Counting Usage of Networked Electronic Resources, at:  <;


4 For a listing of Developing Nations Initiatives, in collaboration with publishers, see the Liblicense web site's:  <;

Contact Persons

For further information about the Statement contact:

Note: in all email addresses below, please replace the AT with @"

Beverlee French, Director for Shared Content, California Digital Library
University of California - Office of the President, 415 20th Street, 4th Floor, Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: 510.987-0425 Fax: 510.287-3825
Email: beverlee.french AT

Arnold Hirshon, Executive Director, NELINET, Inc.
153 Cordaville Road, Suite 200, Southborough MA 01772
Phone: 508-597-1934 Fax: 508-460-9455
Email: hirshon AT

Kristiina Hormia-Poutanen, Director FinELib
P.O.Box 26 (Teollisuuskatu 23-25), FIN-00014 University of Helsinki FINLAND Phone: +358 9 191 44118
Email: kristiina.hormia AT

Ann Okerson,
Yale University, Sterling Memorial Library, New Haven, CT 06520-8240
Phone: 203-432-1764 Fax: 203-432-8527
Email: aokerson AT

Tom Sanville, Executive Director, OhioLINK
Suite 300, 2455 North Star Road, Columbus, OH 43221
Phone: 614-728-3600, ext. 322 Fax: 614-728-3610
Email: tom AT

Dr Hazel Woodward, Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
University Librarian & Director of Cranfield University Press, Kings Norton Library,
Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire, MK43 0AL
Phone:: +44 (0) 1234 754446 Fax: +44 (0) 1234 752391
Email: h.woodward AT

Endorsing Organizations

This statement was adopted in principle by member representatives of the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC), whose organizations are listed below.  This statement does not necessarily represent the official views of each consortium listed.

Original list as of September 30, 2004

* additions up to October 2, 2004

ABM-utvikling (Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority)
Amigos Library Services US
AULC (Arizona Universities Library Consortium) US
BICFB (French-Speaking Library consortium) Belgium
BLC(Boston Library Consortium, Inc.) US
CAUL (Council of Australian University Librarians)
California Digital Library US
California State University - SEIR (Systemwide Electronic Information Resources) US
CALICO (Cape Library Consortium) South Africa
CAUL (Council of Atlantic University Libraries) Canada
CBUC (Consortium of Academic Libraries of Catalonia) Spain
CIBER (Coordinamento Interuniversitario Basi dati & Editoria in Rete) Italy
Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) US
Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries US
Colorado State Library US
COSALC (Coalition of South African Library Consortia)
Council of Federal Libraries Consortium/consortium Conseil des bibliothèques du gouvernement federal Canada
CREPUQ (Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec/Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities) Canada
DEF (Danish Electronic Research Library) International
ELNET Estonia
FinELib (The National Electronic Library in Finland)
Florida Center for Library Automation US
GAELIC (Gauteng and Environs Library Consortium) South Africa
GALILEO Georgia's Virtual Library, an initiative of the University System of Georgia US
Greater Western Library Alliance US
HEAL-Link Greece
ICCMP (Illinois Cooperative Collection Management Program) US
JANUL (Japan Association of National University Libraries)
JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) UK
LALC (Lebanese Academic Library Consortium)
LOUIS: The Louisiana Library Network US
MINITEX Library Information Network US
MLC (Michigan Library Consortium) US
MLNC (Missouri Library Network Corporation) US
NC LIVE (North Carolina Libraries for Virtual Education) US
Network of Alabama Academic Libraries US
NELLCO (New England Law Library Consortium) US
NERL (NorthEast Research Libraries Consortium) US
NCAL (Nevada Council of Academic Libraries) US
Nylink US
OhioLINK (Ohio Library and Information Network) US
Orbis Cascade Alliance US
PASCAL, the Partnership Among South Carolina Academic Libraries US
Pioneer, Utah's Online Library US
Procurement for Libraries UK
PULC (Private University Libraries Consortium) Japan
SOLINET (Southeastern Library Network, Inc.) US
SUPC (Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium) UK
Texshare US
Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) US
UKB The Netherlands
University of Texas System Digital Library US
Utah Academic Library Consortium US
VIVA (The Virtual Library of Virginia) US
VOWB (Vlaams Overlegorgaan Wetenschappelijk Bibliotheekwerk/ Flemish
WILS (Wisconsin Library Services) US
WRLC (Washington Research Library Consortium) US


The International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) is an informal, self-organized group currently comprising approximately 200 library consortia in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. The member consortia serve all types and sizes of libraries. ICOLC has been in existence since 1996.

ICOLC supports participating consortia by facilitating discussion on issues of common interest. Twice per year ICOLC conducts meetings dedicated to keeping participating consortia informed about new electronic information resources, pricing practices of electronic information providers and vendors, and other issues of importance to directors, governing boards, and libaries of consortia. From time to time ICOLC also issues statements regarding topics which affect libraries and library consortia.