Anne Dixon is on a mission. Recruited as the Business Development Manager for IOPP (Institute of Physics Publishing)  in April 1995, her task was to “create a blueprint for the future”. Nine months later, IOPP launched their Electronic Journals service comprising 31 journals available online in full text Postscript or PDF (Portable Document File) files.
Now in the post of Electronic Publisher, she is responsible for developing and promoting a range of online products and services. Her team is continuing to expand along with the range of services offered.
What are the benefits of electronic publishing for the publisher? “Right now” says Dixon, “the benefits are competitive advantage, increased readerships and more satisfied authors and customers. But there are no financial benefits”.
The advantages to the end-user take longer to enumerate. Speed, ease of access, and searchability are obvious. High on her list are also access to electronic archives, and easier submission of material for publication. But why be an electronic publisher if it does not pay? What are the aims of the Electronic Publishing team? Dixon sees these as threefold. “To serve the community, to support print journals and to survive the transition from print to electronic form. During this transition, the publisher needs to become completely customer- focused”. One method which she uses to ensure this is feedback sessions in institutions and libraries in the UK, Europe and the US each year.
Considering the library as one very important customer, what does she feel about librarians’ generally critical view of the pricing policies of print journal publishers? “Coming from a software background I find the pricing models in scientific, technical and medical journals rather unusual. We are trying to pursue various options – free services such as Physics Express Letters, services funded by advertising or sponsors such as the Higher Education Funding Council’s Pilot Site Licence Initiative, and very economically-priced models such as CoDAS Web , the Condensed Matter Abstract Alerting Service (jointly owned with Elsevier), which offers 65 physics journals from five publishers at a very competitive price.”
IOPP provides access to a full listing of electronic journals via the HEFCE agreement. What were the reasons for entering the agreement? “We wanted to explore ways of breaking the vicious cycle of subscription cancellations and annual price increases” replies Dixon. Nevertheless, libraries participating in the scheme recently received notice of IOPP’s wish to terminate the agreement when the pilot ends. “We have a two-year termination clause, and had to give notice now in order to renegotiate at the end of the three-year pilot” she says.
IOPP is not involved in any aggregator agreements, in which several publishers make their journals available via the same service (for example, BIDS’ Journals Online ). In her article Are They Being Served?  Lynne Brindley wrote “Valuable as the UK national pilot site licence initiative is, the very idea that in the long term, electronic journals deriving solely from a single publisher is the best approach from the user perspective, is to misunderstand or be ignorant of user needs”. Dixon agrees that ‘single stop shopping’ is desirable to users. “But not necessarily at just one stop. I believe that distributed publishing derived from content providers’ collaborations is a viable way forward. It is extremely unlikely that one aggregator or content provider will dominate a given subject. There will come a time when publishers compete less on delivery methods and return to what they are good at – filtering information. Then they can compete once more on content quality”.
In a recent poll of US and European librarians, IOPP found that, because the number of electronic journals remains comparatively small overall, and transactions can be complex, librarians often find it quicker and more convenient to deal direct with a publisher than to use an agent. Dixon recognises that this will not remain the case and monitors the aggregator situation carefully. “We are embarking upon a test with BiomedNet shortly in which relevant electronic journals will be made available to individuals both through that service and our own. ”
Surprisingly, Dixon is positive about the notion advanced by Stevan Harnad in Ariadne 8  that journal publishing should be funded by research rather than through subscription prices. She agrees that research budgets can be more attractive than library budgets, and also considers it an approach that would dovetail with IOPP’s mission as a not-for-profit publisher.
The physics community is an active one, particularly in the electronic arena. For publishers, the advantage is that there is a customer base already ‘tuned in’ to the Internet and electronic services. The disadvantage is that it is not only the publisher who can serve this base. The community has been using Paul Ginsparg’s pre-print physics archive  at The Los Alamos National Laboratory for several years. IOPP disputes Harnad’s claims that researchers use the archive in preference to print journals. Its research reveals that they submit to both the archive and to print journals. The statistics reflect this. “As of a couple of weeks ago” says Dixon, “Los Alamos was serving about 50,000 transactions per day. We serve 20,000 to 35,000 accesses per day”.
So the future will consist, for some time to come, of a mix of print and print-simulation electronic publishing, together with the more anarchic pre-print culture. “Publishers should reach into other fields for advice and inspiration. They must collaborate to provide a breadth of content which is significant and meaningful. I believe that print journals will have a long ‘tail’, and they will be required by a proportion of the community for a very long time. ”
- Institute of Physics Publishing Web pages,
- CODAS Web,
- BIDS Journals Online,
- Lynne Brindley, Are they being served?, Ariadne Issue 4
- Stevan Harnad, The Paper House of Cards, Ariadne Issue 8
- Paul Ginspargs Pre-Print Physics Archive
Author DetailsAmy Tucker,
Institute of Physics Publishing
Tel: 0117 929 7481
Address: Dirac House, Temple Back, Bristol