What are „prices that are not commensurate with the value they provide to libraries and their communities“? The value will be different in different circumstances. Even in one institution, the value of a particular article or journal may vary from one day to the next. Much of the value resides in the availability rather than in the usage. And what we are prepared to pay, i.e. how we value things, is a judgement that underlies market economics. We, society at large, justify paying more for top researchers than for beginning ones; we justify putting more expensive equipment in one laboratory than in the next. We put more money in one research project than another. We balance the price and the value we perceive to be getting. If we give ourselves a chance to come to fair prices for the services of publishing, then we have gained a lot.
The current subscription system doesn’t easily give us that chance. Nobody knows what a fair price is. Cost-based pricing would make a small number of very popular journals less expensive, but an awful lot more niche journals, now in effect cross-subsidised, a lot more expensive. Do niche journals have a higher or lower quality? Or value? We are, absurdly, measuring „cost per download,“ „cost of citation“ and the like and believe we are measuring value. [Das ist natürlich ein „Super-Argument“ und würde zum Stillstand sämtlicher Evaluierungsversuche führen. Preis ist nunmal wichtig, und welche verläßliche Größen haben wir schon ausser der Nutzung? Geschweige denn auf Artikelbasis! Mein erstes Gedanke war: Das kann nur das Argument eines teuren Verlags sein …] Has anybody ever approached, say, the proceedings of a parliamentary debate in that way? Even just as a thought experiment? What is ‚usage‘ anyway? Scientific articles are important documents. The only thing that valuing them by their usage and citation does is to make the usage and citation potential of articles into criteria for publishing them, instead of their intrinsic scientific merit. Thus making a brilliant article that few understand seem pretty worthless. And – possibly worse – making a poor, but controversial, popular, and fashionable article seem the more valuable of the two. Surely, that can’t be where we want to go?