Quantifying the Obvious

16 October
2009

I still encounter, with alarming frequency, STM publishing executives who have not yet grasped the implications of the digital revolution. There’s a sensibility that pigeonholes the web as yet another ancillary delivery tool—kinda like CD-ROMs. I am amazed to hear people in positions of serious authority (for now) declare their intentions to move incrementally to develop online businesses. “Let’s take it step by step and see what evolves,” I was recently told by a senior figure at a major scientific society.

Sorry, but it already has evolved, at least from a macro revenue perspective. If you are not persuaded merely by walking into a library at an institution of higher learning that education and research have gone digital, allow me to finish the job by providing some definitive evidence. As these data show, this is not in any way a peripheral phenomenon. It is a fundamental transformation of our industry. These data were culled from statistical reports created by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and they vividly illustrate the trends that are sweeping the institutional customer base.

The first three tables show the trajectory of expenditures made for print materials and electronic materials in these libraries. (Obviously, in categories of this breadth, these proportions have an inverse relationship.)

LibraryStats1

Among all libraries surveyed, the proportions equalized in 2008; almost certainly, spending for electronic resources will outstrip print in 2009.

When the list is narrowed to institutions that offer doctoral programs, there is a significant shift toward electronic resources.

LibraryStats2

And finally, when we narrow it further, to focus exclusively on health science libraries, the contrast is even more stark: by 2007 (the most recent figures available), collection spending was already 2/3 electronic. (What must it be as I write, 2 years on?)

LibraryStats3

It is common knowledge that serials have been trending electronic since the turn of the last decade. But now, materials of ALL kinds are moving to electronic delivery. Take a look, for example, at the trends specifically for electronic books.

LibraryStats4

For many of us, this is not news. But the appropriate response is not to treat electronic platforms as peripheral or ancillary. This is obviously the future of the STM business.

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