Tuesday, April 24, 2007

NYT offers higher education folks free access, librarians whine

This just does not seem too nice for me on the part of some academic librarians. According to a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education (requires subscription, but last I looked, available via Lexis-Nexis) entitled "'The New York Times' Adjusts Free-Content Offer to Appease Academic Librarians" written by Scott Carlson, it seems that:

It seems that there has been a slight adjustment in the deal, however, after college librarians complained that they already pay tens of thousands of dollars for access to premium New York Times content through database companies like ProQuest and LexisNexis.

Vivian Schiller, vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com, now says TimesSelect archives will be available only to students at colleges that subscribe to database companies that carry Times content.

Now, I am sorry, but that just does not ring very nice to me. Do academic libraries pay a lot for access to the NYT via databases? We sure do. I know we do. You did not see me complaining when the NYT decided to offer that nice deal to college students (actually, pretty much anyone with a college e-mail. Heck, the NYT was saying they would simply go for an honor system of who registered for it). It seemed like a nice idea to get a few extra readers for the newspaper, and we all know newspaper readership is on the decline. So, I am sure it was a nice deal for the NYT for one, and it certainly was a nice deal for a few college students who may, or may not, now decide to read the paper online. Do these librarians really think they are going to lose that many database users over this? Are they really expecting that all of a sudden their library users will say, "hey, I can get the paper online free, why would I use a library database?" A database is not just the access to the particular paper. It's also the infrastructure and the arrangement to locate particular articles or articles on specific subjects. You are not paying only for the access, you also get the tools to search the periodical you are accessing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not work for the NYT or any database provider. My point is that this overall seemed like a nice win-win situation that a couple of academic librarians had to go and get their feathers ruffled over. So, according to the article, access now decreases because it will be correlated to the campuses that pay for the databases. Nice going librarians. Because heaven forbid some people in smaller places that may not be able to afford the database access actually get a little break, and in reality, that is what this was, just a little break. In the great scheme of things, it really would not make a difference to people like this:

Barbara Fister, a library director at Gustavus Adolphus College who is a prominent voice among librarians online, was among the first to raise the issue, on a couple of library discussion lists.

"I have mixed feelings," she says. As someone who is an avid reader of newspapers and who worries about their future, she believes that the Times should make its online content free to students.

Then again, her library recently shelled out nearly $20,000 for Times archives in a ProQuest database -- a real stretch for the small college. "Maybe I shouldn't have paid so much," she says.

Somehow, this just does not seem right. I think librarians can be fussing about so many important things, and this is what they choose? I ask again, do librarians like Ms. Fister really think they will lose that much over some students getting access directly from the newspaper? As I look over the FAQ about Times Select University from the NYT, I see a few things. For instance (citing from the NYT website),

  • "The free TimesSelect University subscription does not include the Archive: 1851-1980." (So, you would still have to pay for that historical archive if you want access to it).

At the moment, the site said the option was open to anyone with a .edu e-mail, but if the Chron report is accurate, then I am sure that will change to reflect the new deal. Somehow, it does not rub me the right way what these librarians are complaining about because I honestly don't see that the option would have been something that would have allowed them to cancel the database access and substitute. In which case, what difference does it make other than to maybe deprive now some people in campuses without the database? The database access is a different product than the online Times Select the NYT was making available for students. I can only shake my head and wonder what were those librarians thinking.

Update note: (4/25/2007): See Barbara Fister's response in the comments section. It also seems like this topic will be getting picked up in the blogosphere (maybe, maybe not. A cursory scan in my aggregator this morning showed no other hits on the topic). The Annoyed Librarian has chimed in, asking some of the questions I asked. Comments there worth a look as they bring up the issue of publishers and the content creators.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Sigh. This is my fault. The free Times Select did include the historical new york times, and having just paid a bundle for it I felt burned. Like, once we get a bunch of dough for this from libraries and we've used that market up, then we'll go after the students directly. So I asked Proquest what gives. They didn't know anything about it. Rather than settle with the Times (and refund some to us), the Times shut it down.

I didn't object at all to their offering Times Select free to students (though I'd rather it was free to everybody). I just objected to their using a third party to the scanning and sell it to libraries and then make it free to the same audience.

If I had known it would turn out this way, I wouldn't have said anything. I suspect at their next sales call, Proquest would be told by their potential customer "I don't know, that's a lotta money when I can get it for free." And they would have gone to the Times and it would have been turned off. But it wouldn't be blamed on librarians. On me.

My guess is this was a blunder that came out of some meeting. Someone said "hey, this demographic isn't reading the paper. They want it online. We need to get them hoooked so they'll pay for it after graduation." And they hadn't thought about how their partner Proquest would react. And if would cost them - fuggedaboutit.

It reminds me of how they reacted to the Tasini decision. Settle with the authors who hadn't been paid for online access? Nah, just rip out 150,000 articles. Take that.

They have some great reporters at the Times, and some very bottom-line oriented management.

Anyway, I apologize. It was only the historical database I felt burned over, and for the sake of libraries that can't afford the database I'm sorry it's pulled from the program. But I suspect the historical times would have gone away anyway once Proquest got wind of it.