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Reader Input: How Much Per Month for Scholarly Database Access?

How much would you be willing to pay on a monthly basis for all-you-can-read access to a scholarly database like JSTOR or Project MUSE? I ask for a couple of different reasons.

For one thing, the New York Times recently began charging for online access beyond a certain number of free articles, and they’ve created a fee structure that makes no sense to me. If you use their smartphone app you pay one price, but if you use their tablet app you pay more, and if you want “unlimited digital access” you pay even more. That’s not all. Online access is free if you pay for the print edition (no matter whether you get all seven days of the week, Monday-through-Friday only, weekends only, or Sundays only — each of which has a different price).

Such a complicated set of rules! If the NYT asked me to pay $10 a month for online access I’d do it in a heartbeat. Why? That’s about what I pay for Netflix, and it’s in the neighborhood of what Hulu plus charges, and only a little bit more than I pay for Amazon Prime when you break that service down month by month. In other words, $10 seems to the psychological threshold for me for online access to information. Once I realized that, I started thinking about how much I’d pay for access to academic resources.

For another thing, the cost of database library subscriptions keeps going up and up, which puts a crimp in already squeezed library budgets. And some librarians have expressed legitimate concerns that the individuals who use these digital resources–faculty, students, community members–are rarely aware of how much these subscriptions cost. Requiring individuals to pay on an individual basis for a subscription would certainly change that situation. (I’m not arguing that libraries should take this approach, mind you, it’s just part of why I’m asking how much you’d want to pay per month for access.)

And finally, I know people who are independent scholars who lack regular access to an academic library but who would love to be able to read articles from academic databases. As far as I know, not many such online resources offer subscriptions to individuals, though JSTOR tells me they’re working on it. For independent scholars, what’s the threshold price for a subscription?

So how about it, ProfHacker readers? If–for whatever reason–you were offered the chance to pay a monthly fee for individual access to a scholarly database, how much would you be willing to pay? Let’s hear from you in the comments!

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Paul Stainthorp]

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