Reveal Digital Introduces Pro-Library “Cost Recovery = Open Access” Model to Finance Underground Press Collection

In my last blog post, I listed the feminist and lesbian underground and alternative papers that are part of the digital project that has filled a major part of my last four years. They are only one part of the story. In my next post, I’ll list some of the other papers that are on board and invite readers to suggest others that are still absent from the list.

But first I want to talk about how this project is being financed through the Ann Arbor-area company Reveal Digital. If you’re a librarian or a scholar, please pay close attention because our economic model was created with you in mind. As the former managing editor of References Services Review and Serials Review, two publications that were read avidly by reference and serials librarians, I regularly edited articles by librarians who were lamenting their shrinking budgets in the face of rising costs. This is the model that will enable you to maintain and even enhance your collections.

But we need your help to make it work. I’ll show you what you can do.

I am tempted to use the term “revolutionary” to describe the model but the term has been overused and trivialized by Madison Avenue. However, “unique” will work. There is no other model like it to my knowledge. Nor is there any model so budget-friendly to libraries.

To put it in perspective, other companies that produce digital collections for the library market (and, no, I won’t name them) charge prices that traditionally are so high, only a handful of libraries can afford them. These collections then become accessible only to the patrons of those libraries. Meanwhile, the companies that produce them keep them on the market, looking to generate additional profits as long as they can. Their economic model is designed to yield high profits for them on a perpetual basis while keeping access for the rest of us low forever. Who benefits from that model? Not you. Not the public.

Our economic model is called “cost recovery = open access.” Briefly, what we promise is to sell any one collection only until we have earned back enough money to pay for expenses and salaries and then, after a brief period of exclusivity for those libraries that buy into it, we put that collection into open access, which means it will be free to other libraries as well. To libraries that provide the sourcing materials, we give them keyword-searchable pdf files and the metadata to do with as they wish. To read more about our economic model, you can read this article that appeared in Library Journal.

Why would libraries pay for a collection that will eventually be free? There are at least three reasons.

First, the library culture promotes that spirit. During my many years working in the library profession, I came to know that bigger libraries and library consortia often used their financial advantage to support products and initiatives that later benefited smaller libraries and consortia as well. It was because of that community culture that I found so much satisfaction working with them. Now, with our cost recovery = open access economic model, you don’t have to be part of a larger system to do your part to help because we offer pricing on a tiered basis according to type of library.

As we note on our beta site, “Reveal Digital’s pricing for Independent Voices is tiered by type of library and is based on an initial estimate of the number of libraries expected to purchase the collection.” In other words, if more libraries support the collection than we need to recover costs based on our final estimate, the price per library goes down! Yes, instead of the company making more money for the collection, libraries pay less per institution. Each library can pay one lump sum or four equal annual installments. And then it goes into open access.

We estimate that our collections will cost about 20% of what comparable collections from other digitizing companies would cost—and less if more libraries support them.

Second, we will produce additional collections beyond Independent Voices. Because of our promise of open access, we can’t make continuing profits from any one collection so we have to produce new collections, all using the cost recovery = open access model that saves libraries so much money.

Already other collections are in the early stages of development. We are working with the folks from

  • SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), one of the leading, most effective Civil Rights organizations of the sixties, to create a SNCC Digital Archive;
  • Highlander Center, one of the pioneering educational and training institutions for civil rights organizers and leaders—including Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Pete Seeger, and others—to digitize their papers from its founding through the Civil Rights era; and
  • Liberation News Service, the AP-UPI of the underground press, to create a collection that includes their photos and news packets.

No one library will buy every collection but every library will have access to every collection with our cost recovery = open access economic model.

But only if you do your part to make sure this economic model succeeds.

You can enroll in Independent Voices right here and join the growing list of fellow libraries that are already on board. Scholars, if you agree that any one of these collections would be good fits for your university’s library, please talk to your librarian and submit a request to purchase?

Third, supporting libraries are invited to suggest archives from their holdings to become digital collections. What archives have you been wanting to digitize? Let’s talk.

We are in the process of building a Kickstarter-type website that will promote all of our collections that are in development. Under each collection, we will list the projected costs and the tiered pricing structure. We will seek commitments from libraries. As soon as any one collection has attracted the necessary commitments to bring it into open access, we will begin production.

Was I wrong in calling this model “unique”? I don’t think so. Rising costs and shrinking budgets don’t have to prevent you from building your digital collection. Help us to help you make this crucial information accessible to the current and future generations of scholars and activists. It’s a win-win.

In my next post, I’ll list some of the non-women’s underground and alternative papers that are on board so far to be digitized as part of Independent Voices; and I’ll invite you to suggest others and connect me to folks who were on those papers so I can request permission.

In the meantime, if you missed my two earlier posts on the digital project, you can read them here and here.

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