Wednesday, April 25, 2007

NYT Restricts Content, Thanks to Librarians

Everyone has probably already seen this, but I'm a bit behind in my news reading. A story in the Chronicle (full story requires subscription) says that the New York Times, which had recently made its TimesSelect material freely available to college students, will now restrict which college students can get access to it, according to them all because of librarians complaining that the new Times deal gave too many people free access to information. I think I've entered the Library Twilight Zone.

It seems that some librarians were complaining that many academic libraries already pay a lot of money for some of this content, so the Times shouldn't just give it away to their students. Um, okay. The response? Now, "TimesSelect archives will be available only to students at colleges that subscribe to database companies that carry Times content."

I'm trying to figure out what's driving the complaints. The motive seems to be that librarians who have paid for the content through some database service now don't want it given away for free. Resentment is never pretty. But all this means in practice is that students at the handful of colleges who can't afford a database with Times content won't receive even this little benefit. Thus, the students at the poorest schools will be disadvantaged the most. I guess that's the way it always is.

Are there many academic libraries that don't already subscribe to some database with Times content? And for those few that don't, would it really hurt the others if they had this small perk from the NYT?

Most of the NYT is freely available online. Should we ask the NYT to restrict all their content to students at schools that subscribe to some database with Times content?

From the Chronicle:
"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."

Times Select is only $50/year. Are we to think that what people get for that $50 is equivalent to what Gustavus Adolphus gets for its $20K?

We get more sophisticated interfaces. We get exhaustive archives. We don't get advertisements. Aren't those the sorts of reasons we pay for the databases? "We," of course, being all those schools that can afford them.

For all those poor schools that can't afford any databases with NYT content, the students will just have to guess what Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman, or Maureen Dowd think about the burning issues of the day. To get a taste of all the good stuff you're missing, try the Automatic Bob Herbert. Indistinguishable from the real thing.


Anonymous said...

Actually, this is more of an issue for Proquest. They may find that fewer libraries subscribe to their NY Times database, assuming the students can get it for free. Perhaps the libraries should try to bargain down their Proquest bill.

-conspiracy theorist

Anonymous said...

The word on the street is that the Times was not supposed to make this offer in the first place, but someone forgot to clear with the legal dept. Once ProQuest reminded the Times of their contractual obligations, the Times took away their offer of (limited to 100 views/mo.) access to the full backfiles. I think it's not quite fair to blame the change on college librarians - maybe folks like Fister did complain, but ProQuest was all over this.

The TimesSelect deal still holds for all of the op-ed access and for access to archives back to 1981 (still with the 100 article limit). So fret not, college students everywhere can still revel in the Times op-ed content.

Anonymous said...

This is less of a library issue than a publishing issue. We're seeing a shift in how we pay for the news we consume.

Newspaper reporters and editors need to get paid. Subscribers and advertisers used to foot the bill. Now that more and more people have access to electronic news

The electronic information vendors currently depend on newspapers to create content. They also constantly eat away at the subscriber base. The cost of creating content is not shifting to the aggregators and news sites at a rate that can sustain the costs of doing journalism.

AL said...

If you're all correct, this is very interesting indeed. I was a bit surprised at the Fister quote, and wondered if she was quoted out of context, but that's what the article says.

I'm willing to believe Proquest had something to do with this, though I wonder how many libraries would unsubscribe to Proquest because of the TimesSelect deal. This is the only story I saw about it. Is there some other source pointing to Proquest as the main complainer?

Unknown said...

Hey, my alma mater made the news! Good to see the middle of nowhere liberal arts college that landed me an exciting job in retail out there.

I suspect Barbara was quoted out of context. I've met Barbara; I interviewed her to get into my library school program (the hoops they make you jump through to get into library school) and that doesn't sound like her.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, seems to be a matter of the librarians did not quite make the distinction between products. As you point out, and one of your anonymous does, the database option offers many other features one would not get on the freebie. For me at least what does it, so to speak, is the fact the librarians had to gripe about something as trivial as this when there are certainly other things to gripe about. Not to mention what about the little folk who may not now even get the little break? Oh well, what else is new?

WDL said...

the alternative is to actually read the print version.

i think my library has kept every single newspaper for the past 238 1/2 years. people are more than welcome to come here, and bring up our ref. & door count stats!

but that is so 20th c.

what i am baffled by - is why the disparity in prices... $20K vs. $50? But then that would be $50 per student, right? So that would be 400 students = $20,000. Most colleges have 400 students.

Are Universities saying that students aren't worth $100? Or is the database industry saying this? Or is it all the opposite? Do I look good in tweed? I digress. University fees are higher than ever (as everyone fitfully noted the other day). Why not eat one's cake and have it too?

And all the anonymous words on the street. Poppycock.

If this was a real issue, it wouldn't be on the 3rd page of some second rate newspaper.

Or maybe thats all part of the conspiracy!

*cue ominous music*


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a story I saw a long time ago about a preacher who wanted permission to carry a gun to keep people from robbing the poor box. Some bizarre disconnect.

Anonymous said...

I love you, AL. You write what's in my heart :)

Brent said...

I am starting to question whether librarians are altruistic after hearing about this.

Barbara said...

Well, it did bug me that the Times would make a bunch of money by collaborating with a vendor to sell libraries a resource that costs an incredible amount of money, and then say "hey students! we're going to be your best friend by giving you this!"

To be honest, (okay, to be incredibly naive and stupid) I asked Proquest whether there was any chance we could get something for that 20K we just plunked down other than the same content that the Times was just remarketing to the same people we bought it for. Instead, it disappeared. I'm sorry the Times did that. I'm sorry I ever asked. They would have yanked it anyway, once Proquest found out, but I wouldn't be considered a non-altruistic whiner.

This reminds me of what happened when freelance writers sued the Times for selling their copyrighted material electronically when they hadn't contracted for that right. The Times argued it would poke a huge hole in the record if they didn't have that content. The court said "that may be, but you still have to pay the writers."

What did they do? Pulled 150,000 articles from LexisNexis and other databases (including the aforementioned 20K database).

I don't blame the writers for that.

For the record, I would love it to be free. For everyone, not just students. And I'm very sorry the Times made that decision. And that I asked the question in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you are a non-altruistic whiner. You signed a contract for your library to pay alot of money for services and you had the right to ask that question. I would have asked the same question had I been in your position. I think the Times should have checked with their legal department first - they obviously did not think their actions through.

This is another example of why Economics 101 should be mandatory in library school. No access services librarian should be condemned for trying to made sure her/his library isn't shafted by vendors.

-the conspiracy theorist

Anonymous said...

Shade: Hey, it worked for Glenn Ford in "Heaven with a gun." I am all for the preacher packing if it means people will behave in church (I mean, robbing the poor box? How low can you go?). Now, if librarians could pack as well...hmm.