Right-Pricing Digital Content
I love living and working in rural Western New York, but the schools and libraries in my geographic area are facing daunting challenges in the shift to digital content. E-content is often priced on a site-based basis, and that means our small school libraries end up paying an inequitably high price. The 22 school districts in the School Library System where I work serve a total of only about 24,000 students. Our largest district has 2,500 K–12 students and our smallest K–12 district educates just under 500 students. Not building, district. In comparison, the average school district size in New York State is about 4,000 students.
Our situation isn’t abnormal; about 50% of school districts in the nation have fewer than 5,000 students. Large districts (those over 25,000 students) only make up about 20% of school districts in the country. The problem is that the 50% of small districts account for only 5% of the total US student population. Therefore, if publishers price digital content by district or building, as they often do, instead of by the number of potential users per district or building, the smallest districts get grossly overcharged. In other words, the small, rural, and usually poor schools and libraries are subsidizing the larger, often-wealthier schools and libraries in a site-based pricing model.
The pricing of digital content often reflects what publishers see as the institutional buyer’s potential user base rather than the actual-use scenario. It doesn’t matter whether a print resource is purchased by a small, rural library or a large, suburban library: In either setting, only one user at a time can access a given print book. With a great deal of K–12 nonfiction ebooks being offered on an unlimited, simultaneous-access basis, a small student body has a much lower potential user base than a large one. And yet the two schools—one large, one small—often pay the same flat site-based price. What is needed is a new pricing model that takes into account the potential user base of a school site. Yet publishers often struggle to translate their traditional site-based pricing into a user-based model.
My suggested solution for this is to look at the data compiled by the National Center for Educational Statistics on average school sizes for each state. For example, the average New York elementary school has 523 students and the average secondary school has 853. Using those numbers, my School Library System would be considered to have 34 buildings instead of the 54 buildings it actually does. This pricing model provides an easy formula for moving from a site-based price to one that considers the population and potential user base. Making this change will help small, rural schools and libraries escape the punishing burden of paying the same price for their 300-student high school as others pay in a 3,000-student high school.
Read more details about this proposal, and download the full document, at The Digital Shift.