Higher education faces a significant challenge in discovering what academic information will succeed on the Net. In 1996, the MIT Press launched Studies in Non-linear Dynamics and Econometrics (SNDE), one of six titles that the Press distributes by network. The price per year is $40 for individuals and $130 for libraries. MIT's strategy seems to be to launch titles in disciplines in which an electronic journal has some extra value, for example, links to computer code and data sets. The rates for the journals seem to be well below those quoted by OCLC's electronic journal program and lower than at least some new print journals. The cost of launching a new journal electronically seems to be falling. It remains to be seen whether the electronic journals will attract successful editors and valued manuscripts from authors, but the venture shows promise. The number and quality of electronic journals continues to grow. MIT has decided to forgo the use of an electronic agent and to depend only on conventional, independent indexing services for database integration, an incremental approach. Yet, the potential seems greater than an individual journal title reveals.
When Henry Ford launched the first mass-produced automobile, he chose a design that carried double the load, traveled three times farther, and went four times faster than the one-horse buggy it replaced, and yet was modestly priced. Successful digital information products for academia seem likely to exploit the inherent advantages of the digital arena, the timeliness, the sophisticated integration of new essays into the existing stock, the links from brief front-end items to more elaborate treatment, and the opportunity to interact with the material by asking for "fulfillment," "discussion," and the "underlying data." Network delivery will make possible both the campus intranet license and the sale of information on a pay-per-look basis. It will allow the material to be more readily consulted in circles beyond the academy.
Electronic agents will play significant new roles as intermediaries between publishers and campuses by handling the electronic storage and distribution and by integrating material into a more coherent whole. Universities and their libraries
will make adjustments in operations so as to expend less on conventional activities and more on digital communication.
Of course, there are unknowns. Agents and publishers will experiment to discover optimal pricing strategies. Agents will explore different ways of storing and delivering electronic products and different approaches to integration. Campuses and libraries will consider just what extra dimensions of service are worth their price. The process here is one of bringing order, meaning, and reliability to the emerging world of the Internet, of discovering what sells and what doesn't.
In the end, universities should be drawn to the electronic information services because of their superiority in instruction, their reach beyond the academy, and their power in the creation of new ideas. American higher education is largely shaped by competitive forces-the competition for faculty, students, research funding, and public and philanthropic support. In different ways, the private and public sector, the large institutions and the small, the two-year and four-year institutions all share the goal of doing a better, more cost-effective job of expanding the human potential. When artfully done, the digital sharing of ideas seems likely to expand that potential significantly.
I appreciate the help of Elton Hinshaw and the American Economic Association in understanding its operations, and the comments of Paul Gherman, David Lucking-Reiley, and Flo Wilson on an earlier draft of this essay.