Patterns of Use for the Bryn Mawr Reviews
Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR), one of the first electronic journals in the humanities, was started in 1990 to provide timely reviews of books in the classics. To lend solidity, a paper version was produced as well, and the two were issued simultaneously until late 1995, when the electronic reviews began to be published individually more or less as they were received and the paper versions issued four times a year. In 1993 a sister journal, Bryn Mawr Medieval Review (BMMR), was created to review books in medieval studies, and the two journals were combined to form the Bryn Mawr Reviews (BMR). After about two years of activity BMMR became dormant, and toward the end of 1996 both location and management were shifted. Since then it has become tremendously active, at one point even surpassing BMCR in its monthly output. Comparisons should be considered with this history in mind. (For more detail, see chapter 24.)
We have two sets of users: subscribers and gopher hitters. For data from the former we have subscription lists, which are constantly updated, and periodic surveys that we have conducted; for the latter we have monthly reports of gopher hits and gopher hitters (but not what the hitters hit). In considering this data our two main questions have been (1) how are we doing? and (2) how can we afford to keep doing it?
Our analysis of the monthly gopher reports has concentrated on the hitters rather than the hits. After experimenting rather fruitlessly in 1995 with microanalysis of
the data from the Netherlands and Germany hitter by hitter month by month for a year, we decided to collect only the following monthly figures:
• total number of users
• total by address (country, domain, etc.)
• list of top hits (those reviews that received 15+ hits/month and are over a year old )
• list of top hitters (those who use the system 30+/month)
Analysis shows that use has leveled off at a peak of about 3,800 users a month. With a second full year of gopher use to study we can see the seasonal fluctuation more easily. The one area of growth seems to be non-English foreign sites. If we compare the top hitters in the first ten months of 1995 with the comparable period in 1996, we find that the total increased only 5% but the total number of nonEnglish heavy users increased 120% (Table 12.1). Three countries were among the heavy users in both 1995 and 1996 (France, Germany, Netherlands); two appeared only in 1995 (South Africa, Taiwan), and eight only in 1996 (Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Venezuela).
In terms of total number of users from 1995 to 1996 there was an overall increase of 10.8%, although the increase among U.S. users was only 9.1%. Conversely, most foreign countries showed a marked increase in total use over the ten months of 1996 versus 1995: Argentina, 16 to 27; Australia, 542 to 684; Brazil, 64 to 165; Denmark, 80 to 102; Spain, 107 to 197; Greece, 41 to 80; Ireland, 50 to 69; Israel, 89 to 108; Italy, 257 to 359; Japan, 167 to 241; Korea, 26 to 40; Netherlands, 273 to 315; Portugal, 16 to 26; Russia, 9 to 27; (former) USSR, 13 to 20; and South Africa, 63 to 88. On the other hand, Iceland went from 22 to 8, Malaysia from 30 to 21, Mexico from 68 to 56, Sweden from 307 to 250, and Taiwan from 24 to 14. Also, among U.S. users there was a large drop in the .edu domain, from 7,073 to 5,962, and a corresponding rise in the .net domain, from 1,570 to 4,118, perhaps because faculty members are now using commercial providers for home access.
In the analysis of top hits (Table 12.2), a curious pattern emerges: BMMR starts out with many more top hits despite offering a much smaller number of reviews (about 15% of BMCR's number), but toward the end of 1995 the pattern shifts. BMMR dominates at the beginning but drops when BMMR becomes inactive.
The shift is easily explained because it occurs about the time BMMR was becoming inactive, but the original high density is still surprising. Also surprising is that medieval books receive noticeably more attention: 32 medieval titles made the top hits list 116 times (avg 3.6), while 81 classical titles made the list only 219 times (avg 2.7), despite including two blockbuster titles, Amy Richlin's Pornography and Representation (10 times) and John Riddle's Contraception and Abortion (14 times). My guess is that medievalists, being more widely dispersed in interests and location, have found the Net more important than have classicists, who are mostly located
in a classics department and whose professional work is more circumscribed (and has a longer history).
Subscriptions to the e-journals continue to grow at a rate of 5% per quarter, although there is considerable seasonal fluctuation (see Table 12.3). Looking more broadly we see a steady slowdown in growth of all but the joint subscriptions (see Table 12.4).
If we look at the individual locations (Table 12.5), we find again that while the U.S. subscriptions continue to grow, they are becoming steadily fewer of the whole, going from 77% of the total in 1993 to 68% in 1996. English-speaking foreign countries have remained about the same percentage of the whole; it is nonEnglish speaking foreign countries that have shown the greatest increase, going from 4% of the total in 1993 to 13% of the total in 1996.
As opposed to the gopher statistics, which give breadth but little depth, our surveys offer the opportunity for deeper study of our users but at the expense of breadth. We cannot survey our subscribers too often or they will not respond. A further limitation is that we felt we could not survey those who take both BMCR and BMMR, a significant number, without skewing the results, since many subscribers lean heavily toward one journal or the other and the journals are significantly different in some ways. So far we have conducted five surveys:
1. a 20-question survey in November 1995 to BMCR subscribers
2. a 21-question survey in February 1996 to BMMR subscribers
3. a 2-question survey in October 1996 to all subscribers
4. a 15-question survey in January 1997 to all BMCR reviewers whose e-mail addresses we knew
5. a 2-question survey in March 1997 to those who have canceled subscriptions in the past year
Table 12.6 presents the subscriber profile as revealed in the surveys. Many of the differences are easily explained by the checkered history of BMMR or by the differing natures of the two readerships. I doubt many readers will be surprised to learn that medievalists are more often female and less often faculty. The paucity of reader-reviewers of BMMR reflects the paucity of BMMR reviews. To me, the most surprising statistic is the low use of gopher by subscribers to either journal.
The key question, of course, is willingness to pay for subscriptions. With that in mind, we did some correlation studies for the BMCR survey, first seeing what variables correlated with a willingness to pay $5 for a subscription. We found posi-
tive correlation (Pearson product-moment correlation) with the following categories:
• ever found review useful for teaching (r = .19,.00037 likelihood of a chance correlation)
• ever found review useful for research (r = .21, .00005)
• ever hear a reference to BMCR (r = .23, .00001)
• ever written a review for BMCR (r = .17, .00084)
Further correlations were found, some not at all surprising:
• start to read many/most reviews//heard a reference to BMCR (r = .20, .00014)
• willing to review//heard a reference to BMCR (r = .22, .00002)
• get paper BMCR//have written review (r = .22, .00002)
• have written review//will write in future (r = .24, .00000)
• will write in future//library gets BMCR (r = .21, .00005)
• Ph.D. //willing to review (r = .24, .00000)
• institutional affiliation//useful for teaching (r = .21, .00009)
• useful for teaching//useful for research (r = .25, .00000)
• heard a reference/ /willing to review (r = .22 , .00002)
A follow-up two-question survey done in October 1996 asked whether subscribers would prefer to pay for e-mail subscription, receive advertisements from publishers, or cancel. Fourteen percent preferred to pay, 82% to receive advertisements, and 4% to cancel.
Our most recent survey, of those who had for one reason or another dropped from the list of subscribers, revealed that almost a third were no longer valid addresses and so were not true cancellations. Of those who responded, almost half (40,44%) of the unsubscriptions were only temporary (Table 12.7). The reason for cancellation was rarely the quality of the review.
If we return to our two questions-progress and cost recovery-we can see that our progress is satisfactory but that cost recovery is still uncertain.
BMCR is growing at the rate of 30% a year. The major American classics organization (The American Philological Association) has about 3,000 members, and on that basis we estimate very roughly that the total world population of classicists is somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000. BMCR, then, presently reaches between 22% and 32% of its total market. Presumably, only half of that market has access to computers, so BMCR's real penetration may be over 50%. If so, at its present rate of growth, BMCR may saturate its market in as few as five years. It is much more difficult to estimate the total world market for BMMR, but it is certainly greater than that for BMCR. With BMMR's present growth rate of perhaps 30%, it will take somewhat longer to reach saturation.
BMCR unrecovered costs are about $4,000 per year for over 700 pages of reviews. About half the cost goes for producing the paper version, and we anticipate costs of between $1,500 and $2,000 per year for preparing reviews for the Web. Uncompensated editorial time averages 34 hours per month. Therefore, total out-of-pocket expenses could be as high as $6,000 if the paper version con-
tinues and if markup continues to be done by hand. A third possible reduction in costs besides elimination of the paper version and automatic markup is a "fasttrack" system whereby the review never leaves the Net: it is e-mailed to the editor, who sends it to a member of the editorial board; when the two have made changes, it is sent back to the reviewer for approval and then published on the Net. The great advantage for the reviewer is that this system cuts publication time by a month; the disadvantage is that the reviewer is asked to do some simple markup on the text before sending it.
Possible revenue sources include advertising, subscriptions, and institutional support. As we have seen, our subscribers much prefer receiving advertising to paying for a subscription, but we have no idea how successful we will be in attracting advertising. Hal Varian has suggested that we try to arrange something with Amazon Books, and we have made a tentative agreement to list their URL on our Web reviews. We will not consider charging for subscriptions until BMCR is
on the Web; at that point we could charge for timely delivery of the review, perhaps several months before universal access. We also want to wait for wide acceptance of a simple electronic cash transfer system. Institutional support seems to us the most obvious way to cover costs, since the college gets considerable exposure for what seems to us a small cost.