Digital pricing models

A Wonkhe piece on JISC Collections mentioned that one of the frustrations JISC has is with publishers’ “pricing is still based on a print model, something totally inappropriate for the digital age” (

While that is broadly true and the lack of digital pricing models are holding back the adoption of digital learning resources, there are some different pricing models emerging and this post considers those and other common digital pricing models that we would expect to see in the market to meet differing use cases. The focus is on models that support the wide distribution of resources to students more so than library purchasing models.

Some common digital and software models

Concurrent users license – generally liked by customers and disliked by publishers and other suppliers.  The reason for both responses is that a relatively large number of users can be assured of access for a high percentage of time based on a small number of concurrent users.  The charts below illustrate this:

So it would seem that there is a good argument for universities wanting to provide digital learning resources for students to do so on a concurrent user model.  This is certainly an attractive model for digital journals but it is more problematic for eBooks and other resources aimed at undergraduates.  The usage of eBooks has very pronounced spikes at certain points in each semester typically around assignment dates and exams (the chart below is a typical semester 1 pattern).  These spikes would mean that students would potentially not have access to their resources at the moment of most need.


If concurrent users is not the most promising of the established models, what are the alternatives?

Site license – a simple model that encourages usage and is easy to understand and to monitor.  Works well for resources that all students are likely to access such as lecture capture, VLEs etc.

Declared users license – again a simple model that encourages usage but is a little more complex to monitor.  Would work well for course specific resources.  A variation on this is the declared users plus 1 model that is emerging whereby all students on a course have access to the resources and there is wider access based on a limited concurrent basis.

Usage based – generally liked by publishers but not by customers.  It does align value and price but it can act as a deterrent to usage.  It can also make pricing very opaque and difficult for institutions to benchmark.  A good model in markets where the client can pass the charge on to its customers but not a good fit for HE.