Billing System for Open-Access Networked Information Resources
(Libraries Programme 3033)
The COPINET (Libraries 3033) project will demonstrate how technologies for secure transactions and anonymous electronic payments can assist commercial publishing to be supported on the World Wide Web and will produce guidelines for implementation. One of the initial phases of the project identifies the requirements of the three main players: the publishers, the libraries and the end-users. This paper examines and summarises the findings of the requirements analysis.
1. IntroductionWith the growth of the use of the Internet for commercial information and library systems, there has been rapid development of mechanisms that can support commercial transactions over open public networks. Libraries that wish to implement such systems need to consider a variety of aspects that satisfy the commercial and copyright requirements of publishers and the security of billing transactions for the end-user. A European funded project, COPINET, is examining the billing and charging mechanisms for obtaining payment for technical information delivered over the Internet using various WWW-based financial transaction systems. The COPINET consortium comprises a major library, a publisher of primary and secondary material, and a systems company. The three partners in the consortium are:
The overall goal of COPINET is to demonstrate how available technologies for secure transactions and anonymous electronic payments can assist commercial publishing to be supported on the World Wide Web. The project aims to produce guidelines for the implementation of such systems rather than the 'definitive system'.
- MARI Computer Systems
- Technical Knowledge Center & Library of Denmark (DTV)
- The Institution of Electrical Engineers
The project has implemented a WWW server complex, able to support searching of an abstracts database with automatic linking to a full-text archive of page images, and will develop modules for authentication, charging, billing and payment which can handle both registered and unregistered users. The system will be tested with real users, in order to evaluate the viability of the approach, and its usability and acceptability with respect to users and publishers.
The project plan consists of the following elements:
Details of billing and payment mechanisms are discussed in previous papers (Bennett 1995 and Ghani 1995)
- to identify and analyse the requirements of the publishers, libraries and end-users, regarding charging, payment and billing
- to investigate the emerging technologies available for implementing secure transactions and conducting electronic commerce across the Internet and the selection of suitable systems for trial
- implementation of a Web server for integrated searching and full-text retrieval; addition of mechanisms for charging and billing of registered as well as unregistered users
- testing and evaluation, involving publishers and librarians in system trials
This paper examines the findings of the requirements analysis for library charging and payment systems.
2. Requirements Analysis for Charging and Billing SystemsIn order to establish the requirements in each category, consortium members conducted representative surveys in their particular area of expertise.
2.1 Requirements of Librarians
Information professionals, experienced in traditional online systems, on a semi-private electronic discussion group were asked to "design your own article delivery/charging system over the Internet." All pointed out the desire for simple but flexible search and output options, and the need for secure financial transactions. The following is a composite of their responses:
Furthermore, based on librarians' experience with traditional online database systems and printed document delivery, and with Internet browsing, the following preferences have been identified:
- free or inexpensive searching/browsing/identification
- detailed table of contents page (such as available on the Investext database) or thumbnail previews; free or cheap
- possibly a small fee for an abstract
- full document delivery in the range of the equivalent of $15-$20 in local currency (so as not to impinge on existing markets)
- individual page charges priced so that it's cheaper to request full document if, for example, 50% or more of pages are selected for viewing
Describing in advance what is wanted in a system does not always guarantee that users will be happy with a system once it is implemented, and certainly it is impossible to please all users with any system.
- KWIC (KeyWord In Context, or link word) browsing capabilities to determine page(s) to print (when full text searching capability is present)
- variable-length KWIC (link word) printing (when full text searching capability is present)
- ability to, in one command, request all or selected pages
- optional download of graphics (as opposed to text only), with a price differential
- systems should estimate/notify user of charges before the delivery command takes effect
- user-viewable cost accumulator for the current search session, at least
- no charge until the page is received successfully!
- online problem resolution and charge cancellation/credit for interrupted transmissions, poor image, etc. (could take the form of e-mail reporting)
- clear and simple screen instructions readable via text-only as well as graphic browsers
2.2 Requirements of Publishers
The traditional basis for income generation for both primary and secondary publishers is that of the subscription. However, in recent years there has been a substantial shift in the pattern of library serials acquisitions. Library budgets have not kept pace with the increase in research and the growth of publishing, resulting in the inability to acquire all materials that their end-users need (Mowat, 1995). Shrinking monetary resources in real terms has led libraries to move from a 'just-in-case' to a 'just-in-time' acquisitions policy. This has manifested itself in the growth of interlibrary lending, library subscription resource sharing, and a greater allocation of budgets to document delivery services (Keyhani, 1995; Mowat, 1995; Naylor, 1994; Worlock, 1992).
Over the past 15 years, journals subscriptions numbers have declined every year resulting in compensatory price rises above the rate of inflation (Campbell, 1994; Hunter, 1993). Falling subscription numbers has more recently led to higher copyright fees for document delivery. However the income generated by document delivery has yet to compensate primary publishers for the loss in income from subscription cancellations (Hunter, 1994). This has lead some primary publishers to examine other possible revenue streams, including the licensing the use of abstracts (Hadley, 1994).
Some electronic products, such as CD-ROMs, are well suited for subscription charging. Even for those delivery mechanisms, such as online, where pay-as-you-go is practicable, the subscription method is still very attractive to publishers. They receive the income in advance and they have only to make a single sale per customer rather than having to constantly encourage use. However, there are problems associated with subscription pricing (Pearce,1993). One problem is that a subscription to an electronic information product might replace several substantial print subscriptions in a large organisation. If the subscription price were set high enough to recompense the publisher for this, it would be too expensive for the average user.
This problem has been solved in the area of secondary publishing by relating subscription pricing level to organisation size or by limiting subscriptions to a fixed number of simultaneous accesses. Thus a networked subscription allowing a single simultaneous access might be comparable to a single print subscription.
Publishers, however, must now be aware of several factors that argue for a transactional based charging option. Three of these factors are:
Therefore electronic information delivery systems need to be able to accept casual users and to charge them amounts that are in some way dependent on usage. Historically, online bibliographic retrieval systems have relied on charging for connect time. This is no longer a good measure, if it ever was, of either system resources utilised and of value delivered. The usage based charging elements could be based on session or search fees and charges for viewing, downloading or printing various elements of bibliographic records and primary documents.
- There is a trend, already noted and well understood, towards access instead of holdings.
- Although the subscription, however calculated, works well for organisations that can bulk buy information for their users, individuals, smaller organisations and organisations for whom a journal is of peripheral interest will wish to use the information on a pay-as-you-go basis.
- The increasing growth of the Internet encourages information grazing. That is, users getting information from sources with whom they have no previous connection or contractual relationship of any sort.
For the secondary publisher, who adds value to the information by selection, collation and providing information access points such as classification and subject indexing, income needs to be generated from browsing and viewing the bibliographic data and abstracts.
2.3 Requirements of Users
Obtaining an authoritative, exhaustive, representative list of user requirements is not easy, particularly as users often do not know what they really want until they have a prototype system to evaluate.
A method of open-ended discussion with selected and chance contacts was used to construct the following 'wish list':
- good quality information - however users need some redress for delivery of incomplete corrupt or duplicate information
- availability of anonymous transactions, e.g. for reasons of either personal privacy, protection against industrial espionage or requirements of national legislation
- secure payment mechanisms which eliminate e.g. repeat charging, misuses of credit card number or mis-authentication
- the freedom to switch freely between different charging methods - transaction pricing or subscription, and between different payment methods - credit card, debit card, smart card, or e-cash 'wallet'
- ability to pay according to pages actually viewed - i.e. the choice of being able to pay for the whole article or individual pages
- 'first page free' - sometimes it is not clear in advance that the user is accessing the same information through two different links (A simple solution is to let at least part of the first page, or some form of 'thumbnail sketch' of the first page, be displayed without charge.)
- ability to browse headings, descriptors, or 'sample text', for free (Ideally they wish to be able to look at the content of what is available prior to making some purchasing choice .)
- ability to negotiate or take advantage of special rates for special relationships between supplier and user clear instructions as to usage rights - users need to know what they are allowed to legally do with the material easy to use service - which uses standard tools and conventions, minimises unnecessary detail, utilises simple instructions
3. Summary of RequirementsFrom the information provider viewpoint the main requirement is that the system will provide sufficient monitoring, especially of the search engine, to enable them to manage the system appropriately. While the collection of data for charging purposes is obviously important it goes beyond simply logging actions followed by applying appropriate charges. The system should be adaptable enough to allow flexible charging and may also offer different functionality to different users.
It is important for an end-user to:
The results from the requirements analysis show, as would be expected, differences between the information providers (the publishers) and the information users (the libraries and the end-users).
- know what he has spent
- know how much credit (if appropriate) remains
- know how much an 'item' costs
- decide on a payment mechanism
- control subscription based services
- apply a personal limit to accumulated transactions, and receive a warning when approaching it
- determine the appropriate delivery mechanism
Information providers are in business to obtain income from the sale of information and, therefore, wish to maximise their income. The 'consumer' of information wishes to minimise their expenditure. Although this difference in view manifests itself in the results of the survey where the requirements of the players are different, most publishers would support the requirements of the information users, as the best way to obtain custom is to provide the service their users want. The key result from the analysis is, however, that all players recognise that 'good' information is not free and are willing to pay an appropriate fee for the full text of a useful item of information.
The requirements identified are summarised in Table 1. The table shows, as would be expected, differences between the information provider (the publisher) and the information users (the libraries and the end-users). Although libraries are often considered to be information providers, it is probably more accurate to consider them as 'professional' information users. Libraries do, of course, often fulfil the information provider role providing value added services.
Consequently, the requirements analysis shows a high degree of correlation between libraries and end-users. Publishers, on the other hand, have a completely different view of an information service as reflected in their requirements.
To summarise, the COPINET system needs to provide:
- ease of use
- free searching and browsing
- free lists of 'hits' and Tables of Contents
- free previews/thumbnails charging for abstracts and/or bibliographic references or links to full text charging per page/per document and with a scale of charges such that it is, say, cheaper to purchase the whole text when more than 50% of the pages have been selected. information on charges - per item/per session
- credits for 'failed' delivery
- support for casual users
Requirement Publisher Library User Searching/Browsing Secondary service charge + Free search + + Free browse + + Free table of 'hits' + + Free table of contents + + Free previews/thumbnails + + Free abstract + + Charge for abstract + + (small) Charge for reference or link to full text + + (small) KWIC facility + Access Charge for full text + + + Fee per page + + Scale of charges (page/full) + + Payment Pay-as-you-go + + + Security of transactions + Display of charge/item + + Display of session charges + + No charge unless OK + + Credit for failed delivery + + Subscription facility + Alternative payment methods + System Ease of use + + Supports anonymity + Accepts casual users + + Optional download/print of graphics + +
4. COPINET Server ImplementationTo date, a WWW server has been developed at DTV which provides a bibliographic search database comprising a selection of INSPEC records covering literature published in the EEC in the fields of electronics and computing. This server is based on DTV's Library System ALEPH, which already has a World Wide Web interface. Linked to this is a separate server containing a database of the images of full-text articles published by The Institution of Electrical Engineers.
Users may browse the INSPEC records, view titles and abstracts and select full-text articles for viewing or printing. Initially these are presented as 'thumbnail' images so that the user may select pages or the full document, for printing as a Postscript file.
The system logs each search operation so that transaction charging may be implemented. Registered users when connecting to the Library (OPAC) server are asked to authenticate themselves by means of a user id and password combination. Security and session management have also been introduced into the system.
The final phase after initial evaluation and testing of the registered user system, will allow access by unregistered users. At this stage it will be necessary to introduce electronic payment mechanisms. These have not as yet (January 1996) been finalised, but will contain a representative selection such as e-cash and credit cards.
4.2 Testing and Evaluation
Trials of the registered-user system will be held in early Spring with an invited Focus Group consisting of librarians and publishers. Feedback from these users may necessitate some system modifications. When the unregistered-user system is implemented, open trials will take place and an e-mail discussion list will be set up for public discussions of issues relevant to the project. A public workshop will be held towards the end of the project.
It is hoped that positive results from this trial will encourage publishers to make the transition to full electronic publishing more rapidly and to develop new business models which are appropriate to the new medium. This will result in much improved availability over the Internet of well-organised, high-quality, authoritative information, with benefits both for the librarian who needs to provide access to such sources, and to the patron who increasingly expects to find and acquire the information he/she wants through the network.
5. ReferencesBennett, P.S.G., et al., 'Charging, paying and copyright - information access on open networks' in Online Information 95, Proceedings of the 19th Online Information Meeting, Learned Information, 1995, p.13-23
Campbell R., 'How will academic libraries manage? What hope does the Follett report offer?' Learned Publishing, 1994, 7, (2), p.75-78
Ghani, D., 'Charging and paying for information on open networks' Aslib Proceedings, 1995, 47, (6), p.145-142
Hadley, C., and Barrow, E., 'Abstracts and licensing, copyright and the information chain', Copyright Licensing Agency Consultative Document, 1994
Hunter, K., 'Document delivery: threat or opportunity?', Learned Publishing, 1994, 6, p.21-24
Keyhani, A., 'Electronic publishing: US publishers' initiatives', Learned Publishing, 1995, 8, (1), p.25-32
Mowat, I.R.M., 'European academic publishing: the British academic librarian's view', Learned Publishing, 1995, 8, (1), p.11-17
Naylor, B., 'The implications of current and future initiatives for libraries', Learned Publishing, 1994, 7, (2) p. 79-83
Pearce, A., 'The Learned Society view of economics of journal publishing', Learned Publishing, 1993, 6, (4), p.13-16
Worlock, D., 'The challenge of network publishing', in Online Information 92, Proceedings of the 16th Online conference, Learned Information, 1992, p.461-465
Requirements Analysis for Library Accounting Systems
COPINET - Libraries Project 3033