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Technological innovations have the potential to alter the nature of any industry. The information industry seems particularly subject to the effects of technology and currently is adapting to the introduction of a number of technological advances that are associated with the general availability of networked electronic information resources. The advent of systems that allow documents to be created electronically, stored and maintained in computers, and easily found and read using high-speed communications networks may produce dramatic changes in the information industry. It is certainly not clear whether documents prepared, distributed, and used through this new technology will replace or augment information resources published using more traditional media, but it seems likely that this new technology will bring about some changes in the structure of the information industry.
Technological innovation is frequently a key element in the evolution of an industry. Older firms with large investments in existing technology may find it necessary to retool to stay competitive with new entrants who can begin their operations with state-of-the-art means of production and distribution. This process can lead to a shake-out in which established firms lose market share to new entrants. In addition to shifting market demand from older to newer firms, new technology can also open up new markets. Changes in market demand, driven by technological innovation, can lead to changing patterns of ownership in an industry, particularly the restructuring and merger of existing operations. Abernethy and Clark (1988) described an innovation that simultaneously disrupts the market links between producers and consumers and the competence of the firms in means of production as tending to produce architectural change in the industry.
One example of technological change disrupting market links occurred with the introduction of commercial air traffic. Customers wanting long-distance transportation no longer went to railroad or steamship companies but to airlines. The traditional market relationship between travelers and transportation companies was disrupted.
An example of technological change affecting competence in means of production was the introduction of robotics into the automobile industry. Traditional assembly-line production methods were made obsolete, and the companies that could quickly become expert in the new technology were most competitive. If the technology affects both the market links and the means of production simultaneously, an industry can expect significant architectural change. This means that new firms will begin to compete with existing firms and may drive some of them out of business. Existing firms will have to adopt radical strategies for survival, including mergers, acquisittions, and the simultaneous restructuring of many aspects of their business.
The technology supporting networked electronic information resources seems likely to produce architectural change in the information industry and particularly in publishing. Readers will no longer depend on traditional publishers for information (thus disrupting the market link) and publishers will not necessarily be expert in the production of networked information services (thus disrupting their traditional expertise in the ways information gets produced). In an industry experiencing architectural change, new businesses can emerge rapidly, taking over markets once dominated by traditional firms. Traditional firms may find it necessary to form new alliances to stay competitive. One view of the current round of mergers and acquisitions in the information industry is that it signals a period of rapid change in which the industry will be significantly transformed.
If this understanding of the current state of the information industry is correct, then possibilities exist for new production arrangements for different types of information. Scholarly information may provide a case in point. The advent of networked electronic information resources sets the scene for the development of what Atkinson (1993b) called "academic information services" (AIS). AIS would allow universities to gain control over the scholarly information transfer cycle by creating an electronic network for articles and books that are now published by commercial publishers or scholarly associations. In addition to being the primary producers and the main consumers of scholarly information, universities would become the principal publishers and distributors of the information. This AIS scenario can be seen in terms of the architectural change described earlier. Market links between scholars and publishers would be disrupted since scholars would be able to obtain information from the networked information resources. Similarly, the expertise required for AIS (information systems development, telecommunications, network tools) that is currently more likely to be found in universities than in publishing houses, would provoke a disruption of the means of production. In this situation, we would expect to see competition between publishers and universities as each tries to obtain control over the flow of scholarly communication. In this competition, the universities would have significant competitive advantages.
The vision of AIS presented by Okerson (1991) and Atkinson (1993b) is particularly attractive to academic librarians. The advantages of networked electronic information resources over the current system are primarily those of speed and cost containment. Speed is realized by shortening the production process. Although peer review and some amount of editing are built into most visions of AIS, it is generally maintained that review and editing would proceed more quickly in the electronic environment. And it seems undeniable that the delays associated with (for example) printing and physical distribution of journals would be eliminated. The cost containment offered by AIS is based on an assumption of on-demand distribution of information. Scholars would acquire only the information that they judge to be relevant rather than having to subscribe to journals containing some potentially relevant material along with articles that are not of interest. It also assumes that electronic production and distribution is less costly than print publication and distribution, and Bryant (1994) gave some dimensions of this saving. His figures suggested that production costs would be 25 percent lower for electronic journals than for their paper counterparts, equivalent to a 10 percent subscription price decrease.
In the AIS environment, academic libraries would have the benefits of timeliness and cost containment. They would move from providing access through ownership to providing access through networks, and from acquiring materials in anticipation of potential patron need to providing information in response to expressed patron demand. Although there is no clear consensus on how the costs of AIS would be supported, it is argued that these costs would surely be less than those associated with journal acquisition. Metz and Gherman (1991) anticipated that serials pricing would drive the development of academic information systems, and that focusing on access rather than ownership would allow libraries …