Frequently asked questions
Why do you charge higher prices for document supply than some other suppliers?
We are required by government to recover full costs on our document supply services, including overheads (see the British Library Board Pricing Policy). Our funding from government has been static for some time and is will remain so for the next few years. At the same time, costs of acquiring the collection, particularly journals, are rising at up to 10% per year – and because we maintain the largest collection of any document supplier, this affects us significantly. Recent changes in the library and information world, especially in the way that information of all kinds is created, stored and delivered electronically have had a major impact on how we provide our services, adding new costs to our operations.
We regularly benchmark our document supply prices against the market, however, and our analysis shows that we are around average in pricing levels with other document suppliers. Compared with other suppliers we offer consistently higher turnaround times, better fulfilment rates, and have a larger collection than any other document supplier. We therefore believe that we are cheaper to use than most other suppliers when the cost of the requesting library is taken into account (i.e. we can be relied upon as a ‘one stop shop’ and save libraries the costs of having to work with many different suppliers).
Why are your document supply prices higher than they were a few years ago?
Continuing changes in the interlending environment, particularly with the introduction of licences for electronic journals in academic institutions and also with some material now freely available on the Web are having an impact on the business of Document Supply. We are finding that the balance between the amount of current material and harder-to-find requests we receive has changed. The harder-to-find material inevitably takes longer to process and our costs rise accordingly. We are able to keep service costs down because of the high volume of requests received, but in areas where volume has reduced, particularly over the last few years, costs have risen considerably. Another factor has been the investments we make in the storage and delivery of electronic material in order to meet our customers’ higher expectations. The overall shortfall between British Library grant-in-aid and costs has led to this increase.
We have, however, managed to keep price increases to inflation on average across all of our customer groups.
How much will prices change next year for your services?
Every year we analyse the costs of running our services, and the income we’ve received, and look at the difference against the Treasury pricing rules. For services which we price at market rate, we also extensively analyse the market rate (in terms of what other providers of similar services are doing). We price each year based on this analysis, and in line with Treasury rules. This can lead to price reductions as well as rises. We aim to give three months' notice of price rises on the document supply service, where we know that the institutions that predominantly use us need as much notice as possible. For other services we aim to give at least one month’s notice to customers.
How do you decide categories for discounted rates for the document supply service?
For most of our services we offer a single price, regardless of type of customer. For the document supply service, because of the particular historical infrastructure relationship we have with the higher education, NHS and public library sector, we offer a discount to these institutions for the document supply service (in the UK only) which is calculated by quantifying the value in kind of the contribution we get from this sector, and offering this back as a discount. All other customer groups, including individuals, pay our standard price. This discount only applies to the standard services, and not any premium services (e.g. urgent action services).
Why does the document supply discount not apply to the academic community in the Republic of Ireland?
A discount is given to UK academic customers to reflect the value we receive from them in terms of co-operation, collaboration and joint funding of products. Funding from government is to support research specifically in the UK. Republic of Ireland customers, however, do benefit, as we charge them the UK rate rather than the international rate.
If I order material from you via my local library (public library or HE institution) I pay a lower price than if I order directly from the British Library. However, it can often be slower. Why?
All Higher Education and public libraries use the British Library’s document supply or book lending (monograph loan) service. Most HE or public libraries subsidise the cost of these requests to their researchers, so the cost to the individual of ordering via this route can be lower. It is the HE or public library’s decision on how much (or whether) to subsidise prices – the British Library is not involved in this decision.
However, if customers order this way, there is more handling of the material, and so it can take longer at times. The British Library takes on average around 24 hours to send out a document or a book (to every type of customer). However it can take time to be received by the intermediate library, and therefore can take longer than 24 hours to get to the customer.
Is it possible to negotiate a discount for British Library services if I am a large-volume customer?
Some customers may be able to receive a volume discount, particularly if this is negotiated as part of a global deal with that organisation. This is because the costs to us of dealing with high volumes for a single customer are lower, which allow us to offer a discount. This applies to customers for document supply, research or imaging services, where we do deal with high-volume customers. If you are interested in this, please contact our Sales team.
How do you decide on the exchange rate for international prices of your services?
Each year, the Library’s US dollar, euro and yen prices are set along with the sterling price. Where we pass on copyright fees, all copyright fees are converted at the time of debiting a customer, and a weekly corporate exchange rate is used.
Can we pay for services in our own currency?
We take a number of currencies for the document supply and imaging services where we deal with large volume, institutional customers. However, for individual transactions we require payment in sterling.
For the imaging and document supply services, yen, dollar, euro and sterling are the Library’s preferred currencies. European customers can also pay into accounts that the Library has in banks in their country of origin. In exceptional cases, the Library will accept other currencies, but conversion charges can be costly.
What is the ‘copyright fee’? And how do you decide what to charge us for copyright?
Copyright applies to a lot of the material that the British Library holds. Copyright law is complex, but put simply, most (but not all) material published is covered by copyright, which runs for 70 years after the author of the publication’s death. When material is ‘in copyright’ then it can only be copied either with the permission of the rights holder, or under an exemption of the copyright legislation.
The British Library has agreements with a lot of publishers to copy their material, but only with the payment of a ‘copyright fee’. This is a fee set by the publisher per article, which we collect and pass back to the publisher. The exemptions from this fee are people copying for non-commercial use, and then only in certain countries. If you are using the material for commercial use, you must pay a copyright fee. You can pre-check fees on the Library’s website; details are included in entries in the 'Explore the British Library' online catalogue.
Why are your prices for the copy service in St Pancras so high?
We run two services in St Pancras – a ‘self help’ copying service and a ‘while you wait’ copy service. Both of these services need to cover their costs under treasury rules. We do not make any profit on these services – the prices are simply set to cover the costs of running the service.
One of the difficulties with copying in our Reading Rooms is the fragility of a lot of the material, and hence the need for more sensitive and less damaging copiers. This does mean that photocopying costs us more than it costs other organisations. For some material it needs special handling, which is why we charge more for the ‘while you wait’ service than some other organisations.