fees for providing data

Peter Rauch peterr at VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Jan 25 16:58:55 CST 1995

Paisley Cato posted the results of responses to her call for information
on charging for production of specimen records (I'm assuming that's what
is being produced; she identifies them as "data requests" in her summary
report, so they may include other types of data too).

Several people noted that there are "reasons" why they charge what they
charge. For other collections, only the fees were available.

So now I'm curious about the why's and wherefore's --in some detail please.

Below is a series of questions that may seem to be naive or for which
the answers are obvious. I hope you can indulge me and go beyond the
surface to address the fundamental issues about charging for services:
how one decides to charge, how one establishes a fee structure and
schedule of fees, and what are the implications such practices have
for the future of natural history museums/collections, especially if
recharging becomes the rule rather than the exception it is now (or is it?).

Please reply to TAXACOM at cmsa.berkeley.edu, and not to me personally,
as I would like for the responses to stimulate additional thought and
discussion (the way Taxacom is set up, you'll probably have to explicitly
address your response to Taxacom, and not use your "reply to" function).

Assuming that your collection must, in some manner, pay its bills:

1. How did you come to decide that recovering part of the costs of
existence/operation should come from a direct billing of users?
E.g., was it a mandate from the lawyers; a considered decision from the
Directors/Pres/Xyz; as a reaction to recharge billing from the "computer
service department; ...?

2. What _exactly_ is the basis for your charges? E.g., is this cost recovery
on the marginal effort required to actually retrieve the records; is it
a proportion of the expected annual expense for operating the museum/dept/
computer-equipment-replacement/...; you guesstimated what the "market"
might bear, and set up charges accordingly? How did you arrive at
rationalizing the proportion to be recovered in these way?

3. Why are some "kinds" of people billed at different rates than others?
E.g., you only charge those who in turn charge others for access to the
value-added information developed by using your data; you figured that
some people could "afford" to pay, so you charge them; you find that the
distinction between "academic/scholarly/non-profit/our-place-your-place/..."
and "environmental management/commercial/business/non-academic/..." uses
or users to be meaningful ones and charge (or not) accordingly?

4. What alternative forms of cost recovery other than charging the
end user did you consider and reject before you embarked on the direct
end user method?

5. What percentage of your annual operating budget is covered by the
revenues generated from these "record" charges? Is it just noise in
the system, or a significant amount?

6. Do you permit those who purchase your data to resell it? Do you get
a share of the receipts?

7. Are you any more liable, in a legal sense, for the quality of
the data you sell than for the data you give away?

8. Do you make exceptions in deciding to charge or not, for any of
the "kinds" of people who request your data? E.g., hardship case;
(un)meritorious project; special handling; ...?

9. What is different about data provided from an electronic database
than data obtained manually from specimens that makes it rational to
charge for it? This is not a question about "opportunity" (I
understand, for example, that it would be virtually impossible for
someone to go through a collection of 3 million specimens looking for
all the material from Madera Canyon). What I'm asking is: what is
different about your "business" now, compared to thirteen years ago,
that justifies charging for the use of the collection (I assume that
you don't charge for other forms of access --is that a justified

10. Add your own favorite questions about the why's and wherefore's of
charging here.....

Peter Rauch

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