JM 99/2



Rome, 5 May 1999


Table of Contents


1. In endorsing the Programme Evaluation Report 1996-97 at its 29th Session from 7 to 18 November 1997, the Conference of FAO agreed with the Council's recommendations with regard to FAO's publications and, in particular, it decided to delegate to the Council the authority for making the necessary decisions in implementing the proposed change in publications distribution from the quota distribution system to one based on a "national publication account" as recommended in the Report. In a progress review at its 115th Session in November 1998, the Council was invited to note that a number of practical and financial issues needed to be addressed and an effective solution identified in order for the system of "national publication accounts" to be implemented.


2. Dissemination of information is a major function of the Organization as mandated in Article I.1 of the Constitution. Free distribution of priced publications, periodicals and main documents to member countries has been carried out by the Organization since the 1949 Conference. This free distribution is currently ruled by a formula that was approved by the Conference in 1963. Under this formula, each member country is entitled to a number, or quota, of free copies of priced publications and periodicals based on its contribution to the Organization's budget. Table 1 overleaf shows the formula in more detail.

Table 1. Quota distribution by level of contribution

Contribution of member government Quota copies of publications
Up to 0.25% of total budget 12
0.26% to 0.50% 18
0.51% to 1.00% 24
1.01% to 1.50% 30
1.51% to 2.00% 36
2.01% and up 36 + 9 copies for each additional 1% above 2.01%

3. In practical terms, this means that of the 40 priced publications and periodicals published in 1998 the number of copies received ranged from a minimum of 12, in the case of member countries contributing up to 0.25% of the total budget, to a maximum of 243 copies received by the member country making the largest contribution. In addition, member governments received one copy of all of the 296 main documents published and, since 1990, one copy of all titles in the Computerized information series (diskettes, CD-ROMS). The distribution within each member country is the responsibility of governments themselves.

4. The effect that this level of distribution has on the number of copies of a title printed can be seen in Table 2 below. The figures shown include quota distribution to all member countries and copies sent to FAO Regional Offices, depository libraries and other UN agencies with which FAO has publication exchange agreements.

Table 2. Distribution by category and language

Category English French Spanish Arabic Trilingual
P 2276 730 459 291 2742
M 533 168 129 66 798

5. Further free distribution of FAO publications and documents is made via various other systems, including to specialized divisional mailing lists maintained by the technical departments. A wide range of textual and photographic information, as well as statistical data and compendia, is now also available through the FAO Web site.

6. The adequate dissemination of FAO's information products within member countries is primarily the responsibility of governments themselves, through National FAO Committees or other channels decided by the governments. For its part, the Organization also makes further efforts to ensure adequate diffusion, through sales agents, field staff, and with national institutes, specialists and technicians.


7. A review of publications activities in FAO was submitted to the Conference in 1997 in the Programme Evaluation Report 1996-1997(C 97/4) [PER], chapter 5. This review showed that in many cases the quota publications are not well utilized and may not even be distributed within a country. Even when countries make maximum efforts to ensure effective distribution, the system does not lend itself to targeting the publications to the prime users. The PER concluded that the present quota system is not satisfactory in that it is not based on demand and, as a consequence, it is generally deemed to lead to a considerable waste of printed materials and to a mismatch between materials routinely sent to member countries and their real needs. Under the present quota system, member countries receive copies of publications and documents regardless of the value of those titles to the countries concerned. The distribution against divisional lists is much better targeted and the materials sent to depository libraries also reach a wider readership. Furthermore, the present quota system is seen as favouring member countries with high levels of financial contributions to FAO's budget. Thus, countries with low incomes, where basic agricultural technical information and statistical data from the Organization are most needed, receive the smallest share of materials.

8. The PER recommended that a system of "national publication accounts" for publications be initiated to replace the present system. The Twenty-ninth Session of the Conference in 1997 agreed to modify the quota system following the Council's recommendations and "decided to delegate to the Council the authority for making the necessary decisions in implementing the proposed change in publication distribution from the quota distribution system to one based on a `national publication account' ".


9. The concept of "national publication accounts" was based upon the idea of making available to each member country an account allowing the country to order free publications up to the ceiling of that account. The November 1998 meeting of the Council was informed that, in order for this system to function properly, solutions would need to be found to a number of practical and financial issues.

10. After further consideration, it is judged that such a system would be excessively bureaucratic and costly. This is particularly the case as the volume of publications that would be available for each country under this scheme would be relatively small and would not justify the establishment and maintenance of the administrative machinery required. The main problems of such a scheme would be:

11. Furthermore, in considering the practical and financial issues involved in setting up a system of "national publication accounts", the Organization has examined the procedures followed by other UN agencies. FAO is the only specialized agency in the UN system which applies a contribution-related formula to the official distribution of its publications. Although other agencies vary in their approach to official distribution, all member governments are treated equally. Agencies provide limited free distribution ranging from 1 to 5 free copies per recipient, and additional copies can be purchased, generally at a discount or at full price, and sometimes free, with preference being given to least-developed countries. In one case, each department was able to make independent decisions as to free distribution on a title-by-title basis, subject to budget and managerial considerations.


12. In the light of this research, and in consideration of the bureaucratic complexities and the high costs involved in monitoring a system of "national publication accounts", the Organization proposes the following simplified procedure:

13. Each member country will receive free of charge one copy of all priced publications, periodicals, main documents and computerized information products published by FAO in the official working language of the country. In other words, while the provision of one copy of all main documents and one copy of computerized information products is maintained, the number of priced publications and periodicals will be limited to one free copy per country. The cost of this distribution and the related shipping costs are to be supported by the Organization's regular budget.

14. In addition to the printed copies sent to governments, the availability of FAO titles would be supplemented by the regular distribution free of charge to member countries of a CD-ROM containing an updated and searchable version of the FAO Library Catalogue with the full text of titles published during the previous 12 months. Provision of the CD-ROM will not only complement the free distribution but also enable each country to build up a repository containing all FAO's publications and documents.

15. To ensure that member countries are aware of FAO's new information products, the Organization will continue the current practice of announcing new publications through its Web site and by publishing its annual catalogue listing all FAO titles in print.

16. Beyond their free allocation, governments will be able to purchase additional copies of whatever titles they wish at a discount of 40% off the cover price for developed countries and 60% for developing countries.1 For subscriptions to, or purchase of individual copies of, FAO periodicals, the proposed discount is 25% and 30% for developed and developing countries respectively. All orders received from government departments and institutions would be processed automatically with the discounts referred to above by the Sales and Marketing Group, GII, through their normal invoicing system. Shipping costs for such orders, other than for subscriptions to periodicals, which already include airmail delivery, would be charged on the basis of actual costs incurred according to the method of dispatch selected.

17. It is essential that a contact point/person be identified for each member country to identify the recipient(s) of free copies in their country and to assist in the channelling to appropriate bodies within their country of advance information related to information products. From a practical point of view the Organization believes that, where available, the Permanent Representations in Rome would be the most appropriate contacts for such matters, although an identified contact point in each country would be acceptable.

18. At the same time, the assistance of the FAO Representatives would also be required. In addition to liaising with GIII and with the national contact points, if located in the individual countries, FAO Representatives would facilitate contacts with government officials, assist in the dissemination of advance information, help identify convenient and reliable shipping methods and assist in the dispatch of titles where necessary. At the same time, the FAO Representative Offices would continue their present role as alternative sales outlets, dealing with payments in local currency where necessary.


Equitable distribution

19. The proposals made in this paper aim at a streamlined and more targeted and equitable distribution rather than at important savings. Sending automatically one copy of all priced publications, periodicals, main documents and computerized information series would ensure full distribution of FAO's information product outputs to member countries.


20. The proposed approach is somewhat different from that originally recommended in the PER, but it shares the same underlying aim; that is, to change the basis of dissemination of information products from its current supply orientation to one based upon demand. Council is therefore asked to approve the proposal for the abolition of the present quota system and the introduction of a reduced free distribution and discounted sales system aimed at a more efficient, targeted and equitable dissemination of FAO's information products.


1 The definition of developing and developed countries is based on the World Bank’s World Development Report 1998/99. The criterion for classifying economies is the GNP per caput and, for the purposes of the proposed distribution system, developing countries are defined as those countries with a per caput GNP of US$785 or less.