Tag Archives: big deal

The Rock and the Hard Place (Part 1): Renewal Season, No Big Deal?

The following is the first in a series of posts on the subscription-based model and open access alternatives, and how each get stuck from their respective ends of the scholarly information supply chain.  As a reminder: Opinions expressed here are my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer or of ACRL.

September is renewal season when the largest percentage of a typical academic library’s collection budget is committed to the hands of publishers and vendors, thereby determining the largest part of what research is accessible in January of the following year.  This four-month lag between getting what you paid for is just one of the many problematic examples of the slow-churning scholarly information supply chain.

Here’s another.

These problems have been raised by a crisis of economic sustainability most commonly blamed on the serial subscription model.  The movement toward remedying this problem, however, often comes from the perspective of authors, copyright, and open access.  I think shedding light on some of the practical economics at play in the subscription renewal process can help show where both the subscription model and open access movement get stuck in this process, and may reveal ways to join forces for change.

“No big deal…”

In the grand scheme of the subscription renewal process, four months is not really too much to ask considering a subscription vendor must have time to process its multitude of customers’ orders from a further multitude of publishers, and all by the start of the calendar year. In a typical renewal year library staff must also build in sufficient advance processing time to meet that September deadline.  Accounting for fiscal close, data gathering and normalization, as well as faculty review and input, means renewals can require anywhere from 9 to 12 months of advance preparation.  Without any problems you might have a 3-month breather between January and March before the full cycle of renewal processing begins again.

Significant exceptions to  a typical cycle occur with the renewal of what’s called a “Big Deal” package.  These packages are so named because they are, well, big, both in terms of number of total titles and the fact that the titles represent most, or all, of a publisher’s content. The deal, beyond the size of what you get, lies (pun intended!) in the unique way in which the package is priced. Traditionally this is based on a library’s historic total spend with a publisher at a given time, rather than the title-by-title value of the list.

Another exception is these deals are often negotiated in multi-year contracts, requiring a comprehensive review only every 2-5 years, as opposed to annually. Yet all of the annual renewal steps above must still happen in a multi-year contract renewal.  If your library budget is under close scrutiny, that more comprehensive analysis probably involves more people, such as deans and directors, sister campuses, and often consortia. More than likely the analysis also involves more data, such as usage, interlibrary loan (ILL) or other article level access options, overlap analysis, or citation analysis.  A communication plan may also be necessary whether the purpose is justifying continuing expenses or considering cancellations.

“No Big Deal?”

When looking for savings these packages seem a reasonable option for cutting costs, given their large portion of the budget and the number of included titles, sometimes hundreds of which get little to no use.  Unfortunately, however, because the Big Deal is not designed according to title-by-title spend, attempting to subscribe to fewer titles at list price can mean paying more in the end.  Outright cancellation is not without risk either, since in addition to a major loss of revenue for the publisher, this can translate to unpredictable and shifted costs for the library.

Some publishers sensitive to the workflow and economic challenges of libraries — usually those with MLS degrees or a background in libraries — make an effort to negotiate for alternative solutions rather than lose large sums of subscription revenue.  Such alternatives, however, rarely include an ability to cut costs through cancellation or by swapping out underused titles.  Nor has there been much effort to limit the amount of content publishers may acquire that libraries must take on in additional spend.

According to a longitudinal ARL study on the topic of Big Deals, however, this model persists because “[n]either market studies or market forces have produced a sustainable new strategy for pricing and selling e-journals” (Strieb & Blixrud, 2014, p 587).  Or in words heard from some of the big names in the business:

“Our business model is not designed to save you money.” – Elsevier

“As long as we’re making money, we’re not inclined to change.” – Springer

Without an on-the-ground budget crisis or other disruptive force, institutions often continue to renew, stuck in a mess of our collective making.  I observed a parallel “stuck” reasoning on the open access side of things when I reported on Garnar & Knox’s ACRL 2015 conference session, “Ethical Issues in Open Access” (tweet above).   This shared state of paralysis led me to wonder how advancing scholarly communication and negotiating subscriptions renewals could work together to get ourselves unstuck.

New Dealings

On the surface these two areas appear to work against each other, since perpetuating renewal of subscription-based models can diminish purchasing power or investment in open access alternatives.  But there is evidence that this is changing both organizationally (MIT) and in the evolving models for open access (see OAWAL, NISO).   As my library prepares to renew four big deals in the near future there is real incentive to explore alternatives.

I would love to hear others’ experiences working with subscription renewals or open access workflows.  What intersections do you see?   Where are you are most stuck?  What alternatives have you tried? Anyone you making inroads to jointly address these issues?

Feel free to share responses in the comments, or email them to atruthbrarian@gmail.com

 

References:

Emery, J., & Stone, G. (n.d.) APC Processing Services. OAWAL: Open Access Workflows for Academic Librarians, 2.6. Retrieved from https://library.hud.ac.uk/blogs/oawal/workflows/2-6/

MIT Libraries (n.d.). About Scholarly Communication & Collections Strategy. Retrieved from http://libguides.mit.edu/c.php?g=176063&p=3015339

NISO (2016). Managing an Open Access World, Part 1: Open Access & Acquisitions. [Webinar] Retrieved from http://www.niso.org/news/events/2016/webinars/sep7_webinar/

Strieb, K.L., & Blixrud, J.C. (2014) Unwrapping the Bundle: An Examination of Research Libraries and the “Big Deal” portal: Libraries and the Academy, 14 (4), 587–615. https://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/portal_pre_print/articles/14.4strieb.pdf

ACS Solutions: The Sturm und Drang

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sue Wiegand, Periodicals Librarian at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.

A chemical storm recently blew up across the blogosphere, involving the American Chemical Society journals, the serials crisis of unsustainably high prices, and one brave librarian, Jenica Rogers at SUNY Potsdam, who said “Enough!” The atmospheric conditions that caused this storm: high journal prices, clashing with low library budgets. Not a surprise, as these storms blow up frequently before subsiding, but the response to Jenica’s blog post thundered through the online community of librarians and scholars. Why? Because she implemented an unusual solution. She cancelled the high-priced “Big Deal” ACS package, after consultation with their Chemistry Department. Others have cancelled Big Deals, but Jenica cancelled ACS journals, when ACS is also the accreditor for Chemistry. She made sure SUNY Potsdam Chemistry scholars and students would still get access to the research they needed, they would just get it in different ways. Controversy swirled like the winds of change.

Other “serials crisis” storms have come and gone over the years: in 2010, the University of California threatened to not renew Nature Publishing Group journals; in 2012, thousands of scholars and librarians signed a petition to boycott Elsevier. Going back further, decades of complaint from librarians resulted in, well, even higher prices. So, cancelling is the direct approach—the action alternative to what hasn’t worked.

As both Periodicals Librarian and liaison to the Chemistry Department, I knew that the answer at SUNY Potsdam would be different from what we could do with the resources we have available here at Saint Mary’s College. Our consortial arrangements are different, our mission is different—we’re a small liberal arts college, not part of a state-wide system. A suggestion from others here was to try to persuade the Chemistry Department to give up their ACS accreditation, but I didn’t want to do that. I’ve worked closely with Chemistry faculty, not only in collection development for their journals, but on college-wide committees—I know they are reasonable people, and they are also shocked at unsustainably high pricing for scholarly articles. I reckoned the department and the library could work together to figure something out. The other librarians agreed: the time was right. Discussion ensued.

Some history: way back in 2002, after an interesting discussion of the new digital era for journals, a senior Chemistry professor came to me with a scenario based on what I’d told him was possible if he wanted to make a deal: cancel some Chemistry journals to use the money available to get SciFinder Scholar, the indexing and abstracting database. ACS was offering a deal: a “3 for 2” split with 2 similar institutions, so we could pay 1/3 of the cost of the SciFinder index. So we worked out which journals to cancel, which to keep, and we added SciFinder, a client-server product at that time, while keeping the necessary number of print ACS journals to keep our accreditation. The scenario accomplished this at no cost increase because we cancelled some print titles they didn’t want as much as they wanted the comprehensive, discipline-specific indexing.

Soon after, our state consortium offered an ACS “Big Deal” package: convert our ACS journals from print to online at the same price we were paying for print (the “historical spend”) and get many more journals for every library in the consortium. We converted. As with all Big Deals in the beginning, we marveled that we could get so many online journals at the same price we had been paying for our print subscriptions. I configured SciFinder to link our new titles, closed the catalog holdings, and shelved the print on the lower level, with signs on the Current Periodicals shelves: “This title is now online!” We added links. For Chemistry journals and indexing, at least, we were set for the brave new millennium.

Every year, the consortium negotiated small price increases, and more journals were added. Every year our budget stayed stagnant or went down while, subscription prices to other periodicals also went up. Faculty members in Chemistry were happy with the access they could get to the high-quality ACS journals, and frequently told me soWhen SciFinder became a web product, replacing the client-server model—even better (I was happy about that, too, in spite of the hassle with passwords and creating accounts that it entailed.) But the librarians thought the cost per use was too high for our small Chemistry Department. Then came Jenica’s blog post.

At Potsdam, librarians and Chemistry faculty decided to continue the ACS Legacy Archive, plus use Interlibrary Loan, add journals from the Royal Society (the Royal Society Gold package), and continue both STNEasy and Elsevier’s ScienceDirect database, which we don’t have at Saint Mary’s. Our mix is slightly different—after much discussion with Chemistry faculty and my librarian colleagues, we kept only the subscription to Journal of Chemical Education from ACS. We renewed the ACS Legacy Archive, and also kept our one Royal Society title (Chemical Society Reviews). The department agreed to use Interlibrary Loan when needed (as Jenica notes, ILL is also not free, but it is doable). We had post-cancellation access rights to 10 years of ACS content (next year, we must subscribe to another ACS title or pay an access fee to continue that).

We also kept SciFinder Scholar, still the single most important element to our faculty in Chemistry—they made this very clear from the first meeting I had with them. SciFinder is the indexing piece of the puzzle—it searches the Chemistry literature as a whole, not just the ACS journals, so it’s one place for them to search, and they like that. They already get non-ACS, non-subscribed journals from ILL, and they know it works well. We also, as did Jenica and the SUNY Potsdam librarians, encouraged faculty to use their ACS membership titles first for needed full-text found via SciFinder, and to consider having students also become members, since Society membership includes 25 “free” ACS articles, and student memberships are inexpensive.

The other solution I explored to complete the picture for us was to try using a document delivery service called FIZ AutoDoc, from FIZ Karlsruhe. FIZ (Fachinformationszentrum) is a not-for-profit German company that partners with the ACS, provides their document delivery, and also provides the STN databases. Implementation of the FIZ AutoDoc service required an incredible amount of mind-boggling documentation-reading, collaboration, copious emails, technical discussions, a webinar demo, a trial, and much angst. The sturm und drang, was not FIZ’s fault—they were extremely easy to work with, even though based far away in Germany. We just needed to figure out what we wanted and how to configure it to work with SFX, our link resolver, and our ideas about how to do this—how our workflow should go, who should do what, should it be mediated or unmediated, how it would look to the end-user—required much discussion. Eventually, we thought we had it—mediated by ILL would be best. No, wait! Maybe there is another way… The debate raged.

Ultimately, we did go with mediated by ILL, with the SFX link also in SciFinder. We added an SFX note about using free ACS membership articles if possible, and provided a list of ACS titles for use by ILL student workers. The account was set up with 2 passwords so the ILL Department can experiment with unmediated seamless access through SFX, so there is room for further improvement when the technical details are worked out. Meanwhile, requests for ACS articles are passed through to the ILL form, which is handily pre-populated by SFX from wherever they originate (since some ACS titles are also indexed in Academic Search Premier). ILL takes it from there in their usual efficient way.

So where do the philosophical questions come in? Is it ok for a library to purchase an article for just one person? What about sharing library resources? What about Fair Use? What about Open Access?

I have to say, I love the idea of Open Access, always have. I told the Chemistry Department that chemists everywhere should get together and start a subject repository like arXiv for Physics—this was quite humorous, apparently. In 2010, the University of Prince Edward Island’s library director, wanting to cancel Web of Science because of the high price, proposed an even more radical idea: librarians collaborating to build an index to scholarly literature that would be free and maintained by librarians. We all know the scholarly communication story by now. No one should be constrained from scholarly work by lack of resources wherever they are or what resources are available. Libraries are about sharing, at no cost to the users. Scholarly collaboration and library sharing shouldn’t have to be in competition, with large amounts of money at stake for access to published research. Yet, those devilish arguments go on.

Meanwhile, the ACS says it wants to work with researchers: “In the future… publishers will deal more directly with contributors and rely less on libraries as middlemen.” They have introduced ACS ChemWorx for research, collaboration, and reference management. In another example from a scholarly society, the Modern Language Association (MLA) is also working with researchers, but by making their author agreements more friendly to authors’ rights to self-archive, and by developing a platform for sharing: “members join the association less in order to receive its communications than to participate in them, to be part of the conversation, and to have their work circulated with the work being done in their community of practice.” They plan to emphasize their society role in “validation and credentialing”, developing new forms of peer review and scholarship in the MLA Commons.

This is the kind of action we can endorse and applaud. As librarians, let’s encourage scholarly societies to share scholarly work as the communities of practice they are at their best. Other collaborative platforms in various stages of adaptation include Zotero, Mendeley, Academia.edu, ResearchGate.org. There are also repositories, institutional and subject-based. The world is converging toward networking and collaborative research all in one place. I would like the library to be the free platform that brings all the others together.

Coming full circle, my vision is that when researchers want to work on their research, they will log on to the library and find all they need—discovering research ideas, the ability for seamless literature searching, accessing and saving citations for books and articles of interest in one place, downloading what they need, finding research collaborators through a network of scholars all over the world with similar interests, finding project management, having the ability to write and cite their research in a seamless way, sharing it informally, having it peer reviewed then formally published in a archived scholarly version of record, having it showcased and celebrated at each institution, then preserved for future scholars to discover and continue to build on. Walk in or log on, we could say to scholars and students alike—the library is the one place that has all you need to get your scholarly work done.

Let’s all, like Jenica, say enough with the old way! Let’s try some new ways and keep trying until we find or create something that works. This storm could help clear the air.