Tag Archives: subscriptions

The Rock and the Hard Place (Part 2): Opening Up License Negotiation

The following is the second 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.  In addition to the usual disclaimer regarding my own opinions expressed here, these should also not be interpreted as a substitute for legal advice.

In my last post I outlined one side of scholarly communication — the subscription renewal process – in underrepresented detail, revealing places where it is stuck in arduous workflow, inefficient systems, and complex, problematic licenses. In addition to pointing out the subscription model’s own struggles, I acknowledge its perpetuation works directly against investment in open access alternatives. Seeing the shared predicament from each respective end, I wondered how these two workflows come together in practice. Beyond our company in misery, this post will explore where collaborations, specifically in the realm of licensing, have made progress toward alternatives to traditional publishing and subscription-based acquisition.

Licensing
Contract negotiation is an activity associated with the subscription model that most often occurs when placing new orders or at renewal. In many cases this responsibility is performed by collection management or acquisitions, usually with support of the institution’s general counsel. Scholarly communication staff also interpret contracts as they assist authors in negotiating publishing terms and retention of authors’ copyright. The scholarly communication office might also be involved in contract negotiation if they are a publishing entity themselves. A third player, interlibrary loan, also plays a role in licensing terms, interpreting copyright and fair use as it relates to day-to-day borrowing and lending, and copyright fee payment associated with these activities.

For other obvious reasons, these areas of the library are key stakeholders in the subscription renewal process. If we cancel, what will the faculty reaction be? How will the subscription savings through cancellation effect the cost of ILL? If we renew, what does this say about our efforts in promoting open access? In addition to this, the skillset these faculty share in negotiation and the interpretation of copyright in particular reveals a unique collaborative opportunity for subscription and open access workflows.

Bringing these shared skillsets together in the licensing process allows for a more comprehensive awareness of where contracts can restrict rights granted by copyright law. More specifically these perspectives can quickly identify key terms that can best mitigate that risk and influence other favorable objectives. The LIBLICENSE project is an excellent starting point for understanding general license terms and those specific to the needs of libraries. I highlight examples of some commonly sought terms below for which the collaborative contexts I’ve mentioned have been most helpful in addressing. Relevant pages and discussion threads from LIBLICENSE and other resources are linked within.

In terms of content and acquisition:
• Post-cancellation access (see perpetual license)
• Emergency cancellation clause (see force majeure and early termination)
• Title swap and cancellation allowance
• Content caps on changed or lost content
• Pricing caps – the larger or longer the deal, the lower the cap

In terms of ILL and copyright:
• Allowing ILL with more liberal interpretation for electronic access (see 1997 ILL straw poll)
• Assert/Do not remain silent on copyright (see section 3.3 model license “ No Diminution of Rights” and Fair Use assumptions discussion thread)

In terms of open access:
• Assert author rights (see 3.4 model license “Authors’ Own Works” and also COAR’s 2013 report: OA Clauses in Publishers Licenses )
• Eliminate or ameliorate confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses (see also ARL recommendation)
• Allow for text and data mining (see Request: Text and Data Mining Licenses…Language thread)

Negotiation
Though many of these terms are generally accepted among the library profession and even have the backing of national and international organizations, publishing and other industries have their own generally accepted clauses and the backing of their organizations. This is why it can be difficult, unrealistic even, for the single acquisitions staff responsible for negotiation to push for all these on her own.  A major subscription contract renewal is an important opportunity for many to speak with a unified voice, not just on behalf of buyers and content, but on behalf of authors and of a wider audience of users. In addition to bolstering well known terms and issues, these multiple perspectives are key to introducing new ideas into a traditional negotiation.

Sometimes new ideas (and even traditional ones) will not result in accepted contract terms because they are dealt with entirely separately from the renewal process, or because they do not otherwise match the other party’s entrenched business practices. This can be advantageous from a negotiating standpoint, as losing out on some issues can favorably influence the advancement of others. The fact that some issues are perceived as entirely separate from the renewal process can also be advantageous. Author rights, for example, are often handled through individual author contracts or separate institutional open access policy agreements. While this can sometimes prevent their inclusion subscription agreements, by recognizing the separation itself the negotiation lends a stage to raise important issues more boldly without directly jeopardizing the terms of renewal.

New ideas I’d like to see in renewal negotiation discussions involve taking what is often the licensee’s obligation and making it a mutual or licensor obligation. One example is caps on changed and added content. Publishers often allow a clause that addresses when a percentage of content lost by a publisher can trigger breach or renegotiation. But aside from title cancellation and swap clauses – which are rare and require a significant amount of time and effort by the library to invoke — there is nothing to prevent a publisher from acquiring and adding content to a package for which the libraries are required to take on in their renewal spend. Another has to do with advance renewal or offer deadlines. As outlined in my previous post, publishers often require advance notice of cancellation, but there is nothing that requires publishers to provide the library with advance notice of major changes that might influence a cancellation decision, like new package offerings or an entirely new license contract. I’d also like to explore clauses that might address the myriad ways payment for published research is replicated across the institution (aka double-dipping), such as with the libraries paid subscription and the author’s open access article processing charges.

Closing the deal
In any change, the individual and organizational commitment to cooperation can be the hardest, but most important first step. In future posts, I’ll lay out ways organizational structures, workflows and individual skills might lead to more frequent and improved collaborative work on these issues.

Breaking the big deal of a major subscription renewal and reinvesting in open access will certainly require a deeper investigation into economics of open access and subscription infrastructure already well-covered by the literature. Perhaps, as with licensing, if we look at these economics more carefully with a different group of eyes and minds, new practical alternatives will emerge.

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