what’s the big deal?

house of cards
photo by Erin Wilson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’ve been thinking about Big Deals again lately, particularly as there are more reports of institutions breaking them (and then later having to pick them up again) because the costs are unsustainable. It’s usually just the money that is the issue. No one has a problem with buying huge journal (and now book) bundles in general because they tend to be used heavily and reduce friction in the research process. No, it’s usually about the cost increases, which happen annually, generally at higher rates than library collections budgets increase. That’s not new.

The reality of breaking a Big Deal is not pleasant, and often does not result in cost savings without a severe loss of access to scholarly research. I’m  not at a research institution, and yet, every time I have run the numbers, our Big Deals still cost less than individual subscriptions to the titles that get used more than the ILL threshold, and even if I bump it up to, say, 20 downloads a year, we’re still better off paying for the bundle than list price for individual titles. I can only imagine this is even more true at R1 schools, though their costs are likely exponentially higher than ours and may be bearing a larger burden per FTE.

That gets at one factor of the Big Deal that is not good — the lack of transparency or equity in pricing. One publisher’s Big Deal pricing is based on your title list prior to the Big Deal, which can result in vastly different costs for different institutions for essentially the same content. Another publisher many years ago changed their pricing structure, and in more polite terms told my consortia at the time we were not paying enough (i.e. we had negotiated too good of a contract), and we would see hefty annual increases until we reached whatever amount they felt we should be paying. This is what happens in a monopoly, and scholarly publishing is a monopoly in practice if not in legal terms.

We need a different model (and Open Access as it is practiced now is not going to save us). I don’t know what it is, but we need to figure that out soon, because I am seeing the impending crash of some Big Deals, and the fallout is not going to be pretty.

NASIG 2011: Leaving the Big Deal – Consequences and Next Steps

Speaker: Jonathan Nabe

His library has left the GWLA Springer/Kluwer and Wiley-Blackwell consortia deals, and a smaller consortia deal for Elsevier. The end result is a loss of access to a little less than 2000 titles, but most of the titles had fewer than 1 download per month in the year prior to departure. So, they feel that ILL is a better price than subscription for them.

Because of the hoops jumped for ILL, he thinks those indicate more of a real need than downloading content available directly to the user. Because they retain archival access, withdrawing from the deals only impacts current volumes, and the time period has been too short to truly determine the impact, as they left the deals in 2009 and 2010. However, his conclusion based on the low ILL requests is that the download stats are not accurate due to incidental use, repeat use, convenience, and linking methods.

The other area of impact is reaction and response, and so far they have had only three complaints. It could be because faculty are sympathetic, or it could be because they haven’t needed the current content, yet. They have used this as an opportunity to educate faculty about the costs. They also opened up cancellations from the big publishers, spreading the pain more than they could in the past.

In the end, they saved the equivalent of half their monograph budget by canceling the big deals and additional serials. Will the collection be based on the contracts they have or by the needs of the community?

Moving forward, they have hit some issues. One is that a certain publisher will impose a 25% content fee to go title by title. Another issue is that title by title purchasing put them back at the list price which is much higher than the capped prices they had under the deal. They were able to alleviate some issues with negotiation and agreeing to multi-year deals that begin with the refreshed lists of titles.

The original GWLA deal with Springer allowed for LOCKSS as a means for archival access. However, they took the stance that they would not work with LOCKSS, so the lawyers got involved with the apparent breech of contract. In the end, Springer agreed to abide by the terms of the contract and make their content available to LOCKSS harvesting.

Make sure you address license issues before the end of the terms.

Speaker: David Fowler

They left the Elsevier and Wiley deals for their consortias. They have done cost savings measures in the past with eliminating duplication of format and high cost & low use titles, but in the end, they had to consider their big deals.

The first thing they eliminated was the pay per use access to Elsevier due to escalating costs and hacking abuse. The second thing they did was talk to OSU and PSU about collaborative collection development, including a shared collection deal with Elsevier. Essentially, they left the Orbis Cascade deal to make their own.

Elsevier tried to negotiate with the individual schools, but they stood together and were able to reduce the cancellations to 14% due to a reduced content fee. So far, the 2 year deal has been good, and they are working on a 4 year deal, and they won’t exceed their 2009 spend until 2014.

They think that ILL increase has more to do with WorldCat Local implementation, and few Elsevier titles were requested. Some faculty are concerned about the loss of low use high cost titles, so they are considering a library mediated pay-per-view option.

The Wiley deal was through GWLA, and when it came to the end, they determined that they needed to cancel titles that were not needed anymore, which meant leaving the deal. They considered going the same route they did with Elsevier, but were too burnt out to move forward. Instead, they have a single-site enhanced license.

We cannot continue to do business as usual. They expect to have to do a round of cancellations in the future.