Large publishers have marketed bundles of journals at a discount off of aggregated list price since the late 1990’s. The value proposition for publishers is a guaranteed revenue stream at a high overall dollar value. The perceived benefit for the institutions has been access to a large volume of journal titles, at a lower per-title price than ala carte purchasing would afford. Over time, however, the actual value of these “big deals” has grown less clear. Publishers have often raised the price of the packages by 5-15%, far outpacing library budgets. This has been justified, in part, by the addition of a growing number of specialized journal titles, launched in quick succession. Libraries have found a growing chunk of their budgets allocated to servicing these big deals, as well as their ability to curate resources and build collections most appropriate for their communities severely hampered.
What was once a no-fuss way to get a significant collection of journals at a discount off of list price has devolved into a restrictive agreement that limits financial and strategic flexibility. The “big deal” has often been compared to a cable or satellite TV package, an apt analogy insofar as the customer cannot choose to pass on content that is of no interest, with initial price breaks quickly giving way to locked-in increases. Much like the millions of consumers who have chosen to “cut the cord”, a growing number of libraries are electing to critically appraise these big deals by assessing their collections, the value for money they are receiving from these packages, and how they might more strategically spend their finite collections resources.
Recent Negotiations & Cancellations
Among the institutions that have canceled big deals are the following. This list is by no means comprehensive. If you have others to add, or if you have information to enhance or clarify any of the stories below, please contact us using the buttons at the bottom of this page. You can view this data as a Google spreadsheet, and download it here. The data is licenced CC-0.
Some institutions and consortia have canceled their Big Deals and subsequently come to new terms with the publisher on package subscriptions. If you have others to add to this list, please contact us using the buttons at the bottom of this page.
The resources below provide a rich set of perspectives on the big deal cancellation phenomenon. If you have suggestions to enhance this reading list, please contact us using the buttons at the bottom of this page.
“Why does it cost millions to access publicly funded research papers? Blame the paywall”, by Kelly Crowe. CBC News, March 9, 2019.
“Editorial: UC open access fight exposes publishing rip-off”, The Mercury News, Published March 6, 2019.
“A bold open-access push in Germany could change the future of academic publishing”, by Gretchen Vogel and Kai Kupferschmidt, Science, 23 August 2017.
“Journal publishers’ Big Deals: Are they worth it?”, by Stéphanie Gagnon. Against the Grain, 29(2), 2017.
“E.U. urged to free all scientific papers by 2020”, by Martin Enserink. Science, 14 April 2016.
“Is It Such a Big Deal? On the Cost of Journal Use in the Digital Era,”, by Fei Shu, Philippe Mongeon, Stefanie Haustein, Kyle Siler, Juan Pablo Alperin, and Vincent Larivière. College & Research Libraries, v. 79, n. 6, p. 785, Sep. 2018
“E-Journals and the Big Deal: A Review of the Literature,” by Cindy Sjoberg. SLIS Student Research Journal, 6(2), January 2017.
“Leaving Elsevier’s ‘big deal’: an evaluation of the Italian National Institute of Health experience inside the Bibliosan Consortium”, by Franco Toni. 4th International Conference on Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries (QQML 2012), Limerick, May 22-25, 2012.
“University of California’s break with the biggest academic publisher could shake up scholarly publishing for good”, by MacKenzie Smith. Posted to The Conversation on March 9, 2019.
“When the Wolf Finally Arrives: Big Deal Cancelations in North American Libraries”, by Rick Anderson. Posted to The Scholarly Kitchen on May 1, 2017.
“Why Haven’t We Already Cancelled All Subscriptions?”, by Björn Brembs. Posted to bjoern.brembs.blog on May 20, 2016.
“Let it go – Cancelling subscriptions, funding transitions”, by Cameron Neylon. Posted to PLOS Opens on November 23, 2014.
Presentations and Other Materials
“Why UC split with publishing giant Elsevier”. Berkeley News interview with University Librarian Jeffrey MacKie-Mason. Posted March 6, 2019.
“Breaking Bad, Good or Mixed? Perspectives on exiting (and sometimes re-entering) journal package deals”. ASERL Webinar, October 25, 2016.
Harvard Open Access Tracking Project (OATP): Tagged Developments on Open Access and Cancellations.
Learn More…and Act
SPARC is well-positioned to help you explore your own resource cost reduction strategy. If you are a SPARC member, we can help you tailor a presentation to your administration, develop price-quality criteria, and think through the most productive way to frame this conversation with your students and faculty.
Please contact us to get started.