How to make journal bundles ("big deals") fair and promote quality?
Any feedback or critique in comments below is most welcome!
- Publishing transformation cannot be achieved without ensuring fairness.
- Price control cannot be gained without transparent mechanism to assess value.
- Funds allocation to new models cannot be achieved on scale without proper price control.
- Product: Any item holding value when sold in separation. Even if a publisher does not sell journals in separation, each journal is still a product because it holds some value on its own.
- Customer: Whoever pays: libraries, institutions, funders etc. Authors/readers are only customers if they pay from own pocket at least part of the price. When full price is covered by institution, the institution is the customer, not author.
- Bundling: Any sale of multiple products at one single price. In case of publishers bundle deals, this can be subscription only/publish only/or both for multiple journals at one single price.
- Unfair bundling: Any bundling on all-or-nothing basis, where customers are not allowed any flexibility to add or remove products.
- Fair bundling: Bundling allowing customers to only pay for products/services they need.
Fairness and competition
To enable efficient process, participants must play by fair rules.
- It is unfair to force customers to buy products they don't need.
- It is unfair to force customers to pay for "luxury versions" of products where they only need basic ones.
- Lower quality/value products in bundle unfairly benefit from hard work done by others.
To raise quality/price ratio, products need to compete for their buyers.
- Quality/value is not encouraged/diluted if products are sold in bundle without any flexibility to add/remove.
- Unfair bundling leads to increased size without added quality/value, where price is determined proportional to size but decoupled from value. Journals should not be created without added value to unfairly justify price increases.
Suggestions for publishers: Allow fairness and flexibility
- Allow customers to fairly add/remove individual products based on their needs.
- Allow customers to only choose necessary services and price categories for each product.
- Help increase quality by facilitating transparent competitive and informed product selection for customers.
- Improved reputation and competitive advantage by advertising fairness, as matter of long term investment even with small short term loss in revenue.
- More resources locked in paying for unfair bundles means fewer resources available for research, students, faculty. Students and faculty can benefit significantly from better more efficient resource allocation.
- It is critical for faculty to be informed about continuing availability of resources after possible cancellation.- Informing faculty and funders about pricing empowers them to exercise better control to reward fair players.
- Faculty needs to be aware of publisher pricing policies, to reward those more beneficial for public good, and to discourage others by reducing their contribution (authoring, refereeing, editing).
Suggestions for libraries: Inform your faculty
- Maintain lists of publishers in each cost/value/policy group.
- Inform faculty about changes to allow them adjust their support.
- Specifically address back-issue policy to allow faculty reward publishers with fairer policy.
- Allow faculty to up- or down-vote products, because the mere number of downloads may not be an accurate metric for quality/value.
- Better inform your faculty of concerns with paywalls and benefits of open access without author fees.
Suggestions for institutions: Reward your faculty and library, encourage them to help saving your costs
- Reward your faculty for their support of fair publishers and journals.
- Reward your faculty for their contribution to fair publishing and communication.
- Reward your library for their efforts of collaboration with faculty and increased control and efficiency.
- Discourage your faculty and library from supporting unfair expensive players.
Suggestions for faculty: Request information from library, help assessing value, support fair rewarding and evaluation
- Request lists of pre-screened recommended journals with friendly long term policies.
- Reward fair journals with better submission, refereeing, editing.
- Reward faculty supporting fair journals within promotion and evaluation.
- Share with colleagues and support their efforts.
Big Deal Cancellation Tracking by Sparc
Over time... the actual value of these “big deals” has grown less clear. Publishers have often raised the price... far outpacing library budgets. This has been justified, in part, by the addition of a growing number of specialized journal titles... 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.
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, 2018.
...study provides evidence that, while big deal bundles do decrease the mean price per subscribed journal, academic libraries receive less value for their investment. We find that university researchers cite only a fraction of journals purchased by their libraries, that this fraction is decreasing, and that the cost per cited journal has increased.
Europe Expanded the “No Elsevier Deal” Zone & This Could Change Everything by Hilda Bastian, July 30, 2018.
And when a full-text is inconvenient or impossible to get hold of, it can have serious implications for the paper’s authors, too, whose work has a higher risk of sinking into relative obscurity.
‘Big Deal’ Cancellations Gain Momentum by Lindsay McKenzie, May 8, 2018.
Rather than subscribing to a large volume of journals in a publisher’s collection, often at a substantial discount off the individual list price, some institutions are choosing to pay only for the journals they determine they need the most.
One of the effects of the national negotiations happening in Europe is cracking the secrecy around the costs of the big publisher deals – and growing academic awareness of the case for change. Germany and Sweden pushing the major publisher past the brink will surely embolden at least some other negotiators and academics to drive harder bargains.
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Florida State University’s pending cancellation of its big deal with Elsevier is that the Faculty Senate approved it... It hasn’t been an easy process, but outreach efforts have helped faculty to understand why this route is necessary. “Our faculty are willing to roll with it for now,” he said. “We don’t think our new model will do harm, but it will force faculty to change their behavior slightly -- there’s a re-education piece.”
Principles for Open Scholarly Infrastructures by Bilder G, Lin J, Neylon C @cameronneylon (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1314859
We believe we risk repeating the mistakes of the past, where a lack of community engagement lead to a lack of community control, and the locking up of community resources.
Formal incentives to fulfil mission & wind-down – infrastructures exist for a specific purpose and that purpose can be radically simplified or even rendered unnecessary by technological or social change. If it is possible the organisation (and staff) should have direct incentives to deliver on the mission and wind down.
The Big Deal: Not Price But Cost by Richard Poynder @rickypo, 2011.
...purchasing journals in this manner essentially reduces an institution’s budget to a handful of large fixed-block expenditures, seriously undermining any budget flexibility,” she (Ivy Anderson) says. “In an era of expanding resources, this was less of a problem; right now, it’s a huge problem.”
Above all, she adds, “One still can’t do what one can do in just about any other rationally functioning market; offer to pay less for the same product.”
The Big Deal has led to “a vicious cycle in which an ever-larger number of journals accrue to an ever-smaller number of publishers,” says Anderson, “both through publisher acquisitions and mergers and because societies have been seduced by the promise of wider circulation and higher revenue that the big-deal publishers offer them.”
Here then is an interesting new proposal: The solution to the serials crisis lies not in continuing to throw money at publishers or even haggling with them over pricing, but for the research community to publish fewer papers. This, says David Sweeney, is the way to resolve the affordability problem. ...some researchers appear to agree with Sweeney. “There is tremendous redundancy in the system,” says David Williams, a professor at the University of Liverpool. “This means that even the worst scientific papers can find a home somewhere.” In other words, the problem is not a shortage of money but a surfeit of papers. “Obviously academics are as much to blame as publishers for this,” says Williams, but “rarely are journals closed down, even those that are horrendously bad because they still provide some limited profit.” Williams’ view is all the more striking coming as it does from the editor-in-chief of an Elsevier journal (Biomaterials).
Of course, there is absolutely no financial incentive for publishers to restrict the number of papers published; quite the contrary. And researchers are unlikely to do so voluntarily. If Sweeney is correct, therefore, the onus would seem to be on librarians since it is they who buy the products of publishers. Their aim therefore should not be to drive journal growth by subscribing to ever larger, ever more expensive journal bundles but to start cancelling subscriptions.
Again, Sweeney has a solution. In the age of the internet, he argues that not all research needs to be published in the traditional manner. “The amount of research deserving publication ‘for the record’ is much less than the amount deserving publication ‘for immediate debate within the community’... leading to a drop in the amount of material requiring/meriting the full peer review and professional editing service.”
And that’s the point: Today, universities encourage researchers to publish as many peer-reviewed articles as possible, and the Big Deal (and its insupportable costs) is the logical consequence of such a policy.
An Orderly Retreat from the Big Deal. Is It Possible for Consortia? by Jeffrey N. Gatten and Tom Sanville
Perhaps the most controversial aspects of the Big Deal are the "all or nothing" approach requiring a library or consortium to purchase a single package of all journal titles available electronically from a publisher and the "one way street" of a contracted financial commitment over multiple years. Problems arise when libraries need to make decisions about managing static or shrinking budgets while large percentages of those budgets are committed to multi-year Big Deal agreements. Wouldn't it be easier and less expensive to purchase only those titles from a publisher that serve one's users?
A departure is required from past practice to create an orderly retreat or attrition mechanism, allowing for incremental changes in the Big Deal's set of titles, for both the consortium members and the publisher... An orderly retreat must recognize that once the consortium and publisher agree on a collective price and a broad collection of titles, the usefulness of institutional traditional cost-per-journal analyses proves inadequate.
OhioLINK has worked with a growing number of publishers to build into Big Deal licenses a mechanism allowing for the incremental attrition of content and annual cost without bringing the relationship to a crisis or destroying the essential benefits to both parties. The mechanism's design reinforces the concept of the Big Deal as a means to access the maximum affordable publisher's content. The mechanism simply allows for an annual reduction from the next year's planned value of the license by an amount equivalent to the percentage of use that titles selected for discontinuation represent... The mechanism also has a reverse provision that provides the cost schedule to reinstate receipt of current issues and back files of previously discontinued titles.
The Librarians' Dilemma Contemplating the Costs of the "Big Deal" by Kenneth Frazier, D-Lib Magazine, March 2001
...push to build an all-electronic collection can't be undertaken at the risk of: (1) weakening that collection with journals we neither need nor want, and (2) increasing our dependence on publishers who have already shown their determination to monopolize the information marketplace.
Librarians will lose the opportunity to shape the content or quality of journal literature through the selection process.
The current generation of library directors is engaged in a dangerous "game" in which short-term institutional benefits are achieved at the long-term expense of the academic community.