Summary of Recent ALCTS E-Forum on the “Future of the Big Deal”

ALCTS holds a number of e-forums throughout the year. Just recently, the topic was the “Future of the Big Deal”. Rob Van Rennes was kind enough to provide the following summary of the discussion. Enjoy!

Rebecca Kemp (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill) and I would like to say thanks again to Kristin Martin (ALCTS E-Forums Coordinator) and to all of you who participated and followed the discussion on the future of the Big Deal.  Please see our final summary of the e-forum below.


Rob Van Rennes

University of Iowa

The final comprehensive summary of the ACLTS e-forum, “The Future of the Big Deal” 

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Big Deal

Participants mentioned a number of beneficial aspects of the Big Deal including the convenience of managing publisher packages in terms of a single payment, bundled pricing with inflation caps, and less back end work for individual journal titles.  It was also pointed out that Big Deals provide price stability for both libraries and publishers while reducing overall unit costs.  Finally, it was determined that library users experienced  one of the greatest benefits by having local access to vast amounts of content with a higher degree of discoverability due to the aggregator like nature of the packages.

While there are many benefits to the Big Deal, it was noted that there are a great number of disadvantages as well.  Libraries become locked into high cost multi-year packages that are based on outdated historic spend amounts.  The Big Deal license agreements lack transparency, are inconsistent across libraries and are rarely equitable especially in regards to larger institutions. There is a loss of control of collections with all or nothing packages that increase in cost by requiring the addition new and transfer titles while at the same time limiting library cancellations.

Metrics for Valuing Journals and Big Deal Packages

Librarians from the University of California,University of Washington, and University of Oregon all shared details on the methodology their institutions employ to measure the value of the journals in their Big Deals.  All three libraries used a combination of some of the following measures: usage, cost per use, impact factors, Eigenfactor, source normalized impact per paper (SNIP), and institution specific citations.  A librarian from Texas A & M University also noted that the Research Libraries UK (RLUK) was in the process of developing a journal subscription analysis tool to evaluate Big Deals.

 Modifying the Big Deal

There were a number of suggestions on how to modify the Big Deal to make it more viable in the future and many of the ideas involved reducing the size of the packages.  There was support for libraries to have the option to pick and choose titles for one price or have the ability to include or exclude specific subject packages.  Increasing the percentage of allowable cancellations was mentioned as another possibility as was the ability to scale back Big Deals without suffering an increase in journal pricing.  Other reforms included developing transparent open access models that can produce new revenue streams for publishers and amending the publisher’s requirement of adding new and transfer journals to packages.

Pay-per-view access to non-subscribed titles: a viable alternative to the Big Deal?

It was argued that the size of the school may make a difference in whether PPV is a feasible alternative to large journal packages.  A librarian from Lafayette College (2400 FTE), commented that her library has been successfully using PPV programs with Elsevier and Wiley to realize savings over Big Deal packages.  On the opposite side, reports from larger institutions such as the University of Oregon and Old Dominion University indicated that unmediated PPV programs were not cost-effective.  A librarian from the University of Oregon indicated that PPV was subject to intentional and unintentional abuse and therefore OU discontinued their PPV program after reinstating a few high use titles. A librarian from Old Dominion University added that ODU used up their entire PPV allocation in only 3 months.  A participant from Chicago Public Library thought that it would be very difficult to make unmediated PPV work in a public library setting and a librarian from Columbia University wondered whether Open Access journals have made PPV costs affordable for health sciences libraries.  At Appalachian State University and Brown Mackie College the view held is that PPV is untenable as an alternative to the Big Deal for most libraries, although it may work well for smaller schools or early adopters.

Considerations librarians should be mindful of when contemplating ending publisher packages


A librarian from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill emphasized usage statistics as a metric to consider for evaluating Big Deals.  University of Kentucky Libraries was concerned with usage of subscribed titles versus unsubscribed titles and trying to achieve a balance between the amount of money available for the collection and trying to collect the most heavily used titles.

A librarian from Western Michigan University brought up the point that libraries leaving consortial deals need to consider the effect such an action would have on the other libraries in their consortium.  In support of that point, another librarian (University of Washington) offered up the example of the Orbis Cascade Alliance which had to “downgrade” its “all titles” Springer deal as a result of institutions having to reduce their spend amounts.  Orbis Cascade ultimately worked out a lower spend deal that allowed all its members access to each one another’s subscribed titles, but the consortium lost access to 1,000 titles.

Information librarians should possess before negotiating with publishers/negotiation tips

One librarian (University of Oregon) indicated that libraries must have sufficient data about their own collections, a well-formulated plan, and a “fall-back option” before arranging a meeting with a publisher.  At University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a librarian elaborated on this strategy by recommending that libraries require the publisher to make the first pricing offer for a full package.  If that offer is unacceptable, the library should counter with a custom package proposal and be prepared with an “exit option” of walking away from the package deal entirely and subscribing to a core set of a la carte titles.

The potential difficulties in extracting your institution from a Big Deal

Someone from Central Michigan University warned that one problem with leaving a Big Deal is that libraries may have to return to list pricing which could reduce any perceived cost savings and result in further loss of content.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s