June 14, 2018

Another One Bites the Dust: Florida State University backs away from “Big Deal” subscription packages


Florida State University’s libraries are in negotiations with Elsevier about an impending pricing issue, according to Diana Kwon writing in the Scientist this week. Back in April, the libraries announced that, due to the “high and ever-increasing cost” of a “big deal” Elsevier subscription, they would instead “subscribe to a subset of most-needed journals, as identified by faculty and usage statistics.” It was the latest in an ongoing trend of “big deal” subscription cancellations. In only a few short years, dozens of universities all over the world have backed away from publishers like Elsevier.

A primer: In the “Big Deal” model, a library subscribes to the full range of journals offered by a single publisher or distributor, rather than just a selection of those deemed most relevant. It began upwards of fifteen years ago. As Rick Anderson writes at the Scholarly Kitchen, here were two reasons for mass adoption of such a model: the overall value, and the fact that the scholarly communications industry was then “in the middle of some kind of fundamental revolution, and there was no telling what it would look like ten or fifteen or twenty years into the future.” Libraries dove in, partially aware of the limited sustainability of the adoption. It became common practice — at least, until libraries had a chance to look more closely at the value they were getting

But there could be light at the end of the tunnel, Kwon writes. When an institution cancels one of these packages, it does nothing to diminish their need for access to the materials in question. To continue meeting that need, universities like FSU are adopting a more analytical model, picking and choosing subscriptions in response to the particular research needs of their faculties. This means monitoring usage data and demand, next-day access to journals not currently under subscription through interlibrary loan, and using tools like Unpaywall and OA Button to find open-access versions of articles. Tom Reller, vice president of communications for Elsevier, tells Kwon that “if some customers have different needs or cost parameters then we can accommodate as well via different content selections including but not limited to title by title.”

What we’re seeing could partly be a reaction to the growth in piracy within the academic world, with sites like Sci-Hub offering illegal downloads of articles, according to Joseph Esposito, a consultant with Clarke & Esposito. Esposito tells Kwon, “Librarians have been trying to change the structure and nature of these deals for 10 years. It’s only now, when piracy is ubiquitous, that they have started to change the structure and nature of these deals.”

And what about open access? The open access model advocates enables academics to access materials for free and without restrictions. In Europe, the European Commission plans on making all scientific articles open-access by 2020. Kwon also writes that ten US universities (most of them University of California campuses) have signed the “OA2020 Expression of Interest,” an agreement to push for open access by 2020.



Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.