Open and Shut?: Unbundling the Big Deal: An interview with SUNY’s Shannon Pritting

“Nevertheless, many libraries did sign big deals. And many later regretted it, not least because, having done so, they felt they had no choice but to keep renewing the contract, even as the cost kept going up and devoured more and more of their budget. 

Libraries felt trapped, conscious that if they did not renew they would have to go back to subscribing to individual journals at list price, which would mean being able to afford access to fewer journals, and fearful that when they discovered that journals they wanted were no longer available, faculty would revolt.

Over time, however, a greater willingness to think the unthinkable emerged, and some libraries began to cancel their big deals. And when they did so the sky did not fall in – which allowed other libraries to take heart.

The list maintained here suggests that libraries began cancelling their big deals as long ago as 2008, but the number doing so has been accelerating in the last few years. What has really focussed minds are the recent decisions by both the University of California and MIT to walk away from their negotiations with Elsevier rather than renew their big deals.

But it is not necessary to walk away completely in the way UC and MIT have done. Instead, libraries can “unbundle” their Big Deal by replacing the large package of several thousand journals they are subscribed to with a small à la carte bundle of a few hundred journals, and in the process save themselves a great deal of money.

What is helping libraries to make the decision to unbundle is the knowledge that more and more research is becoming available on an open access basis. In addition, new tools like Unsub are available to advise them on which journals they can cancel without too great an impact, and which journals are essential and so should be retained….

So how is a decision to unbundle made, and what are the issues and implications of making the decision? To get a clearer picture I spoke recently by email with Shannon Pritting, Shared Library Services Platform Project Director at SUNY. In April, SUNY replaced its Big Deal of 2,200 journals with Elsevier with a “little deal” of just 248 journals. By doing so, it says, it has saved about $7 million….”

 

What Do Libraries Keep When They Cancel the Big Deal?  – The Scholarly Kitchen

“There are so many questions one can ask. Do more generous green open access policies carve out the value of subscriptions and make them vulnerable to cancellation? Are libraries overly focused on certain criteria and ignoring others? What about the role of the librarian in collection development and building a collection for the long-term? What criteria do libraries use in selecting which titles to retain? What happens to the journals that don’t get picked up as individual subscriptions? Will certain journals lose out and possibly cease to exist because libraries pick the same journals to retain?  …

Today I share the results of looking at the retained title lists from seven libraries that walked away from Elsevier’s Big Deal package. …”

What Do Libraries Keep When They Cancel the Big Deal?  – The Scholarly Kitchen

“There are so many questions one can ask. Do more generous green open access policies carve out the value of subscriptions and make them vulnerable to cancellation? Are libraries overly focused on certain criteria and ignoring others? What about the role of the librarian in collection development and building a collection for the long-term? What criteria do libraries use in selecting which titles to retain? What happens to the journals that don’t get picked up as individual subscriptions? Will certain journals lose out and possibly cease to exist because libraries pick the same journals to retain?  …

Today I share the results of looking at the retained title lists from seven libraries that walked away from Elsevier’s Big Deal package. …”

This tool is saving universities millions of dollars in journal subscriptions | Science | AAAS

“In April, when the State University of New York (SUNY) system canceled a big subscription deal with Dutch publishing giant Elsevier in favor of a smaller, cheaper package of subscriptions, headlines focused on how much money the university would save: about $7 million. But behind the savings was a careful cost-benefit analysis and a software tool, Unsub, that helped SUNY work out how to get the most out of its subscription dollars. Many expect the approach to catch on more widely as cash-strapped universities try to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

SUNY was facing an annual $9 million bill for its subscription to about 2200 Elsevier titles. But Unsub revealed that by spending $2 million a year for just 248 of the journals, the university could give researchers at its 64 campuses immediate access to roughly 70% of the Elsevier papers they are likely to read in the next 5 years. The tool produces its forecasts by analyzing data from each university’s library journal usage, and by scouring the web to see how many of the papers that faculty and students access are already available for free.

Unsub is a “game changer,” says Mark McBride, SUNY’s library senior strategist in Albany, and “I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that.” Like many universities chafing at high subscription fees and fearing the budget impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, SUNY was looking for savings. And with the help of Unsub, McBride says, it concluded “a big deal is no longer necessary in order for a library to function effectively.” …”

2020 top trends in academic libraries: A review of the trends and issues affecting academic libraries in higher education | Research Planning and Review Committee | College & Research Libraries News

“Open access: Transitions and transformations

The past few years have brought major developments in the OA landscape—from major big deal cancellations to new agreements between libraries and publishers. Following the University of California system’s Elsevier cancellation in early 2019,16 the University of North Carolina announced in late 2019 that their license renewal negotiations with Elsevier will continue into 2020.17 Resources for institutions considering this route include SPARC’s “Big Deal Knowledge Base and Big Deal Cancellation Tracking,”18 University of California’s “Negotiating with Scholarly Journal Publishers Toolkit,”19 “Guidelines for Evaluating Transformative Open Access Agreements,”20 and “Guide to Transitioning Journals to Open Access Publishing.”21

Many new transformative agreements were announced between publishers and libraries or library consortia over the past year.22 A transformative agreement can be defined as a contract seeking “to shift the contracted payment from a library or group of libraries to a publisher away from subscription-based reading and towards open access publishing.”23 There are various flavors, including offsetting agreements, read-and-publish agreements, and publish-and-read agreements. Since 2018, many read-and-publish agreements have been signed between publishers and institutions.

After hundreds of responses from publishers, academic libraries, and researchers, cOALition S made some changes to its Plan S, which “aims for full and immediate Open Access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications from research funded by public and private grants.”24 Noteworthy differences: plan implementation is delayed to 2021, no cap on the cost of OA publication, tweaked rules around hybrid titles and transformative agreements, ignore the prestige of journals when making funding decisions, and more restrictive open licenses will be allowed when approved by the funder.25

Further transitions are happening at the society publishing level. The group Transitioning Society Publications to Open Access (TSPOA) formed at the October 2018 Choosing Pathways to OA Working forum. They “aim to provide relevant resources/experience working in collaboration with society publishing partners to help them develop an open access publishing model that is appropriate, effective and sustainable.”26 …”

SPARC Debrief on Three Recent Big Deal Cancellations – SPARC

“On May 15th, SPARC hosted a member debrief on recent Big Deal cancellations. Curtis Brundy, Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, and Nerea Llamas, spoke about their institutions’ processes leading up to the decision to walk away from their bundled Elsevier subscriptions, shared suggestions for other libraries that may be considering a similar move, and answered questions from the audience. 

All three institutions sought a cost reduction in their upcoming Elsevier contracts, as well as sustainable, affordable, and transparent agreements before making the ultimate decision to unbundle their Big Deals. Each speaker emphasized the importance of campus engagement strategies, including surveying faculty, hosting town halls, and equipping themselves and others with in-depth data analysis processes. Speakers recommend empowered negotiations decision-making through tools and communication strategies, ensuring vendors do not drag out the timeline for their own gain. …”

Taking a Big Bite Out of the Big Deal – The Scholarly Kitchen

“Unsub is the game-changing data analysis service that is helping librarians forecast, explore, and optimize their alternatives to the Big Deal. Unsub (known as Unpaywall Journals until just this week) supports librarians in making independent assessments of the value of their journal subscriptions relative to price paid rather than relying upon publisher-provided data alone. Librarians breaking away from the Big Deal often credit Unsub as a critical component of their strategy. I am grateful to Heather Piwowar and Jason Priem, co-founders of Our Research, a small nonprofit organization with an innocuous sounding name that is the provider of Unsub, for taking time to answer some questions for the benefit of the readers of The Scholarly Kitchen. …”

Iowa State University Library finalizes Elsevier negotiations, forgoes multi-year package deal in favor of individual journal subscriptions | University Library | Iowa State University

“The Iowa State University Library finalized negotiations over its 2020 journal agreement with Elsevier. Under the new agreement, the library will subscribe to journals on a title-by-title basis instead of a multi-year package deal, giving greater control over spending while still providing essential content to campus.

During negotiations, the library pursued three goals: reduce costs, remove confidentiality restrictions, and progress toward open access. These goals aligned with our Principles for Advancing Openness through Journal Negotiations, endorsed by the Iowa State University Faculty Senate, Library Advisory Committee, Student Government, and Graduate and Professional Student Senate in 2019.

The new agreement achieves a significant cost reduction by moving to individual subscriptions at a discounted price. In addition, it does not include confidentiality language and can be publicly shared. Although we anticipated greater progress toward open access in this agreement, we are committed to carrying the discussion forward in 2020….”