The sustainability argument or… How academic journals economic models never really last – The political economy of academic publications

“For most publishers – including self-publishing learned societies – subscription has only been profitable for a short time and is not anymore. It is not sustainable, since it now implies the disappearance of their autonomy or at least dependence on increasingly powerful players, likely to act unilaterally on their revenues. And even for the largest publishers, the threat of non-renewal of Big Deals is growing stronger from 2010 onwards, whether through the sudden drop in financial resources (Greece) or through the choice to no longer pay for a service that does not meet the needs of libraries (United States) or open access demands (Germany, Sweden). It is in this context that Elsevier has started to brand itslef as a data company, while new publishers are trying to make a new model last, based on Article Processing Charges….

From the point of view of these new big players, APCs are so sustainable that they create journals almost every week. For example, in 2021 MDPI launched 84 new journals and only acquired two existing titles….”

 

Full article: Lessons Learned from Reevaluating Big Deals with Unsub

Abstract:  The value of big deals is increasingly unclear. This article briefly discusses factors others have considered in evaluating big deals and covers the four factors that should be considered moving forward: open access, interlibrary loan, post-termination access, and a-la-carte costs. Unsub, a tool for reevaluating big deals created by the nonprofit OurResearch, is introduced. Lessons learned are shared from two years of helping libraries reevaluate big deals to provide insight into the complexities and tradeoffs involved in evaluating big deals across many libraries.

 

Full article: Unsub in Real Life: Using Unsub as Part of Serials Decisions and Negotiations

Abstract:  This presentation introduced attendees to the benefits and limitations of Unsub, a data analysis tool designed by OurResearch. In this presentation, OurResearch co-founder, Heather Piwowar, demonstrated the use of Unsub for analyzing usage and cost data on a library’s “Big Deal.” The other two presenters, Jessica Harris of the University of Chicago, and Eric Schares of Iowa State University, discussed how they used the tool at their libraries to make collection development decisions for their libraries’ journal subscriptions.

Inequities of Article Processing Charges: How the Oligopoly of Academic Publishers Profits from Open Access | Zenodo

“Since the early 2010s, more than half of peer-reviewed journal articles have been published by the so-called oligopoly of academic publishers: Elsevier, SAGE, Springer-Nature, Taylor & Francis and Wiley. These companies make immense profits from publishing scholarly journals, traditionally through subscriptions from academic libraries, the reader pays model. With more and more libraries cancelling so-called ‘Big Deals’, these publishers have expanded their revenues by making authors pay article processing charges (APCs) for open access (OA) publishing. The author-pays model creates inequities and barriers that exclude many from publishing, such as underrepresented groups or researchers from less-resourced countries. This presentation demonstrates the growth of gold and hybrid OA articles published in oligopoly journals indexed in the Web of Science and provides evidence of the amount of APCs paid in Canada and globally. It highlights the inequities of the author-pays model and discusses alternative routes to OA.”

How does the growth of a particular publisher’s open access content factor into the relative value of a Big Deal? Part 2: The Findings – Delta Think

“Some final thoughts: (1) Overall usage was a stronger influence on the change in value than the small changes in the proportion of hybrid OA article usage. (2) Despite the range of research activity levels across our institutions, there wasn’t much difference in the proportion of the open versus controlled usage across the site-licensed institutions for either publisher. (3) COVID likely affected these trends, but precisely how was unclear. Did lockdown increase the usage or limit it? Did it affect our two publishers differently? We have no ‘non-COVID’ control unfortunately. (4) If the impact of transformative agreements on the rate of hybrid OA article output influenced these trends, the impact was quite small. Still, with more libraries negotiating transformative agreements, growth in the proportion of OA articles should accelerate. As long as usage in publisher packages continues to grow, cost per controlled use will increase more quickly than cost per use. This new cost per controlled use metric should help libraries track the return on investment from their journal package subscription payments as a growing proportion of underlying articles are free to read.”

News & Views: The Impact of Transformative Agreements on the Value of the Big Deal, Part 1: Methodology – Delta Think

“How does the growth of a particular publisher’s open access content factor into the relative value of a Big Deal?

As open access publishing has grown, libraries have begun to question the value of their expensive Big Deal subscriptions. Data from Delta Think show that OA articles account for an increasing percentage of overall publishing. This study examines those data as well as usage data from library subscriptions to determine whether the overall value of Big Deals is decreasing. Included in this study is a detailed explanation for how to remove outliers to create a more reliable data set – an important component of any study, and one that could be used by librarians who wish to perform a similar analysis on their own collections. Part 2 (to be published in the May News & Views) will include the findings of this study, which are informed by information from the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool.

This study utilizes COUNTER usage data from twenty libraries [note: eight libraries are Carnegie Research 1 (or Doctoral Very High Research Activity) and 12 others range from R2 (or High Research Activity) down to small baccalaureate] – all chosen because they had Big Deals with the publishers used in this study. The study used two large publishers with a mix of gold, hybrid, and non-OA titles across a four to five year period (note: 2016-2020 and 2017-2020 respectively).

Using data about those two publishers from Delta Think, we see that open access publication is possible – via either gold or hybrid journals – across 85-95% of the publisher portfolio – slightly higher for Publisher 2 (Figure 1)….”

Full article: The Buyback Dilemma: How We Developed a Principle-Based, Data-Driven Approach to Unbundling Big Deals

Abstract:  [University of Saskatchewan] is a publicly funded, medium-sized research intensive medical doctoral university in Canada. Like other academic libraries, we have been coping with the rising costs of Big Deal journal packages in the context of shrinking budgets and variable currency fluctuation between the Canadian and American Dollar. When faced with a need to cancel two Big Deal packages in order to balance our budget, we undertook a data-driven, principles-based approach. We discuss the context at [University of Saskatchewan], and the principles and steps we used to successfully determine which packages to cancel, and how to determine titles for re-subscription within a limited budget. We discuss how we compiled and used data that addresses scholarly (citation), pedagogical (downloads), and reputational (survey responses) concerns, and share the formula we developed. We also share some lessons learned and recommendations and ideas for future Big Deal assessment.

 

Recommendations for Providing Alternative Access After a Big Deal Cancellation – SPARC

“As Big Deals start to disappear, the desire that motivated them—easy and instant access to massive amounts of content—doesn’t. In response to cutting subscription access, many institutions put in place ‘alternative access’ strategies to provide pathways to accessing content that was previously available via subscription.

In this resource, we’ll explore some of the major parts of alternative access as part of SPARC’s efforts to help our member libraries save money and secure better deals in negotiations with publishers….”

Elsevier Negotiation at Oxford

“UK universities have a five year ‘big deal’ with Elsevier which runs to the end of December 2021. This deal gives Oxford staff and students access to more than 1,800 journals. Throughout this year, we are working in partnership with Jisc and with other UK universities to reach an agreement for the next five-year ScienceDirect (Elsevier) deal, commencing in January 2022.

This is an important negotiation since it seeks to combine subscription costs and open access publishing costs in line with Plan S funder requirements and the Jisc requirements for transitional open access agreements. UK universities spend more than £50m annually with Elsevier, yet it is the last major publisher to strike a transformative deal which combines access and publishing spend whilst constraining costs.

The Bodleian Libraries are working with the Open Access Steering Group and Research and Innovation Committee. It is important that decisions are made based on evidence, and data about usage and publishing levels in Elsevier journals will help to inform our approach. Additionally, we will take a consultative approach in partnership with academic divisions. This page will be regularly updated as negotiations proceed throughout this year, including details of any information events that are planned.”

How might we reduce our dependency on legacy publishers such as Elsevier? | Unlocking Research: Open Research at Cambridge

To coincide with our first townhall event on the Elsevier negotiations, Professor Stephen Eglen offers his perspective on the University’s future relationship with the publishing industry. Prof. Eglen is Professor of Computational Neuroscience in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge.

I’m often asked why I single out Elsevier when discussing spurious publishing practices*. The simple reason is that they are the single largest publisher that most institutions deal with. Other legacy publishers adopt similar practices, outlined below, that I disagree with. However, given that Elsevier tends to take about 40% of our journal subscription costs, it is worth focusing on. Even finding out these costs required an extensive set of FOI requests over several years, revealing a large disparity in costs between UK Universities. However, I do not blame Elsevier for the current situation – they are a successful business with shareholders to satisfy. Their consistent high operating margins (~ 30%) indicate that they are very capable. However, this comes at a price, e.g. their current median gender pay gap in 2020/21 was 36%, compared to 11.1% at the University of Cambridge, and 7.3% at Springer Nature.

[…]

How might we reduce our dependency on legacy publishers such as Elsevier? | Unlocking Research: Open Research at Cambridge

To coincide with our first townhall event on the Elsevier negotiations, Professor Stephen Eglen offers his perspective on the University’s future relationship with the publishing industry. Prof. Eglen is Professor of Computational Neuroscience in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge.

I’m often asked why I single out Elsevier when discussing spurious publishing practices*. The simple reason is that they are the single largest publisher that most institutions deal with. Other legacy publishers adopt similar practices, outlined below, that I disagree with. However, given that Elsevier tends to take about 40% of our journal subscription costs, it is worth focusing on. Even finding out these costs required an extensive set of FOI requests over several years, revealing a large disparity in costs between UK Universities. However, I do not blame Elsevier for the current situation – they are a successful business with shareholders to satisfy. Their consistent high operating margins (~ 30%) indicate that they are very capable. However, this comes at a price, e.g. their current median gender pay gap in 2020/21 was 36%, compared to 11.1% at the University of Cambridge, and 7.3% at Springer Nature.

[…]

What’s the Big Deal? | Ithaka S+R

“The dominant mode by which research libraries have provided maximum journal access as cheaply as possible—subscription bundles or “Big Deals”—is giving way to new approaches. This transition is taking place through a combination of negotiations, activism, business modeling, user needs research, and decision support, among other factors. To support these processes, Ithaka S+R partnered with 11 academic libraries to understand researcher perceptions to help inform their ongoing strategic decision making about Big Deal journal subscriptions.

Recognizing that libraries must also undertake case-by-case assessments prior to making decisions about any particular journal package, in this report we share findings from the project that merit wider public consideration. We detail patterns in how researchers approach discovery and access to journal content, focusing on their experiences when mechanisms for access change. These experiences are used as a jumping off point to also explore researchers’ perceptions of the various models for facilitating their access to journal content and of the stakeholders engaged in that work.

We found that when a suite of journals is no longer available through a Big Deal subscription package, researchers experience little negative impact in the short term. There are some institutional, disciplinary, and career-stage variations, but overall researchers are able to work around the access barriers they encounter. This reality is deceptively benign. Researchers remain supportive of their libraries and are also interested in broader efforts to challenge the status quo of the scholarly communications business. However, they do not have a solid understanding of the strategies for advancing new modes of journal access beyond the subscription model, nor are they clear on what the library can and should provide in response.

We recommend three areas of activity that institutions should be especially mindful of when considering changes to journal subscription packages …

We found that when a suite of journals is no longer available through a Big Deal subscription package, researchers experience little negative impact in the short term. There are some institutional, disciplinary, and career-stage variations, but overall researchers are able to work around the access barriers they encounter. This reality is deceptively benign. Researchers remain supportive of their libraries and are also interested in broader efforts to challenge the status quo of the scholarly communications business. However, they do not have a solid understanding of the strategies for advancing new modes of journal access beyond the subscription model, nor are they clear on what the library can and should provide in response….”

ACRL 2021 Environmental Scan

“Every other year, the ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee provides a scan of higher education, detailing the current environment and its anticipated impact on libraries. While this year’s Environmental Scan is no different in terms of scope, we are now facing challenges to higher education on a scale not seen in decades. Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, and in the United States, this disruption has been compounded by the eruption of protests surrounding civil rights and other social justice issues. While the 2021 Environmental Scan covers developments over the last two years (2019 and 2020), the events of 2020 are anticipated to have lasting repercussions, and, while not the primary focus, are a common thread throughout the document….

After years of debate, more academic libraries have begun to rethink the big deal, often with support from their faculty. Florida State University, Iowa State University, the State University of New York (SUNY), the University of California, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have all cancelled big deal packages in recent years. These decisions have been driven by evolving licensing principles, increased open access content, cost considerations, and new tools to analyze the impact of more targeted subscriptions.91 With current and inevitable future budget cuts taking place across the country, one can expect this trend to continue. Colleges and universities are facing difficult times that will impact academic library budgets, prompting major transformations in collection management, including the consideration of how to manage big deal packages.

Unsub: Part 1: From Big Deals to Real Deals for Academic Publishing & Libraries – Charleston Hub

“The rise of sophisticated publishing units within and amongst academic institutions, often led by campus libraries, appeared along with the increasing use of pre-publication avenues and alternative publishing systems and other author posting options. Today we have a more nuanced publishing ecosystem of preprint servers, postprints repositories and other options, too many to name. These have been critical as new research has been shared broadly during the COVID crisis across the globe, proving the potential of these publishing options. 

In a recent study by University of Western Kentucky librarians reported that even though article purchasing represented a cost to the institution, “most of these institutions believe their article purchasing program is successful.” In a 2020 article posted on arXiv.org, Marc-Andre Simard, Jason Priem and Heather Piwowar  reviewed published literature on the impact of library Big Deal cancellations on academic libraries, noting that “cancellations have a surprisingly small effect on interlibrary loan requests.”  …”