Questions raised over the true burden of the ‘big deal’

“Louisiana State University recently said that it could no longer afford its $2 million annualcomprehensive journal subscription deal with publisher Elsevier. By unbundling its “big deal” and subscribing to only the most essential journals, the institution’s administrators hope to save the library $1 million a year. LSU is far from the first institution to complain that publishers’ subscription costs are too high. The University of California system, Temple UniversityWest Virginia University, the University of Oklahoma and Florida State University all announced this year that they are dropping big deal contracts with various publishers, including Elsevier, Wiley and Springer Nature.

But one skeptic is challenging the conventional wisdom about high subscription rates and raising doubts about big deals not being good deals.

Kent Anderson, CEO of publishing and data analytics company RedLink, has argued that the subscription model is actually “pretty efficient” for institutions….”

The rise in open-access publishing has decreased the value of subscription deals as more content is available for free, said Roger Schonfeld, director of the libraries, scholarly communication and museums program at Ithaka S+R.

Schonfeld says the main reason the value of the big deal is in decline is because of something he calls “leakage,” the availability of journal content through channels not controlled by publishers.

Piracy site Sci-Hub is one service through which content is “leaking,” he said. But there are other sources of content leaks that are not illicit. Institutional repositories, for example, are an accepted part of the scholarly publishing ecosystem.

“The big deal as a bundled subscription model is definitely under threat,” said Schonfeld. “Most of all from the fact that the libraries are less interested in just subscriptions — they want read-and-publish or publish-and-read agreements that capture the full stack of publishing services.” …”