yeah, that might work

Or not.

I’m referring to the recent and not-so-recent announcements by major university presses that they’ll be pulling their journal content out of aggregation services and instead offering a publisher-specific stand-alone platform. It might work.

Or not.

My understanding, based on seven years of handling journal packages, is that about 10 years ago (? I”m guessing, here, as 10 years ago I was graduating from college and decidedly not paying attention to these things), vendors-turned-aggregators started leasing full-text rights from publishers before publishers had noticed that there was profit to be made in online content. Now that the publishers are fully aware of the profits involved, they want their rights back, and they’re building their own business models.  Which might work — they indeed might make more money managing their own product, brand, and resources.

Or not. Because the libraries here in the middle of the pack, where I stand, don’t always benefit from that model.  That model, by its very nature, fragments and up-charges content.  As an example, Sage has fantastic academic content that sits on their own site, which they’ve thoroughly and effectively priced out of my ability to buy it. Ditto the University of Chicago, which has recently pulled out of their major vendor agreements to operate as a stand-alone. Their new model (based on what I could find on their website) is apparently to ask subscribers to pick and choose their journals, and then pick and choose print versus online, with the online content housed on their branded site.  Which is great from a perspective of allowing customer customization of content and access… but I don’t have time or money for that.  I frankly don’t have the resources, staff or fiscal, to choose each journal by hand.  Not in the current environment, which is one in which libraries have become accustomed to having access to tens of thousands of online journals through aggregators.  I cannot afford to individually select and subscribe to thousands of online journals, and my users and I are not going to go back to the days of having “the best” 1000 lovingly chosen and hand-sold journals on the shelves.  It’s not realistic in The Age of Google. (Whether it would be better is another discussion, but it’s not realistic.)  What is realistic is asking that I select packages of relevant academic content compiled by a trusted aggregator, marketed to me at a discount over single-title subscription prices.

Why?  Why do I think I get to ask for that?  Because that’s what the market has taught me to expect, that’s what my workload and budget accommodate, and that’s what my users are comfortable with.  Which means that selecting online journals, title by title, publisher by publisher, isn’t a feasible or attractive business model for me any more.  Once upon a time, yes, everyone did it that way.  But not anymore… aggregators taught us a new trick, and we like our new trick.  So, yeah, publishers.  That might work.

Or it might not.

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  1. Thought-provoking discussion, Jenica. On the one hand I am routing for the “underdog” publishers who now have the means to make their work accessible without going to the big international conglomerates for distribution. On the other hand, from a researcher’s point of view our resources are becoming increasingly scattered and therefore harder to search as a group.

    I’m thinking what we will need are subject-specific search engines that will search those individual publication sites on selected topics, therefore aggregating the search but not the actual publications.



  2. Theoretically, Connie, I absolutely agree with you. I would love to live in a world where small, high-quality, independent publishers brought forth information and offered it to libraries in affordable and accessible datastreams which library users could access through streamlined and effective search and discovery mechanisms.

    However, I work in the Reality Based Library, and I’m just worried that publishers are trying to move backwards to an older model when our user and staff expectations have moved inextricably forward onto a newer model. What’s THAT conflict going to look like when it happens?


  3. In my world it already is. I work in a private law library, and we now have at least 3 or 4 major online systems to access the law. And in some cases, one has to search them all rather than pick or choose the best. I am in Canada, not a very big market. Back in the 80s we had one system. You would think things would get easier for research but alas they have only gotten more complex even as they get faster. Go figure.


  4. It’s a hard line to walk — I want to support information independence, and resist the conglomeration of information into the hands of a few very powerful entities, but I also want efficiency and streamlined access. I just think that the unfortunate reality is that independent publishing and sales is going to be too complicated and too expensive, given the staffing, workflow, and budgetary realities that have emerged in many libraries over the last few years.

    One of my colleagues disagrees with me vehemently on this, saying that the market will fragment as a backlash reaction to the aggregators and conglomerates, we will all adjust our practices accordingly, and that independent sales and access will be the new successful trend in information management. To which I replied, “we shall see!”

    And we shall. I just wonder what future’s the more likely one?


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