Attempting Positivity

As part of our ongoing discussions with SAGE, I closed a recent email with a list of suggestions (rather than simply complaints or concerns) about how publishers might better approach libraries. This list is shaped, clearly, by the kind of institution that we are, and the kind of pressures and needs we juggle, but it’s a starting point for a discussion.

The librarians here at SUNY Potsdam were adamant that while we are deeply troubled by how this vendor-library interaction has proceeded, we’re also committed to trying to be good partners from our end. So, to that end, here are suggestions from our Collection Development team about the kinds of pricing and sales behavior we encourage from our publishing partners:

1. We are becoming increasingly disinterested in online content packages whose pricing is based on the print analog. The print publication model is on life support, if not already dead, for most libraries, and I believe we all know that. A truly useful pricing structure — a sustainable one, that can continue adapting and meeting the challenges of this new information economy — will be based on the value provided by the online content, not by the value perceived in its previous print analog, or libraries’ choices about print holdings in eras long since past and gone. Therefore, we want to see pricing for online content fully divorced from print holdings history.

2. When we can avoid it, we are done signing multi-year agreements. Our resource picture is too unstable (and this is not, as the American Chemical Society tried to paint it, “a Potsdam problem”, it is a higher education problem) to commit for multiple years to any contract or agreement. Yes, this injects more risk into the equation for both publishers and libraries, but it’s crucial that we maintain the flexibility to adjust our holdings, collections, and purchasing to reflect the equally flexible and changeable nature of our programmatic offerings, curricular foci, and users’ needs. Single year contracts will most often best meet our needs.

3. We are also growing more and more discontented with the notion that publishers will add content to the packages that are sold to libraries, and automatically increase the price for that package as a result. This removes all collection development control from the librarians who are charged with building clear, coherent, and useful information access for our libraries and our users, and imposes an unacceptable rate of growth in the costs we must encumber each year for these packages. We would propose that if new content is being developed by a publisher, it be added not automatically, but as an opt-in feature, creating steps or tiers of available content in the publisher’s online package. This gives libraries the opportunity to consider what purchases are reasonable and prudent for their institution without also feeling that the publisher is holding the “good” content hostage in bloated packages that we can no longer afford due to these annual unwanted increases.

4. To build on #3, the “cable TV” model of bundling a hundred channels we don’t want with the ten channels we do is becoming less and less palatable to libraries. (And to tv viewers!) Instead, we would support a “choose fifteen titles for $X” model for publisher packages, in a model that included either a uniform cost for online access to every title or tiered pricing for different categories of titles, allowing for a “choose 3 from Tier 1, 5 from Tier 2, and 7 from Tier 3 for $X” approach.

5. The “used car” model of time-consuming local micro-negotiations is also becoming unsustainable for libraries. I cannot imagine that it’s efficient for publishers, either. Would it not be simpler, more efficient, and build more goodwill to price your product and sell it at that price? Transparently? The hours that I have spent on this, that Marianne has spent on this, and that our team of 8 collections librarians have spent on this are too costly for the product under discussion. Human resources have value as much as our financial resources do, and I encourage you to consider models that require fewer of them.

So, librarians: What do you think? What do you want? What don’t you want?


  1. I’m interested in the third point myself. It seems that some of these vendors just pick a price point that they need to make a profit and declare it the new journal fee. None of which I have the slightest need for.

    And the print pricing modlel as a pricing point is deader than a doornail.


  2. Yes to number 1.
    Number 5 is my biggest issue. Just tell me how much it costs based on my FTE. I shouldn’t have to request a quote, they know what the price is. Make it easy for me to see if it’s worth a trial.


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