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What does it cost? Journal package pricing for VCU

VCU Libraries is committed to providing our scholarly community with access to materials critical for research and teaching. We want to ensure that our spending commitments align with community needs, that we are responsible stewards of our budget in a rapidly evolving information landscape, and that we contain and control costs wherever possible. In order to do this, we are assembling, evaluating, and sharing some important data about cost, usage, and growth trends for our biggest journal vendor contracts. This will help us assess whether large journal packages, often called “Big Deals”, provide good value and represent a sustainable part of our overall investment in information on behalf of the University.

In the first of several steps to promote openness about our spending, we are releasing the following information, outlining the costs and usage of several large journal packages, which together represent 30.35%, totaling $3,833,271 in fiscal year 2019 of our collections budget. We expect to release more detailed information, including title-level data, on a regular basis.

For more information on this initiative, read our FAQ.

If you have further questions or need more information, please contact Karen Cary at

Package: Elsevier ScienceDirect Freedom Collection

Year No. of journals Cost Rate of increase Increase (actual) % Collections budget Title Usage Profile
2016 3,079 $1,668,164.94 4.30% $69,269.80 14.74% No use: 270
1-11 uses: 899
12-51 uses: 626
52+ uses: 1,284
2017 3,199 $1,718,560.11 3.02% $50,395.17 14.34% No use: 244
1-11 uses: 876
12-51 uses: 720
52+ uses: 1,359
2018 3,289 $1,820,040.24 2.32% $61,547.25 14.52% No use: 269
1-11 uses: 892
12-51 uses: 757
52+ uses: 1,371
2025 (est.) n/a $2,302,931.54 4.30% $615,462.11
over the decade)
15.60% n/a

Package: Sage Premier

Year No. of journals Cost Rate of increase Increase (actual) % Collections budget Title Usage Profile
2016 867 $222,750.00 N/A Start of Package N/A Start of Package 1.97% No use: 19
1-11 uses: 199
12-51 uses: 281
52+ uses: 368
2017 1,001 $268,068.00 20.34% $45,318.00 2.24% No use: 45
1-11 uses: 278
12-51 uses: 302
52+ uses: 376
2018 1,077 $290,512.69 8.37% $22,444.69 2.40% No use: 27
1-11 uses: 322
12-51 uses: 346
52+ uses: 382
2025 (est.) n/a $437,054.50 6.00% $189,565.57
over the decade)
2.96% n/a

Package: SpringerLink Journals

Year No. of journals Cost Rate of increase Increase (actual) % Collections budget Title Usage Profile
2016 3,363 $633,351.89 7.00% $42,760.86 5.60% No use: 1,119
1-11 uses: 992
12-51 uses: 748
52+ uses: 504
2017 3,557 $749,515.62 17.39% $110,163.73 6.20% No use: 1,078
1-11 uses: 1,218
12-51 uses: 648
52+ uses: 613
2018 3,349 $776,451.54 4.43% $32,935.92 6.41% No use: 758
1-11 uses: 1,250
12-51 uses: 715
52+ uses: 626
2025 (est.) n/a $1,021,757.26 4.00% $391,867.87
over the decade)
6.92% n/a

Package: Wiley Online Library

Year No. of journals Cost Rate of increase Increase (actual) % Collections budget Title Usage Profile
2016 2,606 $883,352.00 N/A Start of Package N/A Start of Package 7.81% No use: 709
1-11 uses: 670
12-51 uses: 588
52+ uses: 639
2017 2,602 $914,269.00 3.50% $30,917.00 7.63% No use: 692
1-11 uses: 599
12-51 uses: 579
52+ uses: 732
2018 2,602 $946,268.00 3.50% $31,999.00 7.82% No use: 617
1-11 uses: 604
12-51 uses: 607
52+ uses: 774
2025 (est.) n/a $1,116,350.48 4.00% $190,061.92
over the decade)
7.56% n/a


What are Big Deals and why have libraries supported them in the past?

Big Deals are multi-year journal bundle contracts sold by several major vendors, including some of the most important names in scientific publishing, such as Elsevier and Springer Nature. These bundles provide access to all or nearly all of a vendor’s journal content for a bundle price that grows at a fixed annual rate for the life of a contract. Predictable annual cost increases, access to a large collection of journals, and reduced operating costs for managing individual journal subscriptions made these deals attractive in the past.

Why are some libraries breaking up Big Deals?

The growth in serials cost has outpaced inflation and the growth of most library budgets, including ours, for many years. This growth is often structurally incorporated into Big Deal contracts that obligate libraries to pay compounded-interest growth of 3% - 6% a year over a contract lasting from three to five years, so that the contract ends up costing as much as 20-30% more at the end of the contract period. In addition, years of mergers and acquisitions among publishers and major vendors have created a handful of oligopolies that now dominate scholarly publishing and drive pricing.

Because of these trends, library collections budgets go increasingly and disproportionately to supporting Big Deals. The Big Deals have steadily crowded out the ability of libraries to acquire journals, books, databases, and other materials from other publishers. On a positive note, trends favoring free open access to scholarship, including more robust funder policies and increasingly powerful tools for finding free legal versions of articles, have begun to create powerful alternatives to Big Deals and have helped lower the barriers for leaving them. The decline of Big Deals at VCU promises to free up much-needed funds for other library resources.

Can I still (legally) find and access journal articles if the Library cancels a journal subscription or a Big Deal package?

Yes! A wide and growing array of tools and services makes it possible to access research literature legally without a subscription. In most cases the VCU Libraries will retain access to subscribed content from before the date of cancellation. We also provide access to some journal content through third-party aggregators. Interlibrary Loan (ILL) technology has vastly improved, making loans faster for you and cheaper for libraries, and new tools like OAButton can find free legal versions of articles on the open web. Finally, individual articles often can be purchased on request by the VCU Libraries and delivered to you almost instantly.

As the VCU Libraries releases cost and use data alongside information about local and national trends, we hope to start a conversation about the future of our investments in Big Deals.


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