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FAQ on Journal Package Pricing

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.

If you have further questions or need more information, please contact Karen Cary at kcary@vcu.edu

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