Subscriptions to academic journals are the largest area of spending in the library collections budget. The journal market is dominated by an oligopoly of five large commercial publishers who bundle journals into “Big Deal” packages that libraries subscribe to. In order to predict future budget needs and make smart purchasing decisions, we track long-term trends in our spending and changes in subscription costs.
Over the past decade (2013/14 to 2023/24) we have experiences the following changes:
- The proportion of our collections budget for ongoing subscriptions has grown from 73% to 88%.
- The money consumed by three "Big Deal" journal package vendors (Elsevier, Sage, Springer) has increased by 44%.
- These dramatic price increases led us to cancel two of our "Big Deal" packages in 2019 (Wiley, Taylor & Francis). Learn more about this cancellation process.
- High annual inflation has resulted in a 53% cost increase for our 10 most expenseive subscriptions (includes "Big Deal" journal packages, abstracting and indexing databases, and eBook collections).
Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) members, including the University of Saskatchewan, have shared their subscription expenditure data for 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2019-20.
We pay attention to what journals our library patrons use. This data tell us that most titles in our "Big Deal" journal packages are rarely or never used. Typically, we see 80% of usage concentrated in the top 20% of titles in a bundle. A high proportion of the titles in a bundle are never used (no articles downloaded or read).
Why do libraries subscribe to these packages? Why not just subscribe to the titles we want?
For some journal packages, we could subscribe individually to the titles that make up over 90% of our usage, but the cost to do so is 180% to 350% higher.
In addition to tracking which journals are being read, we also look at where USask affiliated researchers are publishing and what they are citing when we make purchasing and cancellation decisions.
In addition to cost and usage data, we also consider input from our USask community of librarians, faculty, staff and students. We rely on our community to understand how useful specific resources are and if quick access is needed to certain content. We want to know if there are gaps in the materials needed to support teaching, learning and research at USask.
Numbers do not always tell the full story; we also need this important qualitative context to make informed decisions.
"Big Deal" information
The USask library is a member of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a non-profit advocacy group that maintains information about "Big Deals". They track prices paid for "Big Deals" and the international movement to break up big journal bundles.