Highway Robbery

I just got off the phone with another journal publisher who called me to let me know that because Alliant has more than one campus, we don’t qualify for their “single site” access plan, and will instead have to pay the higher multisite rate. More and more journal publishers and database vendors are trying to pull this, and it is an absolutely silly approach to pricing for electronic resources.

In principle it makes a small amount of sense; a huge system like the UCs or CSUs shouldn’t qualify as a single site, since each campus (UC Berkeley, Cal State Fresno, etc.) is a full-sized university. But in the case of a small university such as Alliant, where our total enrollment across all campuses is still only a drop in the bucket of most vendors’ lowest-sized price tier, it is greedy and absurd.

Case in point: recently I worked with a database vendor whose pricing called for $5000 per year for an institution with FTE under 5000. Alliant’s total FTE at present is under this amount, so we hoped to give access to this database to all our students for a single payment of 5K. However, the vendor initially suggested that since we have six campuses, each campus would have to pay its own $5,000 per year, for a total cost of — stay with me here — $30,000. My first impulse was to charter a skywriting company to blazon “HELL NO” above the vendor’s corporate HQ, but fortunately this was not necessary. After I explained Alliant’s unique structure to the vendor, the vendor was able to see the situation from our perspective and we agreed on a reasonable price.

What I find so aggravating about these negotiations is the complete lack of any sound logic to these pricing schemes. Are we as librarians so dense that we are expected to believe that it is much more labor intensive for a vendor to provide online access to information for six campuses than to one campus? Are the tubes of which the Internet is constructed in short supply? Or what about ebooks that only allow one user at a time to check them out? The backend databases and delivery systems that make the content available don’t care if there is one user or one thousand users reading the same page at once; the only reason for the usage restrictions is greed, plain and simple.

I’m not sure there’s a lesson here, but if there is, it’s that vendors and publishers need to understand that unreasonable price structures are not sustainable, and librarians need to get the word out to their users about what kinds of battles we have to wage in order to get them the content they need.

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