Behind the scenes
You are likely familiar with the concept of bundling from how cable TV companies sell access to specific channels. In a number of ways, your cable or satellite company is in a similar position to channel bundles as the Library is to journal bundles. Program producers for a group of channels will give good pricing for their channels, but won't allow the cable company to purchase only the channels that get the most use. This results in tiered cable packages and add-on packages available for purchase, with no ability to opt-out for the channels you don't want to pay for.
Bundling of publisher journal titles began about four to five years ago, as publishers began to create digital copies of their print-based journals. Publishers such as Elsevier, Blackwell, and Wiley all sell access to either their full journal set, or to a large portion of their journals, at a significant discount over the cost of paying for each title singly.
As a practice, bundling has brought both positives and negatives to the Library's management of its journal collections and serial budget.
The positives - we are frequently able to use consortial purchasing to negotiate the best possible terms; contracts generally allow use of all titles already subscribed in print by any library participating in the consortium purchase. For example, our Elsevier contract allows all three Regents libraries access to any journal subscribed by any one of the campuses, significantly increasing the number of titles we can make available. The contract also has an inflation cap that is lower than Elsevier offers libraries purchasing fewer Elsevier journals. While this doesn't control journal inflation as much as we need, it does help us to plan for the serials budget into the next year or years.
The negatives of bundling - we end up offering access to journals that are not heavily used (paying for them through the overall contract), and cannot cancel outright. We have the contractual responsibility for "maintaining our buy." We can swap the little-used journal for access to a title we think might be more useful and at the same dollar value. However, there is no way to decrease what we pay these publishers without adding significantly to journal costs and giving up our inflation caps. This means that a large proportion of our serials budget is tied up in bundled journal collections where we have no option of spending fewer dollars.
We have a new tool, however, to leverage our journal purchases towards titles receiving heavy use; each of these publishers is now issuing monthly usage statistics by institution. For the first time, we know what the actual cost/use is for a large proportion of our journal collections, as well as for individual journals. This does not eliminate the difficulties of a serials budget that grows much more slowly than actual journal inflation. But it does offer us more ways to look at our subscriptions, and a fairly hard set of data we can draw from.
As the Library examines its acquisitions budget and continues to strategize the best ways to bring you the journals you need, at a price we can pay, we expect these usage statistics to take more of a center stage role. Watch for more information on this in a future article.