The Relationship Between Publishers and Libraries
by Thomas Rodenby
Publishers and libraries need to recognize their shared responsibility to perpetuate the distribution of knowledge to researchers, academics, and students. Ultimately, this should be the top priority of any company and/or individual operating in this sphere. Of course, profit is paramount to the success of any business, but that should not come at the expense of libraries and education. Likewise, libraries must understand the commercial nature of resource provision and work with publishers to build a fruitful relationship for both parties.
Let’s speak to each other …
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Budgets and Sales
Let’s start with the big issue that crops up on forums and news sites every day: the problem of rising subscription prices surpassing the limits of libraries’ annual budgets. This is a multilayered issue, but to reduce it to its simplest form , publishers are charging too much for resources. Publishers must come to understand the damage they inflict on libraries by increasing prices. Money cannot be magicked from thin air to pay for resources. The major guilty parties are the STEM providers, which sell libraries “big deal” collections that continue to swell in size and price on an annual basis. They argue that because they are adding new titles to the collection, the price increase is justified. Many libraries do not see it this way; they only subscribe to these collections to gain access to a couple of essential titles. These titles are effectively locked into the collections, as they cannot be purchased individually or the individual price is astronomical. This aggressive sales technique is completely unfair and forces libraries into a difficult position.
The result is that libraries either cannot pay for the big scientific collections or are forced to cut access to content elsewhere. Both of these options result in reduced accessibility and availability of resources for students. The matter becomes a somewhat moral issue. If the publishers truly subscribe to the noble notion that they claim—that they endeavor to provide libraries with the latest research and contribute to the furthering of knowledge—then they should not be chasing profits at the expense of diminishing access to research. The ongoing OA discussion offers an opportunity for change in the future, but that does not solve the current situation.
Publishers should also remember that with OA options looming, it may be wise to start pricing resources more responsibly rather than trying to squeeze every last penny from their customers. There are many famous instances of companies exploiting their client base only to find themselves left by the wayside when an attractive alternative emerges.
The Digital Revolution
This issue works both ways: There are publishers that refuse to adapt to the market and libraries that refuse to endorse the digital revolution. We must all recognize that the revolution is happening, whether we like it or not. The next generation of researchers and academics is going to want immediate, reliable access to resources wherever they are and on any device.
Some advice for publishers: If you haven’t done so already, you must start thinking about how you can embrace and implement digital initiatives. Conservatism will only see you go extinct; the market is crying out for radical ideas. Publishers must move with the times, offering readers new features and ways to view content. The key point to consider is accessibility. Many are guilty of maintaining archaic systems because they worked in the past and profit margins are still healthy. Whether this is caused by laziness, ineptness, or the recognition that they have an iron grip on the content, it is wrong. Again, this becomes a moral issue: Do you want to jeopardize the reputation of your company by wringing every penny of profit out of a system that you know only serves your own interests? The silver lining is that smaller, nimble publishers continue to develop more user-friendly and innovative interfaces that will only grow in popularity and act as a catalyst to drive the industry forward.
Some advice for libraries: Support innovation, and demand innovation. Without feedback (or even complaints), publishers are liable to lapse into believing that their platforms are functional and are therefore less likely to implement change. If there is something you want to see from a publisher, let it know with a friendly email or a phone call. Communication is the key component in any business relationship. Publishers may provide the resources, but librarians are the ones who use them every day. The digital future is going to hold many surprises. It is an exciting time for the library industry, and librarians are going to have to be at the vanguard by demanding, creating, and testing digital solutions.
The Art of Conversation
Publishers and librarians need to spend more time talking to each other outside of the sales framework. Every library has its own set of unique challenges, needs, and desires, and publishers should be working to meet these expectations when possible. By having a conversation or visiting the library, they can develop tailor-made solutions that will be immensely appreciated. In fact, although it may not directly discuss sales, by building a relationship, a publisher will leave an impression that will last in the mind of the librarian and likely result in future sales.
This conversation works both ways. At Exact Editions, we actively encourage our library customers to contact us with any suggestions for improvement of the platform and about new content they would like to see. The word of a librarian (and the promise of new revenue) can go a long way in convincing publishers to digitize their archives with a specific platform.
Many publishers are happy to create marketing materials for internal circulation to staffers and students, banner ads for library pages, or how-to guides for the platform; however, this only works with the cooperation of librarians. Of course, we know it can be difficult to find a spare minute in the manic world of the library, but investing time into the promotion of new resources will pay dividends. This only requires minimal effort; it can be as simple as sending out a newsletter to staffers, suggesting that resources are added to reading lists, or using the marketing materials provided by publishers. I guarantee that the publisher will be very grateful, and these efforts also help to reveal the true usage potential of a resource.