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Will the European Big Deal Scholarly Packages Contagion Spread to North America?

The Scholarly Kitchen: “Today, in looking at the scholarly publishing sector, equity markets are focused on the European national-level consortial negotiations. If analysts are not surprised at the strong rhetoric about cancelling Big Deal packages that has emerged from the university sectors, they are troubled to see entire nations actually canceling their licenses. They have watched publishing revenue from a major country like Germany disappear all at once from one major publisher’s income statement. And they want to know whether this “contagion” will spread to North America. My view is that, while the germs are circulating, at least in the near term, publishers are unlikely to face a global pandemic…It is always risky to try to judge a negotiation from the outside, especially while it is in progress. That said, there are key elements of the European dynamics that are not in dispute. The European countries and consortia that have received attention in recent months for canceling their Big Deal agreements — including the Deal Projekt in Germany, Couperin in France, and Bibsam in Sweden — share certain key elements.

  • First, they are all looking for various kinds of open access (OA) Big Deals, flipping from a pay to read model, to an increasing or exclusively pay to publish model. Richard Poynder has some of the best coverage to date of these deals, finding several of them strategically troubling from the academic sector perspective. More on these models in a future post.
  • Second, they are national-level consortia, and some, as in the case of Germany’s Deal, claim to speak with a single voice for the entire university sector in a given country.
  • Third, they are taking a stronger negotiating posture than we have seen before, driven in part by the strong negotiating approach for which Germany is widely regarded and its ability to capture the attention of university presidents, who in turn provide a degree of political cover beyond what a library might find possible…
  • My answer is that, regardless of what may happen in Europe, the dynamics in the United States are likely to be quite a bit different. This is not to say that North America is a safe haven for commercial scholarly publishing revenues. Not at all. Broadly speaking, it seems increasingly evident to me that the value of traditional publishing activities, certainly as captured through subscriptions, has plateaued. Downward pressure on publisher revenues is the natural result…”

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