Friday, November 08, 2013

Canary Dies In a Coal Mine


What started as a deal that was presented to us as a classic Big Deal package became something less clear, and less acceptable. We started with a price — meticulously negotiated and described between SAGE and our Collection Development Coordinator, Marianne Hebert over the course of several months — that was based on our previous print + online holdings in SAGE titles, and included a fee for access to the full collection, with an agreement on an annual price increase negotiated by the middleman. We budgeted in 2014 for the 2013 price, plus that negotiated percentage increase.
What we got in 2014 was a quote for about 7% more than we expected, and a lot of email correspondence that included phrasing like “inflationary uptick” and “fee for the upgrade” and “holdings top-up”.
What we also got in 2014 was an email from a vendor rep that said “If a customer has a final cost of $50,000, it’s going to be $50,000 for the package no matter if their holdings are $25,000 or $10,000.”
And so we were left, after 16 emails in just one of the threads of emails on this, with no idea how pricing was actually being calculated, but a strong feeling that it goes something like this: SAGE looks at our spend from last year, decides what they think we should spend this year, and then bills us for that, but is willing to justify it however will make us happy through some combination of negotiated price increases, holdings values for a time period defined by them, top-up fees, upgrade fees, and inflationary upticks. Very few of those phrases have actual definable meanings. Every email we got seemed to offer us a new set of prices, broken down in new ways, with a slightly different bottom line. Each exchange produced more questions, and few answers. (And, perhaps, the whole thing can be explained by saying that the vendor has a perfectly explicable pricing policy but we just didn’t get it… but if two experienced collection development and administration librarians “can’t get it”, isn’t that a problem in and of itself?) So, as I explained to our faculty, as a steward of this institution’s funds, as a steward of our students’ tuition dollars, and as a steward of resources dedicated to providing good, appropriate access to information for our teaching and learning community, this is not how I choose to do business.
Libraries are repositories of knowledge that cannot be turned off, magnetically wiped, or hacked with data miners to publicly trade on your reading and viewing history. They can only be either burned or driven into poverty.

It's too obvious to burn them, these days.

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