1 July 2012

Selling your content: Working with consortia to maximise exposure and usage of content

Society & Partner Zone spoke to Richard Bennett, Vice President Library Sales Northwestern Europe and Africa, to find out about how Springer’s consortia deals are handled and the reach that they afforded individual journal publishers and societies.

Richard, thank you for agreeing to this interview. In March 2009, we spoke about the sales opportunities that existed for our society partners with particular emphasis on consortia. Since that time, have there been any drastic changes in how consortia are handled by Springer 

On the journal side, things haven’t really changed a great deal. In some cases, we’ve had to adapt our business model for some of the larger deals, for example where we’ve added more content such as open access journals. But the biggest change has come from the much wider remit in the content that we are selling now, i.e. journals, eBooks, open access. We are also dealing more and more with individual institutions rather than consortia, particularly as the content needs of individual institutions become more personalised. We find that we are talking to contacts at both the institution and the consortia level and creating content packages to suit different needs.

Have there been any significant changes in the demands of libraries with regards to content that they would like to access? For example, are you seeing a move to a more “pick and choose” access model?  

We haven’t seen any significant demands from libraries with regards to a pick and choose model. Of course, in an ideal world, the library would choose exactly what they need for their users but it isn’t always easy to determine what the users will want. Research that Springer has done, and indeed what is evident from the marketplace, indicates that institutions still want access to the widest possible content for the widest possible number of users. Also, budget issues mean that librarians are looking for flexibility as to what they can have for maximum return on investment, so the big deal is still the best way to go.

What do you think are the key benefits of entering content into consortia deals for Springer’s society partners? For example, content exposure, global audience, improved awareness, improved article citations/impact factor rating. 

For society partners, I think that all those things mentioned are important in raising the profile of their journal. However, security of revenues also shouldn’t be underestimated. A lot of smaller publishers are suffering from revenue drops as institutions cancel individual journal subscriptions in a bid to save money. In many ways, publishers such as Springer offer these groups security and stability in continued revenues and usage of their content; whilst the “big deals” are taking the budget from individual subscriptions, they are also offering a mechanism to recoup some of that revenue if the publishers are happy for their journals are included. Additionally, very few smaller publishers, to my knowledge, are seeing good growth in their journal programme so the big deal offers a way to reverse this trend too.

What is the extent of Springer’s consortia opportunities? How many consortia groups do Springer work with and what is the potential readership? 

We are definitely seeing changes in the way consortia groups are established. For example, we are starting to see “super consortia” groups, such as LYRICIS, which was formed from the joining of several smaller consortia groups. This group now represents more than 6,000 institutions so the change in business model is presenting greater challenges for publishers too. Conversely, we are also seeing a shift away from consortia arrangements to more personalised subscription needs, where individual institutions, either directly or within a consortium, specify different content requirements. This is particularly true as we move into bundling different types of content such as journals, eBooks, open access content etc. and we have had to adapt our business models to offer tailored content packages that address these differing needs.
Additionally, the number of contacts that we work with during a sales process has increased. In the past, consortia sales usually involved dealing with consortia leads. Now the sales process involves a range of contacts at both the consortia and the institution so we have had to adapt our sales strategies too. Springer’s sales team has grown to more than 160 staff to ensure that we can carry out individual institution visits effectively. As a result of changing purchase patterns, we are also finding that a lot of the “middle men” and agents that may have handled such sales in the past are falling away as it becomes more necessary for publishers to liaise directly with institution contacts. This is also another example of the tough challenges faced by smaller publishing organisations; they simply cannot afford to implement such sales solutions and as agents and distributors disappear, there are fewer options open to them to deliver consortia and individual sales themselves.

Are there any particular criteria with regards to how journals are selected for inclusion in consortia deals? 

There is a lot more analysis done on journals to understand what generates revenue and usage to determine which journals should be included and there are many ways to set pricing such as by article download etc. But ultimately squeezed budgets mean that institutions have less money to pay for subscriptions. Monetising new titles is always difficult as the criteria for analysing their sales potential changes depending on what statistics are being used. However we always look for ways to include extra content in deals by making sure that we are COUNTER compliant, that we can demonstrate journal usage etc. to offer the best possible value for money. Plus Springer journal usage is still growing which means we can justify adding more journals.

How can societies maximise the potential of their current and new journals for inclusion in such arrangements? 

There is always the risk that individual journals get swallowed up by the big deal so the best thing that societies and organisations can do is to keep their brand identity and continue to raise their profile to keep the brand strong. For example, they should continue to promote the journal to their membership as well as maintaining the quality of articles and the quality of the publication to maintain their standing within their field. Ultimately it is the quality of their publication that is the most important to users so maintaining this and continuing with the promotion is very important.

Do you think that consortia deals are likely to remain popular? Or are there indications that the “big deal” is on the decline?  

I think that there is a lot of talk about the big deal and there are a lot of people out there that would like to see it stop. But it makes sense for libraries and the researchers that they serve to continue with these deals as well as for editors, authors and societies that have greater readership of content as a result. Having access to the widest possible range of content provides users with increased opportunities to come across a piece of research that is essential to their needs that they might never have found via other searching methods. The big deal also closes the elitism gap between larger and smaller institutions. For example, whilst large institutions might have the budget to pay for title by title access, smaller institutions do not so the big deal offers consistency in access and ensures that students and researchers in all institutions have the same content. And whilst there may be some content in a big deal that is not used as frequently as one would like, this is balanced through greater usage of other journals that an institution might not have subscribed to individually.
Despite differing views on the big deal, ultimately it still offers value for money. For example, even though Ireland and Iceland faced bankruptcy, they still renewed their big deal subscriptions. This proves that the big deal continues to be very important, not only in terms of providing access to the widest range of content but also because they offer cost and staffing efficiencies.

Has the advent of Open Access publishing affected consortia deals? If so, in what ways? 

Open access has made consortia deals more interesting but I can’t think of any reasons why the open access author fee model can’t be brought into a consortia arrangement. There are good opportunities for both the publisher and consortia/institution to benefit from open access content provision via a consortia deal and Springer is running a number of pilots to explore how open access can be included in country-wide consortia deals. For example, one area that we are looking at is hybrid journals. Where a specific percentage of journal articles are published open access, then we can reduce the cost of that journal as the money for the open access articles is coming in via the APF (author processing fee).
But ultimately I don’t think that the consortia deal is going away anytime soon. There is definitely a trend to move away from consortialised sales to a more consortia/individual institution mix. We continue to develop relationships with consortia, particularly as new products such as eBooks and Open Access are developed, to find new ways of maximising access to content. The biggest change that I am seeing is that as more electronic products are developed, sales are being handled directly which squeezes out subscription agents and “middle men”. While it is slightly disingenuous to say that the agents are not involved at all it is fair to say that their role has changed and their direct influence has diminished remarkably. 10 years ago, almost 100% of the subscription revenue came directly from agents; today, for example, in the US that number is about 40% and shrinking every year. For our society partners, however, there are still great opportunities to increase readership and usage of content as publishers such as Springer deal more directly with customers to ensure that they deliver the products and content that is required.
Society & Partner Zone, Issue 14, Summer 2011

Articles in Society Zone Issue 14 / Summer 2011

 
 
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