Over the past few months we’ve seen increased attention to consortial efforts to reach transformative agreements with publishers. Some recent successes include DEAL/Germany with Wiley, University of California with Cambridge University Press, Springer Nature with Jisc/UK, and Elsevier with UNIT/Norway. It is clear that many library consortia are prioritizing open access publishing in their publisher contracts, which they have stated clearly must be cost neutral or at least cost controlling overall.
Underneath the importance of cost control in the aggregate lies an extremely important question — how is the cost of a transformative agreement distributed within a library consortium among its members? I observe today that cost share distribution within consortia is a substantial risk to the ability of transformative agreements to take hold for the long term and may threaten the cohesion of consortia as well.
The question of how cost share is calculated within a consortium is not a new one. Cost share for subscription contracts is a regular topic of conversation and sometimes tension within consortia, and these internal discussions sometimes take the form of contentious debate. Many consortia rely on a cost share model based on institutional FTE, but considerations of historic spending, overall library budget/size, the availability of central funding if any, and other factors can come into consideration. Also relevant is whether a given contract is mandatory in the sense that all consortia members must contribute vs. those that are optional in the sense that the consortia negotiates the terms but then each institution decides whether to participate. These are sometimes also termed “all-in” vs “opt-in” for consortia members.
Cost share matters for transformative agreements because the basic value proposition in a transformative agreement shifts from access/reading usage to article authorship. Because of this, the value that a given institution receives from an agreement can increase for some institutions within a consortium and decrease for others. As a result, the “fair share” that a given institution might be willing to pay is affected.
Now, interestingly — as far as I can tell — the general approach to the question of cost share for transformative agreements has been to set it aside. Consortia appear to be continuing with whatever cost share approach each has historically used for subscription agreements even as they flip these subscription agreements to transformative (subscription and publication) agreements. As Norway’s Nina Karlstrøm (License Agreements and Open Access at UNIT) explained to me, “since this is a pilot for two years, the institutions decided to keep the existing model for paying.”
In part, this approach of sticking with historic cost share models seems to be in recognition that the data upon which one might calculate a “transformative cost share model” are not available. Few publishers have the infrastructure in place that would be needed to track systematically or report on author affiliation. Institutions do not have infrastructure to automatically audit and confirm author claims of affiliation. Though these infrastructures are in development (e.g., as a component of the Wiley/DEAL agreement), developing new cost share models right now would be dependent on retrospective data collection and analysis. Such data collection and analysis would be a daunting task even for the most well-staffed consortia.
In fairness, this approach of continuing with past cost share models is also not unreasonable given that, even for a “Read Library” in a “Read Consoritum” (to adopt the terminology Gwen Evans coined in her Scholarly Kitchen piece last week), the pricing for a transformative agreement based on historic cost share is likely still a better deal than going it alone for a subscription contract at this time. As Liam Earney, Jisc’s Director of Licensing, put it: “at the moment, institutions understand it’s a transition and it is still a good agreement.” Each “Read Library” get access to what it wants for reading, which it would otherwise license independently, and there is a “degree of reciprocity” in the community.
I have to wonder though if this is likely to continue to be the case over time. We saw consortia willing to base their subscription cost share on historical print spend for quite some time, but as relative changes in institutional size and research intensity compounded over time, cost share models were adjusted or consortia weakened. Today, the key value metric to monitor for change is on the publisher side, as a given publisher’s portfolio of content shifts to greater and greater percentages of open content. Will a “Read Library” be willing to continue to subvent a “Publish Library” as an increasing portion of what is being paid for is publishing and not reading?
At its extreme, one asks, why pay for reading when reading is free? A “Read Library” will reasonably begin to question its cost share allocation as open content grows. A “Publish Library” will reasonably be concerned that a shift in cost share based publishing would make it responsible for a greater percentage of cost. The “Publish Library” would find itself needing to pay more in a “transformative cost share model” but with little mechanism for increasing the funds it has available.
In the case of an “opt-in” transformative agreement, a “Publish Library” would have the option of withdrawing from the consortial agreement, though that would be fraught on a number of fronts, particularly if the institution’s faculty have come to rely on the transformative agreement for publishing open access (and even more so if they have come to do so under an open access publishing mandate). In the case of an “all-in” transformative agreement, this would be even more complicated.
For a specific example of how a “transformative cost share model” could raise cost share significantly, we can take the case of UCLA. I calculated a back-of-the-envelope estimate of how cost share would shift in the move from an FTE-based subscription model to a journal-article based publishing model in the University of California system, using the FTE data on the CDL website and author affiliation searches in Scopus, along with the assumption that overall cost of an agreement remains the same. This estimate made clear the extent to which a “transformative cost share model” would raise cost share for UCLA. I reached out to Ginny Steel, UCLA University Librarian, and learned that the question of which institutions will eventually pay how much under transformative agreements has also been on her mind. She observed that it would be a financial challenge if there was a significant increase in UCLA’s cost share, particularly as state allocations to library budgets are not based on publishing volume.
The question is not only if there is enough money in the system to pay for open access publishing but if it is held by the right players.
If the cost share shifts without state funding allocations shifting in parallel, high publishing institutions may not have sufficient resources to fund publishing activity even if the overall cost of the transformative agreement is equal to the subscription agreement. The question is not only if there is enough money in the system to pay for open access publishing but if it is held by the right players.
Perhaps anticipating these future tensions, consortia are preparing to consider shifts in their cost share models. Karlstrøm shared that “the data gathered during the period of the agreement will be used to evaluate a new payment model reflecting publishing activity.” Steel will be keeping a watchful eye on how UC’s model might evolve and the implications for her institution’s cost share. As Earney characterized it, cost share allocation is “the critical question” for the future of transformative agreements. Personally, I tend to agree.