Big publishing, big deals, big relief

I heaved a sigh of relief today. My last journal subscription wrinkle of 2009 has finally been ironed out. It’s a pretty big wrinkle (the big deal of one of the big four publishers) and needed a mighty iron to smooth it down but now, only four months late, we have access to that big deal. I won’t mention the publisher, but I expect any academic librarian will guess who I am talking about.
They are the new behemoth on the block – the product of a merger a couple of years ago. This is the first year that they have fully merged their operations, and it has been a very painful process. The first step was merging the two electronic platforms, meaning the URLs for half the journals needed to change. But that was simple compared to merging the two commercial operations. Two different sets of customer records, two different ways of calculating prices for their big deal, two different sets of staff. All these had to be battered into submission carefully molded into a single operation. I feel for the staff of the publisher, who have had an enormous job to sort out all of the complications.
In the past we used to sort out journal renewals in September and October, and perhaps up to November for any tricky issues, plus odd problems that might come to light in January. These days we often are still at it until February.
Sorting out the details of a big deal is always time-consuming and fiddly. In this case it didn’t help that I went away on holiday just days after I received the initial offer from this publisher. But then it didn’t help that the offer, for calendar year 2009, only arrived a week before Christmas 2008. It was never going to be settled in time for 1ate Jan 2009. One highly confusing spreadsheet and a few phone calls later, I began to understand how the deal might work and I started the tricky job of explaining to the other libraries in my group how it might work for them. Four more spreadsheets later and I-don’t-know-how-many more emails and phone calls, and I was ready for the last step – explaining it all over again to the person who has to sign the contract. That happened last week and this morning the access is fully operational.
I am comforted that fellow librarians across the country, and indeed across the world, have all been experiencing similar frustrations with this deal – it’s good to know that you don’t suffer alone.
In the light of this, the April Fool’s day joke about publishing mergers was quite scary. Imagine a merger on this scale – we would probably still be sorting out the details in September!

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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6 Responses to Big publishing, big deals, big relief

  1. Bob O'Hara says:

    Does this mean that online access for 2009 has only just started?

  2. Frank Norman says:

    They have been quite good at “gracing” access, so much has been available. There have been some difficulties – where issues appear ahead of their issue date (e.g. April issue comes out in Feb), so are out of range of the grace period allowed. Also, we only previously had a big deal with one of the merged companies so our access to the other half of the journals has only just started. It has been quite disruptive, and unpredictable. I lost count of how many times I said “Oh, I’m working on that. It should be available soon”.

  3. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Do their initials start with W and B?

  4. Frank Norman says:

    Jenny – you might say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

  5. Jennifer Rohn says:

    heh heh…I used to work for journals that had W for a publishing partner, so it’s old news to me. Glad you’ve managed to Tame the Beast.

  6. Nathalie Cornee says:

    what a great piece of news!

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