Sustainable Collections: Spending Trends with Big Deal Publishers

Posted on
December 4, 2018

William & Mary Libraries is committed to providing exceptional collections (pdf) to faculty and administrators, graduate and undergraduate students.  The Libraries strive to support the evolving curricular and program needs of the university, foster a broad and rigorous scholarship agenda, and spark interest in new areas as the William & Mary community members work in our collections.

However, the collections budget of the university libraries is subject to enormous inflationary pressures for scholarly content.  This issue is of supreme importance to universities around the globe, with libraries in many countries working on strategies to provide greater access to information without monopolizing their entire budgets on a small number of for-profit journal publishers.  This year, we have worked with other universities in the state to analyze our own journal subscriptions, particularly those subscriptions which we have with the top academic publishers in the world:  Reed Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley-Blackwell, SAGE, and Taylor & Francis.  Increasingly, a majority of academic library budgets are going to these five publishers; indeed, William & Mary Libraries spends almost half of its entire collections budget with these five companies alone. 

The business model for each of these companies includes annual inflation rates of 3 or 4% for journal subscriptions in large packages (sometimes referred to as “big deals”).  When purchased a la carte, inflation is even higher – 6-12% per title every year.  This rate of inflation outpaces any other sector of the U.S. economy:  health insurance, the Consumer Price Index, the Higher Education Price Index, and beyond.  It’s an unsustainable and unstable situation.

View our current spending on these packages > 

The librarians at William & Mary are committed to having an ongoing dialogue with faculty and students about collections priorities and goals.  We are eager to know if these issues of consolidation and mergers in the publishing world are affecting your work.  We’re curious about how open access publishing plays a role in your own publishing agenda and within your field.  Tools like W&M ScholarWorks allow faculty to have a place to self-archive (and thereby give open access to) journal articles that otherwise would be available only to those with an expensive subscription.  Are you using tools like ScholarWorks or similar repositories (such as or PubMed Central) to give researchers and students around the world access to your scholarly publications?

As part of our outreach effort, we are:

  • Sharing information about the costs of our most expensive journal packages
  • Working with other libraries around the state to analyze data about our journal subscriptions and act in coordinated ways to seek alternatives with publishers
  • Screening and recommending the movie Paywall: The Business of Scholarship which gives helpful background about for-profit academic publishing
  • Hosting conversations about open access, open educational resources (such as open textbooks), and the institutional repository (W&M ScholarWorks)
  • Offering consulting services to discuss collection needs, scholarship support needs, and beyond

If you would like to share your thoughts with us, ask questions, or get more information, please contact us at or talk with your faculty liaison.