This week’s Longread is a stroll down memory lane to 2014 to read a pathbreaking article, Evaluating Big Deal Journal Bundles, by Ted Bergstrom, Paul Courant, R. Preston McAfee, and Michael A. Williams. The authors used Freedom of Information Act requests to amass a collection of Big Deal journal contracts from a variety of institutions. Elsevier actually brought legal challenges to two of these requests, filing a lawsuit in Washington state claiming that their prices are trade secrets, and contesting another FOIA request in Texas. State authorities rejected both challenges, clearing the way for the the first major comparison of journal bundle deals across a variety of providers and types of institutions.

The findings of the survey are fascinating, and (as always) the whole thing bears reading, but here are some key takeaways:

  • “the prices per citation charged to large PhD-granting universities by major commercial publishers are much higher than those charged by major nonprofit publishers.… Elsevier’s prices per citation are nearly 3 times those charged by the non-profits, whereas Emerald, Sage, and Taylor & Francis have prices per citation that are roughly 10 times those of the nonprofits.”

  • “Commercial publishers have not been able to induce most research libraries to sign big deal contracts, and the number that do so has fallen between 2006 and 2012.”

  • “The contracts that we have seen show remarkable institution-specific price variations that cannot be explained by university characteristics such as enrollment and PhD production. Some institutions have been quite successful in bargaining for lower prices, whereas others may not have been aware that better bargains can be reached. Perhaps this variation explains publishers’ desire to keep contract terms confidential.

Perhaps! If you want updated data on Big Deal contracts and prices, check out SPARC’s new Big Deal Knowledge Base. Someone needs to try an update of this article based on the new data!