In times of fiscal constraint it is very important to make sure all resources are providing value for money. Be sure to include archival collections in annual review cycles to calculate how their use is going and what may need promoting to your campus. This goes for all resources, whether established or recent acquisitions. Value for money can be calculated in a number of ways, the most obvious being cost per downloads. Other factors should be taken into account, such as:
- Renewal date
- Access queries
- License changes
- Pricing model
- Impact factor changes & review of Eigenfactors & SNIPs
- Overlap analysis with other resources
- % price increase
- Currency exchange rate
- Transferred/added titles
- Coverage changes
- Cancellation policy
- Hassle of business provisions by provider (late invoicing, ongoing platform problems, etc.)
- DRM used
A number of these factors will now be looked at in more depth.
As noted in this section: Negotiate Terms of Contract & Purchasing of Acquiring New Content, it is vital to check the notice period required for any subscription, which may be as much as 3 months for a cancellation notice. If possible, add this date into your ERM or system used for tracking the administrative metadata of resources. You may also discover at the point of renewal that the price increase is greater than expected so it may be worthwhile to review prior to having to consider a resource for cancellation.
An added complication for e-resources is that unlike serials, renewals can take place all through the year. If they are not noted in advance, or set up in an ERM, some possible cancellations may be missed or vital resources may cease, which will result in complaints or non-use from users.
If you subscribe to a large number of different e-resources, it may prove easier to review them in batches, e.g. every quarter. It is important to do a review of all resources even the ones that are seemingly widely used and readily adopted by your librarians and patrons just to insure the resource is performing as expected. If your financial year runs from August to July, then group the renewals into the following periods:
In order to beat the cancellation clauses, it is best to consider each quarter two months in advance, e.g. look at February-May in December.
Around February/March it is also advisable to schedule a planning meeting with each subject team to discuss all e-resources that they are responsible for. Use this meeting to discuss the previous year’s usage and any comments that may have arisen about the resources. This can be of great help in the annual planning process as ‘at risk’ resources can be identified at this stage and flagged for possible cancellation, greater promotion and marketing,or further review at the time of renewal.
Confirm costs and any new terms and conditions
Many vendors and a few providers will send you a statement of account many months in advance of the renewal date. However, if this has not happened you should contact the vendor/provider at least a month in advance, once you have decided on a schedule for the review of e-resources to request a copy of the current agreement and find out renewal pricing. If you’ve set-up a review cycle, then this request can come as early as you need to request the information. Reviewing agreements may take some time so make sure you allow enough time to review a new agreement in case there are significant changes from a previously signed agreement.
If the resource is a recent subscription, you may wish to contact the vendor for other pricing options, e.g. to convert up from simultaneous users to a site license or possibly to downsize the subscription. In order to assess the need for a change in the number of concurrent users you should consult your usage statistics and any turn-away statistics reported.
Signing up for a multiyear deal may mean that you do not have to check the costs of the resource, however, some vendors require you to sign a new contract each year. Check this against your existing contract as unwanted changes often do creep in to new agreements.
If there is a significant price jump, try to find out if it is due to an increase in content or additional functionality added to the resource. Check the price increase against the pricing given in your agreement to make sure the costs are in line with a pre-established pricing structure. This is especially important with a multi-year deal.
There is a lot of information about usage statistics (2, 3) and while it should never be the only reason to cancel a resource, it can certainly be very influential in deciding if a resource could be reviewed and flagged for possible cancellation, if more training is necessary or if the number of simultaneous users should be increased/decreased.
Always make sure when negotiating a contract that the vendor can provide COUNTER compliant usage data. A list of COUNTER compliant vendors can be found on the COUNTER website (4) – if the vendor is not listed here then they are not compliant – even if they say they are!
Another relatively new feature of COUNTER is the differentiation between current content usage and archival content usage. This is the essential difference between the JR1 report and the JR1a report. It is well worth the time to make separate reports of usage between what is the archival usage and what is the current content usage.
When making the decision about the number of simultaneous users, check if the resource can give you information on turnaways – the number of users who could not get access to the resource as they exceeded the number of simultaneous users. If turnaways are high, you may also see overall usage drop as users become put off by the lack of access.
Many smaller vendors, or those whose primary focus is on the corporate market are not COUNTER compliant. If they will not agree to go through the process and you are still happy to subscribe, you should ensure that they agree to provide usage statistics – even if this is on request or monthly by email. Vendors who refuse to do this are putting their subscriptions at risk.
Usage reports that record ‘hits’ on a resource can be misleading and do not always reflect real usage. However, if you have both COUNTER data and ‘hits’ you may see some interesting results especially for full text resources, e.g. if hits are high but COUNTER stats are low there maybe an issue. From this you could assume that although ‘well used’ the COUNTER report indicates that users did not actually find the material useful, or, that there could be a linking problem and that users were not getting to the full text for downloading.
Report to stakeholders & reports from stakeholders
It is not enough to compile a report of raw data on cost, usage and possible licence changes and expect busy staff and patrons to be able to process this information quickly. There are a number of commercial packages that can assist in the compiling of reports, such as 360 COUNTER from Serials Solutions (5), ScholarlyStats from Swets (6) or EBSCONET Usage Consolidation from EBSCO (7) However, manipulation of the data in MS Excel requires some intermediate understanding both of how the statistics are being captured and reported from the provider and how to best compile the information to make sense to your subject selectors and information resource management teams.
Consider also performing an overlap analysis with other resources to see if maybe the content is available from multiple resources. Two good overlap analysis and suite of resource evaluation tools are the JISC ADAT that provides numerous ways to evaluate databases and the CUFTS Open Serials Management.
An example of a basic report for an A&I resource is included here, the idea behind the report is to give subject teams a background to the usage of the resource and to check key performance indicators in order to allow them to make quick and accurate decisions on what to do next.
For other resources, such as ebooks, it may be more important to show a comparison between different aggregators and purchased items. This can often be difficult as although many vendors publish Book Report 1 (BR1) and Book Report 2 (BR2) reports, they rarely make both available, this makes comparison very difficult. In the UK, the annual SCONUL statistics return (8) recommends that the number of title requests (BR1) are multiplied by 5.4, to estimate the number of section requests (BR2).
Another recent implementation in the UK is the JISC Journal Usage Statistics Portal (JUSP) (9),which ‘provides a “one-stop shop” for libraries to view, download and analyse their usage reports from NESLi2 publishers’(10). There are now over 100 libraries in the UK benefitting from this resource. A major benefit is that the JUSP can combine usage reports from journals that are available on multiple platforms. This can be a major headache when trying to accurately compile reports. Another benefit of the JUSP is that it can automate the removal of journal archive usage reports from current subscriptions. This makes reporting on journal value for money easier.
Multi-media reports are just now being incorporated in the latest version of COUNTER. If you have a provider for streaming media and they are currently not using COUNTER, be sure to tell them that with release 4, they too can become COUNTER compliant.
Reporting on return on investment of archive packages and other one off purchases can also be built into the annual review. Although these resources may have been the result of a one off purchase, they still need to be reviewed annually to check the return on investment in order to see how long it takes for the archive to match the subscription cost per download.
Many libraries have created some sort of trouble-shooting mechanism for tracking problems with given providers and resources. Sometimes this is a simple e-mail reporting list, a web page form system, or sometimes it is a sophisticated ticketing system that allows a manager to pull statistics or reports of usage problems quarterly and annual. Whatever mechanism may be used, it is good to capture and report that information in any evaluation of a given resource or product back to the provider and to the stakeholders. Being able to say the consideration for cancellation of a product is occurring because XX number of people were unable to access the content or resource during YY time period goes quite a way to either getting a lower price or making the case for why a resource is not being as heavily used as it once might have been.
Make your choice
Although it is essential to review all resources, it is often a fairly straightforward to renew many resources at a glance. However the usage graph and key performance indicators shown in Appendix 1 can highlight some resources where further investigation may be needed.
It is always useful to re-assess the market even for ‘essential’ resources, for example, the resource in the Appendix looks like a simple renewal, but what if a rival vendor had started to host the resource on a platform that proved more popular with the users? Or a consortia deal had been announced during the previous year resulting in potential cost savings? Either example may improve the user experience or reduce expenditure and should be investigated during the review period. Use some of the examples outlined above to help draw your own conclusions for each resource.
Often, if a decision is made to cancel the resource or to review it for a further year many vendors and providers will be open to negotiation. They may be prepared to drop the price for one year while you try to build usage or narrow the number of users to accommodate less use than anticipated by a site license.
Remember that contract review takes time and be sure to allow time for the negotiation to take place. Some vendors and providers may be open to shifting your renewal period or else extend your agreement for a shorter period of time other than a renewal to see if usage can be increased. Be creative when talking to a provider or vendor as they will often be more open to trying new things than you first expect.
For instance, if an ebook provider has recently come out with a new platform for their product, see if you can trial the new platform with previously purchased ebook content from that provider.
In addition, there may be other funds available from Faculty or research offices in order to share the costs – negotiation does not just have to be with the vendor! You may need to negotiate funding with departments or other areas on campus.
- SERU Guidelines
- Conyers, A, Usage statistics and online behaviour (2) In: E-Resources Management Handbook. UKSG. ISBN 978-0-9552448-0-3
- Shepherd , P, COUNTER: current developments and future plans In: E-Resources Management Handbook. UKSG. ISBN 978-0-9552448-0-3
- 360 COUNTER
- EBSCONET Usage Consolidation
- SCONUL statistics
- Journal Usage Statistics Portal (JUSP)