ARL Statement to Scholarly Publishers on the Global Economic Crisis

ARL issued a statement today on the impacts of the global economic crisis on library budgets and the corresponding effect on subscriptions and purchasing patterns. The statement backs up a similar release by ICOLC last month.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has released a statement on the current global economic crisis and its effect on publishing and library subscriptions. The ARL statement, which is aimed at scholarly publishers and vendors, reinforces some of the key points in a recent statement by the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) and offers additional observations and recommendations from the perspectives of ARL member libraries.

Large libraries are far from exempt from the consequences of the current global economic crisis. Downturns in state support for public institutions along with substantial losses in endowment funds mean that many ARL member libraries are facing substantial reductions in both operating and materials budgets. In addition to cuts already made, there is strong evidence that most ARL member libraries are preparing for further budget reductions in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Like the ICOLC statement, the ARL statement[PDF] includes suggested avenues for publishers (emphasis added).

  • ARL calls on publishers to consider carefully decisions to invest in new products, functionality, and marketing efforts. Any new investments need to be strategic and market sensitive. Publishers should base investments on market research that demonstrates demand and takes into account the ongoing economic situation.
  • Publishers should go further in reducing the need for outright cancellations by undertaking broad efforts to seek new efficiencies that can result in price reductions in the short as well as long term. As libraries scrutinize their own operations, publishers similarly need to critically examine all of their practices and services to identify ways of reducing expenditures and, with them, prices. One obvious opportunity for reducing operating costs to proportionately lower prices is accelerating shifts to electronic-only publication to reduce overhead of print production and handling.
  • ARL reiterates the ICOLC call for price stabilization and advocates real price reductions. Models that stabilize or discount prices for all customers, large and small, are most likely to be attractive in the current economic situation and into the future.
  • Libraries serving research organizations are increasingly receptive to models that provide open access to content published by their affiliated authors in addition to traditional subscription access to titles. This kind of model can form a bridge from subscription models to models incorporating author-side payments.
  • Responsible publishers and vendors should provide real alternatives to multi-year contracts and a range of options for contract terms, as described in the ICOLC statement.
  • Acknowledging the singular budget conditions confronting even the largest libraries, publishers must be open to mid-term renegotiations of contracts.
  • The research library community is also concerned that the suddenness and depth of the global economic crisis substantially increases risk for the loss of important scholarly content. Scholarly publishers share with libraries a stewardship responsibility and should accelerate their commitments to third party archiving services as potential for business failure increases.
  • Inevitably, libraries will be forced to invoke many contract terms in place for providing ongoing access to previously subscribed content after cancellation. ARL calls on publishers to generously and completely facilitate fulfillment of existing contract terms to provide ongoing access to back issues of cancelled subscriptions and to continue to provide these contract terms.
  • Finally, ARL encourages publishers to consult widely with research libraries. Small, not-for-profit publishers are of particular concern, and ARL member libraries welcome conversations regarding new publishing models that can reduce the cost and vulnerability of established publications of high value.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 13th, 2012.

ICOLC Issues Statement on the Global Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Consortial Licenses

On Monday, January 19th, the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) issued a statement on the impact of the global economic crisis on libraries, with a particular focus on library consortia.

Written on behalf of the many library consortia across the world that participate in the ICOLC, this statement has two purposes. It is intended to help publishers and other content providers from whom we license electronic information resources (hereafter simply referred to as publishers) understand better how the current unique financial crisis affects the worldwide information community. Its second purpose is to suggest a range of approaches that we believe are in the mutual best interest of libraries and the providers of information services.

The statement goes on to outline the observed and expected impacts on libraries:

  • We expect significant and widespread cuts in budget levels for libraries and consortia
  • These cuts will be prolonged.
  • Exchange rate fluctuations are complicating and in some cases amplifying the impact.

The statement offers two principles that, from the perspective of the consortia and their member libraries, will be most effective in dealing with these impacts:

  1. Flexible pricing that offers customers real options, including the ability to reduce expenditures without disproportionate loss of content, will be the most successful.
  2. It is in the best interest of both publishers and consortia to seek creative solutions that allow licenses to remain as intact as possible, without major content or access reductions.

Lastly, the statement suggests approaches for content providers based on these principles:

  • Purchasers will trade features for price.
  • Putting price first will help all parties, because budget pressures will drive decisions in a way never seen before.
  • Tailoring content to need and pricing accordingly can be very helpful.
  • Multi-year contracts will be possible only with clear opt-out and/or reduction clauses.
  • While annual payments currently are the most prevalent payment schedule for group licenses, options will be needed for semi-annual or quarterly payment schedules, in combination with more flexible opt-out/reduction clauses and renewal cycles.

The statement itself goes into more details about each of these impacts, principles, and approaches. Wendy Stephens of Buckhorn High School (New Market, Alabama) has written a great analysis of this on the ALA AASL blog. Disclosure: my employer is a signatory to the statement.

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 20th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 13th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 13th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 21st, 2012.