90% of respondents had package deals with Elsevier; 83% had deals with Wiley; 77% with Springer; 67% with Blackwell (this survey was pre-merger); 48% with Sage; 44% with T&F. This suggests a couple of things: 1) If, in fact, doing Big Deals leads librarians immediately away from subscription agents, then things are not going to get much worse for agents - everyone is already in Big Deals. 2) If, however, librarians tend to discover gradually that they prefer agents‘ management to publishers', then publishers' positions may erode over time.
It shouldn't be surprising that librarians rate publishers relatively highly on their ability to manage subscription lists. However, the fact that librarians find _any degree at all_ of superiority in that area on the vendor side should give publishers serious pause. Why should it be that a third party would understand your business better than you do? There are some good reasons, such as the fact that the agent's primary business is subscription management, whereas the publisher's primary business is publishing. But it doesn't really matter how good the reasons are, if your revenue flows depend to a significant degree on your ability to keep subscription management in-house.
The biggest problem for publishers in this data is the fact that libraries rate agents as handling administrative tasks dramatically better than they do. The fact that the difference in satisfaction is so great, and the fact that this has been a problem for so long, suggests that publishers may want to consider simply getting out of the subscription-management business altogether. This may sound crazy, but think about it: what if one or more companies emerged that handled all back-office duties for a publisher - invoice processing, billing, renewals, claiming on unpaid invoices, maintenance of subscription histories, etc.? Some of those services are currently offered by agents, but not all, and at a cost to publishers. Perhaps a specialist agency that did not handle physical journal issues at all would be able to do it cheaper.
On the other hand, the physical handling of journal issues is a task with a limited horizon. As subscriptions become more electronic, this set of duties looks more and more like what traditional agents do. So maybe subscription agents should be looking at opportunities to work less competitively and more cooperatively with publishers - taking on administrative tasks on publishers' behalf that publishers are currently doing badly for themselves.
Uksg agents, publishers, & added value
Agents, Publishers, & Added Value: How Librarians View the Performance of Subscription Agents & Journal Publishers
Why We Surveyed <ul><li>At a national American library conference publishers challenged the worth of subscription agents </li></ul><ul><li>Librarians challenged back </li></ul>
Swamp Fox Gang: Who We Are <ul><li>Rick Anderson- Assoc. Dir. for Scholarly Resources & Collections, University of Utah </li></ul><ul><li>Jill Emery-Head of Acquisitions, University of Texas @ Austin </li></ul><ul><li>Gary Ives-Electronic Resource Acquisitions Librarian, Texas A&M University </li></ul><ul><li>Dana Walker-Head of Acquisitions, University of Georgia Libraries </li></ul>
Structure of the Survey <ul><li>Librarian Demographic Information (6) </li></ul><ul><li>Publisher and Subscription Agent (2) </li></ul><ul><li>Satisfaction with Publishers (9) </li></ul><ul><li>Satisfaction with Subscription Agents (9) </li></ul><ul><li>Rating of Publishers and Subscription Agents (9) </li></ul><ul><li>Open ended “Final Comments” </li></ul>
Areas of Service Satisfaction <ul><li>Customer service </li></ul><ul><li>Management of subscription list </li></ul><ul><li>Accuracy of renewal and invoicing </li></ul><ul><li>Timeliness of renewal and invoicing </li></ul><ul><li>Providing administrative metadata </li></ul><ul><li>Providing technological services </li></ul><ul><li>Accurate price calculation under contract </li></ul><ul><li>Correct initial access activation </li></ul><ul><li>Resolution of access problems </li></ul>
Administration of Survey <ul><li>Administered thru SurveyMonkey </li></ul><ul><li>Survey approved by the Institutional Review Board – Human Subjects in Research, Texas A&M University. </li></ul><ul><li>Potential participants were invited by: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Direct email to individuals at ARL libraries </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>General calls for participation to relevant discussion lists </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Test” version of survey provided. </li></ul>
Analysis <ul><li>Total of 179 responses </li></ul><ul><li>Filtered for librarians working at university libraries who serve as liaisons to both publishers and subscription agents </li></ul><ul><li>77 filtered responses used in this analysis </li></ul>
Breakdown of Package Deals <ul><li>Percent of respondents with package deals: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Blackwell: 67% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Elsevier: 90% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sage: 49% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Springer: 77% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>T & F: 44% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wiley: 83% </li></ul></ul>
Unsurprising Results <ul><li>Overall subscription agents were rated as providing better service </li></ul><ul><li>Specifically, subscription agents did better on title list management & renewals </li></ul><ul><li>Subscription agents also did much better on technological services such as EDI invoicing </li></ul><ul><li>Publishers not in control of needed administrative metadata (order numbers, fund codes) </li></ul><ul><li>Publishers good at resolution of access problems </li></ul>
Surprising Results <ul><li>Narrow margins between publishers & subscription agents on overall service </li></ul><ul><li>Margins narrow between Sage, Wiley & subscription agents on renewal processing </li></ul><ul><li>Publishers significantly slower on renewals </li></ul><ul><li>Subscription agents ranked high on accuracy of pricing/invoicing under special license conditions </li></ul><ul><li>Subscription agents ranked fairly high in resolution of access problems </li></ul>
Comments from Respondents “ The annual renewal for packages has been an ongoing nightmare. Clearly publishers cannot handle this task efficiently and should move to a non-reconciliation model or let our subscription agents handle this. The number of hours spent on reconciliation is unbelievable!” “ Publishers need to understand what libraries need for maintenance AND they should be committed to working with subscription vendors who provide these necessary services for us. I am up to my eyeballs in problems because of the publishers' lack of management of these packages!” “ Every year, it takes many e-mails to straighten out our list of active and cancelled titles. We use an agent for their titles, but when it comes to getting the title list correct, we end up communicating with [ publisher name ] directly, since going through our agent for that matter would add more delay. Using the agent is convenient for invoicing in our case, since almost 1,000 titles are paid on different subject budgets. Our invoices are loaded electronically (EDI invoicing).”
More Comments “ Our agents have been ahead of the curve all along and continue to lead the way.” “ In general we experience far more problems with our subscription agent than with our publishers. However, our subscription agent is very proficient at dealing with access issues...it's just that some of the access issues were the direct result of our subscription agent not paying a publisher even though that package was on our invoice and renewal.” “ You needed to have either a three point or a five point rating scale. Choosing between Good or Poor just wasn't granular enough. How about Satisfactory?”
Reactions from the Charleston Conference <ul><li>Surprisingly vocal discontent with subscription agents </li></ul><ul><li>Grudging acknowledgment that publishers do a better job than expected </li></ul><ul><li>Still see room for improvement from both parties </li></ul>
Concluding Thought#1 <ul><li>In terms of Big Deals, things won’t get much worse for agents </li></ul><ul><li>However, if agents improve their handling of Big Deals, things could gradually get worse for publishers </li></ul>Services have never been better! Services have never been better!
Concluding Thought #2 <ul><li>Subscription-list findings should be a wake-up call for publishers </li></ul>We are confident in our title list management! We are confident in our title list management!
Concluding Thought #3 <ul><li>Findings on back-office effectiveness should also be a wake-up call for publishers </li></ul><ul><li>There may be a role in the marketplace for an agency specialising in subscription management for publishers </li></ul>I don’t like that idea Rick! Interesting.
Concluding Thought #4 <ul><li>Or, perhaps publishers could start outsourcing those tasks to subscription agents themselves </li></ul>We can discuss it. We can discuss it.
Survey results can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/3x9g5u Questions? Rick Anderson, University of Utah [email_address] Jill Emery, University of Texas at Austin [email_address]
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