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University Library System Unbundling 'Big Deals'


What are Big Deals?

The Big Deal describes a multi-year contract in which a library purchases access to all, or nearly all, of a publisher's journals at a price based on the library's current subscription costs, and agrees to annual price increases fixed at a fixed rate for the duration of the contract. 

Why have libraries participated in Big Deals?

In the 1990s when they were developed, Big Deals were useful to libraries, allowing them to offer more content for a set cost, as opposed to a more limited content offering and no control over annual cost increases.  Big Deals usually offer a deeply discounted price to a large bundle of journals as compared to title-by-title subscriptions to the same number of journals. However, over the years, the bundles have grown and so have their costs, at rates consistently outpacing library budgets. As a result, more and more of library collection development funds are being tied up in these journal packages to the detriment of libraries’ ability to curate collections that are responsive to all local needs.

How are the price increases determined?

The Big Deal prices are based on both the market rate of the journals, the Content Fee, the negotiated inflation rate and finally the length of the contract.  For each year of the Big Deal there is a set inflation increase that can be anywhere from 3-6% annually.  Contracts can typically last from 3-5 years. 

What is a Content Fee?

A Content Fee, or Maintenance Fee, can vary from vendor to vendor.  It can be as little as 1% to as high as 25%.  In essence, the Content Fee is what the publisher charges for hosting, delivering, performing content updates of each journal title.  Either way, this fee adds significant cost to each title and can dilute the value of each dollar spent.

Why is this the ULS unbundling its Big Deal subscription?

The ULS materials budget has failed to keep up with an overall inflation rate of 5.5-6% annually. Multi-year deals make it difficult for the ULS to invest in new and emerging fields of research but maintaining access to resources for current areas of research is increasingly difficult. In order for the ULS to continue to provide needed resources it must transition from a Just in Case model to Just in Time.

What does this mean to me?

Most journal articles are indexed in Summon, Web of Science and/or Scopus index databases.  Full-text articles no longer available through the ULS can be requested through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).  This process takes only 2 clicks and your article will be emailed to you within 24-48 hrs. but the average turn-around time is 13 hrs.

Once the subscription is unbundled, does one lose access to the archives acquired in the past years?

Access to the archives of a number of periodicals will remain possible for some titles. These are titles that have been identified as part of the Core collection. The flat subscriptions offered by major publishers unfortunately do not provide access to all titles once the subscription is completed. 

What will happen if the subscription to an important periodical in the course of my research is canceled?

The Library will attempt to maintain access to all periodicals prioritized as part of its analysis. However, it must respect the budgets it has been granted. Users will be invited to use the Interlibrary Loan service in cases where the subscription is not renewed. 

Who can I contact for more information?

If you have questions or comments about any phases of the Elsevier changes, please contact, Mike Hawthorne, Director of Collection Strategy and Services at