The Art of the Tiny Deal

Rick Anderson of the University of Utah gave a presentation called “Let Them Eat…Everything: Embracing a Patron-Driven Future” at the Charleston Conference last Fall. Information Today provided a brief summary of it. My colleague Karen Calhoun was so impressed with it she asked him to come to Dublin, OH to reprise the talk for OCLC staff.

His talk happened today and I was lucky enough to be in (virtual) attendance. He brought up a number of intriguing, provocative, and, to my way of thinking, spot-on points. So don’t think by my focusing on one small thing he said that this by any means was the main focus of his remarks. Far from it. He covered so much intellectual ground it would be difficult to attempt a credible summary in a single blog post. Bear with me, then, as I select one tidbit from the smorgasbord upon which to focus:

Although some of us have long discussed “by the drink” publishing and purchasing, still today it is more the exception than the norm. Sure, many publishers offer this, but their pricing is, as Anderson put it, “punitive”. It seems expressly designed to discourage institutions from trying to shift their budget from buying into “the Big Deal” and moving to a buy-on-demand model. After all, as Anderson says, people want the article. They don’t really care that much about the rest of the journal or whether you have a full back-run or not. If they can get to the particular article they want, they’re happy.

Anderson rightly drew parallels between the situation the journal publishers are now in with the position of music publishers in the not-too-distant past. Music publishers defended their right to continue to sell albums rather than individual songs until the twin crowbars of music piracy and Apple’s iTunes leveraged them out of their rut. At this point I was dying to ask Anderson what libraries might do to help publishers move in this direction, but the vagaries of virtual attendance defeated me. Not that he necessarily would have had “the answer” to this question, but I find it an intriguing one, and one that we must increasingly confront as librarians if we are ever overthrow the budget tyranny of The Big Deal for the relative freedom of The Tiny Deal.

Roy Tennant works on projects related to improving the technological infrastructure of libraries, museums, and archives.