Comparison of “Big Deal” Journal Packages with Alternatives
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Jie Li, MLS, AHIP, Assistant Director for Collection Management
Trey Lemley, MLIS, JD, AHIP, Information Services Librarian
University of South Alabama Biomedical Library

The “Big Deal” business model by which a library acquires electronic access to online journals has been increasingly discussed. The Big Deal model has its advantages and disadvantages. Major advantages involve cost, increased access, and ease of administration, while disadvantages also include cost and disintermediation, which is manifested in a decreased role for the librarian in the collection development process.

In an effort to ascertain whether or not the advantages of Big Deal subscription packages outweigh the disadvantages, librarians at the University of South Alabama Biomedical Library performed an extensive cost-per-article use analysis for all Big Deal journal packages to which the University of South Alabama Libraries subscribes (see Table 1), for individual journals in the collection of the Biomedical Library, for journal articles obtained via interlibrary loan from other libraries, and the average pay-per-view cost for journal articles offered directly by publishers (see Table 2). The results of these four calculations were then compared to determine cost-effectiveness for the library’s journal subscription.

Based on the cost-per-article use analysis presented in this study, we concluded that Big Deal journal subscription packages are cost-effective, but, because they consume a large portion of a library’s budget, they limit a library’s flexibility to purchase other, non-Big Deal resources.

All of our Big Deal publishers provide COUNTER journal reports (JR1), so it is easy to calculate the cost-per-article use for articles in journals from Big Deal subscription packages to which the Biomedical Library subscribes. We collected cost data from JR1 for the three-year period from 2010 to 2012, as a one-year time period may not reflect the real use of some journals. The University of South Alabama Libraries subscribe to five Big Deal packages: Elsevier’s ScienceDirect, Wiley Online Library, Springer Journal Collection, Sage Journals Online, and Oxford Journals Online. In addition, the Biomedical Library subscribes to two health science journal packages: LWW Total Collection from Ovid and Mary Ann Liebert Online.

Individual journal usage reports for journals in the collection of the Biomedical Library that are not included in Big Deal journal subscription packages were obtained from individual publishers or from HireWire Press, an ePublishing platform that partners with independent scholarly publishers, societies, associations, and university presses to facilitate the digital dissemination of 1,752 journals, books, reference works, and proceedings. From this data, the average cost-per-article use for individually subscribed journals was calculated for the same three-year period.

The average cost-per-article obtained via interlibrary loan (ILL) was also collected for the same three-year period. No data was included for articles obtained for free from libraries with which the Biomedical Library has reciprocal agreements, including the Consortium of Southern Biomedical Libraries (CONBLS) and the Network of Alabama Academic Libraries (NAAL).

The information about cost of article via pay-per-view from publishers was gleaned from the websites of all Big Deal publishers.

  • The cost-per-article use (averaged over the three-year period from 2010-2012) for articles in journals from Big Deal packages varies from publisher to publisher, ranging from as low as $2.11 to as high as $9.42. (See Table 1.)


 Table 1: Three Year Average Cost-Per-Article Use in Big Deal Packages for University Of South Alabama


Publisher/Product 2012 Cost-per-Article Use 2011 Cost-per-Article Use 2010 Cost-per-Article Use 3-Year Average
Oxford $4.57 $3.75 $4.96 $4.43
Sage $2.22 $1.77 $2.79 $2.26
Science Direct $2.10 $3.07 $5.65 $3.61
Springer $3.07 $3.96 $5.41 $4.15
Wiley $7.36 $7.94 $12.96 $9.42
Mary Ann Liebert $7.89 $9.13 $9.14 $8.72
OVID LWW Total Collection $2.09 $2.04 $2.20 $2.11


  • The cost-per-article use over this period for articles in journals to which the University of South Alabama Biomedical Library subscribes independently of any Big Deal subscription package is $17.19, ranging from a low of $0.25 to a high of $84.00.
  • The three-year average cost of an interlibrary loan article is $15.35, not counting the articles we obtained free from libraries with which we have reciprocal agreements.
  • The article pay-per-view cost as listed on publisher websites for articles from journals contained in Big Deal packages to which the Biomedical Library subscribes are shown in Table 2.


Table 2: Cost for Pay-Per-View from Major Publishers


Publisher/Vendor Price Per Article Mean
Ovid (LWW and other publishers) $30 – 80 $51.12
Mary Ann Liebert $51 $51.00
Wiley $35 $35.00
Elsevier $31.50 – 41.95 $35.00
Oxford $32 $32.00
SAGE $15 – $35 $25.00
Springer $34.95 $34.95
Average Cost $37.72  


There are numerous courses of action for libraries to take with regard to Big Deal journal subscription packages.

First, keep the ones that are cost-effective. If the cost-per-article download is much lower than an individual subscription, the packages should be kept.

Second, use the COUNTER journal reports to find journals in the packages that are used most and subscribe to these journals individually. Then, cancel the packages and instead use interlibrary loan and the publisher’s pay-per-view to supplement those on-demand journal articles.

Third, join consortiums in order to negotiate a lower cost for Big-Deal packages, since single libraries might find it more difficult to deal with big publishers. For example, the University of South Alabama belongs to several consortiums, such as CONBLS, NAAL, and Lyrasis, which gave us more favorable prices than directly dealing with publishers.

Fourth, completely opt out of the Big Deal. Numerous libraries have opted out of some Big Deal packages because the cost was too high. Libraries that do opt out should use the second model to find most-used journals or most cost-effective journals to subscribe to individually.

Fifth, libraries may negotiate for better package deals. The negotiation should be backed up by using the COUNTER journal reports. As an illustration, by using the usage statistics, the University of South Alabama Biomedical Library was successful in persuading a publisher to cancel some non-health science journals in the package.

Finally, a key issue in discussing any Big Deal journal package must include library user satisfaction. Of course, real costs and budgetary constraints are a vital component of any discussion of the Big Deal. However, libraries must always focus on how best to meet the needs of its intended audience, even if doing so requires subscription to an expensive Big Deal package.

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