By Meredith Farkas | April 2, 2010
I was less than thrilled with the way EBSCO has dealt with some of its customers vis-à-vis Harvard Business Review. I thought it was pretty evil that they signed exclusive deals for all of those Time, Inc. magazines. But what they’ve done now has really sent me through the roof.
We used to get online access to the full run of the Journal of Military History through a combination of JSTOR access and EBSCO (Academic Search Premier offered 2004-present in f/t). So, this semester, we noticed that our online access had disappeared completely from Serials Solutions. Obviously, at a military college that offers an online masters degree in military history, this is kind of an important title so we looked into it immediately. We come to find out that the Society for Military History signed an exclusive deal with EBSCO, which means that the Journal of Military History is being pulled from JSTOR, MUSE and ProQuest. Fortunately, for existing JSTOR subscribers, the backfile will still be available, though obviously it will not continue to grow and new subscribers will get nothing from this journal. Around the same time, EBSCO pulled that 2004-present full-text out of Academic Search Premier. Now why would they pull their full-text access to a journal they just signed an exclusive deal on?
The reason: their new products America: History and Life and Historical Abstracts Full-Text. These products have always been citations and abstracts only, but EBSCO has decided to offer a full-text add-on with full-text. This only sounds good on paper. As of now, the full-text coverage in each product is rather poor (you can see the coverage of each in PDF format: AHL, HA). We’d looked at them a while back and weren’t impressed, so we didn’t bother to even get a trial, much less subscribe. But now, they have their ace in the hole that will force any school with an online history program or any school that wants to offer online access to the Journal of Military History to spend many thousands of dollars to get that access. At first we though we could just subscribe to Historical Abstracts Full-Text (at a cost of around $3500 for our small academic library) and get access to the whole run of the Journal of Military History, but then we remembered that each database only indexes a subset of the journal, so we’d only be getting the articles that aren’t about the United States and Canada. To get both, we’d have to pay almost double that. So basically, we’d be spending close to $7,000 to get three-years’-worth of full-text content in one journal (plus some other stuff we don’t want or need). For a small school like ours, this is not an insignificant amount of money. And I can tell you that we won’t pay it.
To me, this feels like extortion. We’d be happy to subscribe to this journal online as a single title subscription, but EBSCO has made it clear that the only option for online access to this journal will be through AHL and HA Full-Text. I’m also very disappointed in the Society for Military History. I’m no expert, but I would think that having your journal be less accessible would decrease its scholarly impact. When you write for a journal, you want people to find your article and cite it. When something is in JSTOR, it’s indexed all over creation (Google, Google Scholar, WorldCat, etc.). To move to a situation where almost no one will be subscribed to your content online seems a step in the wrong direction. I can only imagine how much money EBSCO must have offered the Society for Military History to make this worth their while. I do see, though, that they’ll be providing current online access to their members through EBSCO, so I’d guess this is also a ploy to grow their membership.
While I know EBSCO is doing things that will almost certainly increase their bottom line (because they essentially force people to purchase their products or not provide access to things their patrons need and want), I think it’s only going to result in them becoming the most hated vendor in libraryland (good news, Elsevier!) and severely decrease the amount of choice that librarians have in making subscription decisions. If these anti-competitive moves keep happening, it will really change the e-resources landscape for libraries, and not for the better.