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.
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This post was mentioned on Twitter by buffyjhamilton: Has EBSCO become the new evil empire? | Information Wants To Be Free: http://is.gd/bbves…
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Buffy Hamilton, Jeff Scott and infopeep, Meredith. Meredith said: Just wrote a diatribe about EBSCO and their questionable business practices http://bit.ly/dsGxIu. Man, do I dislike that company. […]
If you really want to see some Ebsco hate, ask a medical librarian about Ebsco CINAHL. It’s an appallingly bad interface. And now Ebsco has the exclusive deal for the database.
We are an EBSCO library. I have worked with EBSCO & other database vendors for the last 9 years. EBSCO consistently pulls titles, has ridiculously long embargos (which they also change at will), gives misleading or incorrect information during sales presentations, and repackages and sells the same content in different bundles–double-charging libraries and giving a false impression that the library is getting more content than they are. I was very disappointed when our library switched from Gale to EBSCO this past year and these problems further solidify my position. I would love to think EBSCO could change but the ling term pattern of behavior makes me think it’s corporate culture…and that’s hard to change. Thank you Meredith for sharing your own experiences with other libraries. We should all share our vendor experiences.
Are we surprised? They have been doing this for years. I, too, have been a victim of their lies during presentations and the whole issue with Time makes me sick. Based on this pattern behavior I am confident that they approached Time, even though they keep telling us that Time forced them to sign the exclusives. Anyway, the best way we can show our dissent is by not buying their products.
I judge vendors by how their reps deal with customers. EBSCO reps are the pushiest and nastiest of the bunch. They lie to get your business, put other vendors down every chance they get, and are far too aggressive even when I ask them not to be. I think they make Elsevier look like angels.
I love JSTOR. Why can’t EBSCO be like them, huh?
Greig, JSTOR is a service of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit foundation. See:
Where is a David to take down this Goliath?
Have you ever come across this article:
Ten years later and not much has changed.
Unless librarians were willing to band together and take a stand – eliminate their subscriptions with vendors with objectionable practices – I don’t think much is going to change. We would have to send a strong message.
Meredith, you told us the solution for the full-text challenge right there at the end…
“The Society for Military History [will]… be providing current online access to their members through EBSCO…”
The NU library can join the Society & have full text access to their content.
Indexing to provide discoverability for the Society’s content, obviously, is going to be sub-par — unless EBSCO provides it in their other databases and/or other indexes are still able to provide it…
Aaron, I wish that was an option, but apparently, it’s only for individual members, not institutional ones. 🙁
I think it might be the best option for our grad students (the student rate is only $25), or otherwise we can just scan and email them articles since we still subscribe to the print journal.
Steven, I completely agree with you. My director told me about how (when she ran a medical library) Elsevier had done something really awful with some medical journal, and the entire professional organization of medical libraries decided to boycott the title. That’s the only thing that will change the behavior of publishers and I suspect that things will change, but they will get worse for us. We have all these huge consortia (Lyrasis, Waldo, etc.) — isn’t this the sort of thing they could assist with? Or do they not want to jeopardize their relationships with the companies?
Is your institution going to write the Society of Military History and say that while you would really like to purchase digital access to their publication individually, you aren’t going to be doing it as part of the package, and their losing your business? I hope so.
Please contact the society, continue your print subscription and explan the situation to faculty and students. They will understand and hopefully add their voice with complaints to the society.
I know I’m not without a conflict of interest but you might want to know about this Facebook group:
Librarians for Fair Access
They also had a booth staffed by librarians and end-users at PLA and another one is planned for ALA in DC
I hope to see you at CIL. Are you coming this year? Bring Reed.
Something similar happened with Consumer Reports last year. I think associations are more concerned with access for their members than libraries and aren’t really aware of how these agreements effect institutions.
Last year due to budget cuts, I had to downgrade Masterfile Premier to Masterfile Elite. I called Ebsco to get a price. They replied with a quote for my getting rid of all other content providers and becoming an Ebsco-only shop. I asked again the cost of the downgrade. They replied again with the quote for becoming an Ebsco-only shop. I said that without knowing how much we could save by downgrading, my only choice would be to terminate Ebsco. They gave me the price reduction.
Saw your Tweet about EBSCO’s call to your boss (BTW, not to you, which sounds a little like tattling to me)… I’m so curious to hear how that turns out.
The evil empire debate doesn’t just end in libraries… this has been on the news quite a bit in my community:
Please, there’s nothing evil about it. Or maybe they should maintain their database for free just for your benefit. If it’s that big of an issue encourage your school to subscribe to EBSCO and tada! you’ll have access to the articles again. There’s nothing evil about what they’ve done. If you don’t like it then boycott them and live without the information. If you’re really worried about the information then subscribe to EBSCO.
Thanks, Craig, for making everything so much simpler. Clearly, in my post, I was asking EBSCO to offer their journals for free.
Seems this issue pops up every so often – whenever something that used to be a “throw-in” or “add-on” suddenly has value … I’m not sure I totally understand the Evil Empire references, as this seems like Econ 101 to me. Information might *WANT* to be free, but it’s not … I’m with Craig on this, if it’s of value to you and your institution, buy it.
I’m not sure how a journal we were paying for through a database is a “throw in.” We were not getting it for free. By that logic, it is just as much of a “throw in” in AHL and HA Full-Text, which means that it could just as easily disappear from those collections as well.
If you’re subscribed to a journal that is important to your constituency and they suddenly raise their rates for that journal by 400%, making it unaffordable, would you not be frustrated? Just as they did with Elsevier 6-7 years ago, libraries need to come together to protest and fight against publisher/content provider practices like this. It’s not an issue of the library not wishing to pay to access the journal (we’d be happy to pay for an online subscription to this journal); it’s the bundling of the journal with content that we do not want and then not giving libraries any other choice but to subscribe this way. The most expensive journal we subscribe to at Norwich costs $2800 and we’d be happy to even pay that much to subscribe to this very important journal. But to pay $7000 for databases we don’t want for the sole purpose of getting full-text access to a single journal is absurd.
Craig and Tim seem to have missed the point, or not the read the article.
I have had lots of problems with fulltext access being offered only to certain vendors. But I think there is an important distinction here: in many cases, journals sign full text content over to one provider, but still allow other databases (from other vendors) to index the journal, thus ensuring that their content remains widely spread. One thing you can do is to talk to the Society that publishes the journal to make sure they are making sure this option remains available.
It is not ideal, but at least it means that your users can then find the content via other services, and obtain the articles through other means.
the bigger issue – yeah I know. But I dont know if we can do anything. if its not Ebsco, its Proquest. Or Elsevier. Or its the societies saying they can’t afford to publish at all – and price their journals to a price no one can afford. Its an incredibly bad situation, and contrary to belief, I don’t see open access as a perfect solution either.
And just for the note – you do realize that the big push against Elsevier ultimately went nowhere – I mean, The Big E dropped prices for a short bit, but then ended up just slowly bundling the titles back up, and then it back to business as usual? The problem remained the same – the titles they offer are not available any place else, and users and faculty wanted them.
I used to work for the ‘sco, and I can tell you this behavior extends to their employees. Blood from a stone should be their motto.
I dumped Ebsco as our magazine jobber a couple years ago when I realized they weren’t passing on to us the discounts the magazine publishers were offering. We’re a small rural library and every dollar counts. It’s no more of a hassle to order through Amazon than it was through Ebsco. I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with them for access to various databases of professional journals like a lot of you do.
Seriously, does Ebsco expect that they will make more money this way? Library budgets are being cut and many libraries simply will not be able to pony up $7000 (or more) for databases.
As a person who is an academic librarian, military historian and instructor in the Norwich University of Master of Arts in Military History program I can attest that the Norwich program will not function without online access to the flagship journal in the field. Telling students they need to join the Society and subscribe to the journal themselves is not a solution. How much more of the collection development needed to support the program (the one for which students pay pretty hefty tuition of course) must Norwich foist off on others owing to financial concerns? Is the other alternative mentioned – having Norwich University library staff scan and send *each* and article needed from the journal to *each* student who needs it – really workable?
Finally, have we asked the Society for Military History leadership who made this decision, and why they made it? I intend to do that if others have not. I would appreciate any insights into the above, however, that Meredith or anyone at Norwich might have.
Mark, I contacted our three faculty members at Norwich who are members of the Society. One of them is a trustee of the Society and stated that the financial incentives were too great for the board to turn the deal with EBSCO down. I know that this faculty member was actually not in favor of the deal.
In coming to this decision, the Society for Military History has made it clear that it does not care whether or not libraries have online access to their journal. As a military historian, librarian and professor, you should let them know how damaging this decision is, both to libraries/students/faculty and to those who write for the journal, since their articles will be less accessible.
Given that we have not had online access to issues of the journal from 2008-2010 since January and have gotten less than a handful of requests for us to scan articles from the journal, I suspect that it is a workable solution. It will have to be. MHQ is only available in print and this is how the graduate students have to get copies of this journal too (there simply are not any online subscription options). This is the reality of being a distance learner in a history program — since not everything is even available digitally, people will have to plan their research around waiting a few days for an item to be mailed or scanned and emailed to them.
Let’s hear it for open access scholarly publishing!
When you say that the SMH made it clear it does not care whether or not libraries have online access to JMH, do you mean they made that clear explicitly? (That is, did some of the people in our program that are members or on the board relate that to you?) Or did you mean that the action itself of taking EBSCO up on their deal ipso facto conveys that the SMH doesn’t care if libraries have online access?
I acknowledge your advice that I should let the SMH know how damaging the decision is. In my experience, however, the leaders and members of the SMH often care about libraries but do always act in ways that best serve the collection and preservation of military history collections in academic libraries. In other words, their heart is in the right place but they do not always seem to have the specific knowledge necessary to make informed decisions about how best to ensure the availability in research libraries of the primary and secondary source materials in the military history field. (Academic librarians, for example, usually know those kinds of things – but there are few in the SMH. There are some archivists, of course, and a handful of librarians show up but not enough to influence policy.) None of this invalidates your advice, of course, and I will indeed act upon it. Rather it illustrates the conditions under which anyone must act upon it.
As for having the Norwich library scan and provide articles being a workable solution – if it is workable now, will it be in the long run? The longer Norwich goes without online access the more articles, obviously, students will have to acquire by that method. I argued above that requiring students to join the SMH is not a good solution. I suppose, though, if no other solution were available Norwich could raise the fees/tuition for the program by $25 per year (or whatever the student SMH membership rate is) and then tell everybody that enrollment in the Master’s program “came with” a student membership in the SMH. Perhaps university regulations wouldn’t allow that; you and others there would know better than I.
If you think EBSCO is evil for this, it’s just the beginning. Earlier this year EBSCO served Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to many (most?) state consortia and many state institutions of higher learning to obtain the details of these consortia/institutions contract details, including pricing, of all electronic resources. Now EBSCO has the pricing details of their competitors. They’re going to undercut their competitors and use cutthroat tactics to drive their competitors out of business. I find this objectionable and slimy – it violates the intent of FOIA law, which wasn’t written to provide competitive business advantage for a for-profit company.
Yes, EBSCO is easily the Evil Empire of LibraryLand. It’s not even close.
Although I do not approve of EBSCO’s recent actions, I do take issue with the comment that “EBSCO reps are the pushiest and nastiest of the bunch. They lie to get your business, put other vendors down every chance they get, and are far too aggressive even when I ask them not to be.” Our database rep and customer service specialist at EBSCO have NEVER been pushy or nasty, and have given us great service.
Patricia, I have to agree with you. Our rep has always been very nice and not pushy at all. I think every vendor probably has some great reps and some terrible ones and it’s just unfortunate that the ones you happen to get in your area can so greatly color your view of the company. Last year, we dealt with a rep from one company whose behavior basically convinced us not to do business with that company. However, if that perception of EBSCO reps being pushy and nasty is common, the vendor should work hard to weed out those behaviors in their staff (or weed out those staff who exhibit those behaviors).
I assume you’ve heard that EBSCO has also purchased NetLibrary from OCLC… ?
You think EBSCO and Elsevier are bad? Try “working” with Up-to-Date. UTD should be the poster child for how not to run a company and how not to deal with customers.
I have heard stories, Jeff, from medical librarian colleagues. You have my sympathies.
It is extortion and the Society is an accomplice, perhaps unknowingly. I would like my colleagues in COSLA to take a strong stand on the issue.
All I can think, reading these comments, is that line from Dover Beach: “ignorant armies clashing by night.”
Scholars and scholarly societies should not count on library subscriptions (directly or through these contracts) to provide cash flow for their operations. There’s less need for the cash, now, since there’s a rather low barrier to publishing online. Those who want to work with print could print their own. Societies are not willing to rethink how to fund themselves without this income, though, and most scholars don’t seem to have the imagination to overcome their self-interest in traditional publishing, but if they want to communicate their findings, hiding them behind a tollgate is not helpful. As for societies, when the need to raise money conflicts with their values, all I can think is … do we need scholarly societies anymore if their values are worth so little and their business so much? They should exist to further knowledge, not their own continued existence.
Hear that clanking sound? It’s the system, breaking down.
Great comment, Barbara, and I loved your insightful Library Journal piece. In this day in age, there are too many professional/scholarly organizations that seem to work more to promote their own existence than to actually promote values and scholarly information in their areas. I’ve see it across professions/specialties.
“They should exist to further knowledge, not their own continued existence.”
The ability to further knowledge itself depends on continued existence.
I also respectfully take issue with some of the other assertions made in comment 41 as well.
You say “for societies, when the need to raise money conflicts with their values, all I can think is … do we need scholarly societies anymore if their values are worth so little and their business so much? ”
That’s all you can think? How about thinking of this:
The hotels and convention centers where societies hold their conferences, the utility companies who provide energy for their offices, and all the other businesses who want money for the services on which societies depend all charge an increasing amount for those services. So if a scholarly society – in this case the SMH – wrestles with the increasing cost of its work – then does that make them devoid of values? It is one thing to question the particular choices they make to deal with the problem with increasing costs. I agree with that line of questioning. It’s another thing to say that they lack in values just because they recognize that the costs go up while their income stays the same. I that assertion is unfair.
I too question the Society for Military History’s decision in the particular case of the EBSCO agreement, but to assert they lack in basic values just because the cost of their operations went up is not, in my opinion, either constructive or helpful.
I have worked with several members of the SMH board over the years and can attest to their sense of values and their sincere committment to the pursuit of knowledge.
Debate whether they made the right decision on how to keep the lights on, but don’t say THEY lack imagination or values just because it is, in fact, a lot harder to keep the lights on nowadays.
I’m a first-semester library student so this is all new to me, but it sure sounds like EBSCO is following the Comcast model of providing service. Subscribe to hundreds of cable channels you don’t want in order to get the half dozen you do. That’s why so many people are turning to Hulu and the web — television’s open access? No wonder companies want to rein in the internet. Maybe EBSCO will just make you watch a bunch of ads before giving you the article.
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