Publishers for Development – working with library consortia

Conversations between providers and customers can drive real change.

Higher education is a growth industry around the globe.  Expectations of both parents and students are constantly rising. Research is changing too – it is becoming more competitive.  The researcher has to be aware of the ethical, legal, regulatory and financial framework for their research and understand the importance of delivering and demonstrating impact.  In many institutions, however, resources are not keeping up with increasing demand and libraries are often struggling to increase their funding. 

In 2014 INASP, the registered charity that works to support affordable access to research in developing countries, published a set of principles to guide publishers in their relationships with consortia and other purchasers working in emerging countries.

The five principles (featured in this article and available to download from INASP’s website) emphasise the power of building long-term, open partnerships to deliver mutual benefits.  Publishers for Development, a joint initiative between INASP and the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), organised a meeting of interested parties to explore how the Principles can be put into practice.  Participants, committed to the role that information and research outputs have in delivering real change, had the opportunity to explore how to support and improve access and improve relationships between libraries and publishers.  The discussions have lessons for all of us.

What does it mean to really understand your customer?

We all like to think we understand our customers and their information needs. The first INASP principle calls for publishers to understand the country context into which they are selling.   For publishers, this could mean travelling beyond capital cities to visit other - perhaps smaller – institutions that may be struggling with connectivity or have completely different research cultures.  Workshop participants were clear in their advice to publishers – talk to as many people as possible on the ground.  Even though you are negotiating with consortia, visit as many member institutions you can to truly understand their information requirements and challenges.  And don’t just talk to your customers when it’s time to renegotiate – do your best to keep the conversation ongoing.

This deeper insight into the customer should not stop at their information needs.  By understanding their administrative and financial processes, a clearer picture emerges about why publishers should avoid ‘sudden changes’ in products, packages or pricing (a topic covered in the third INASP principle). In some instances funding for a product may be coming to an end and money must be found elsewhere.  Consortia need to secure funds from their member institutions which will in turn have their own financial and administrative processes to complete.  Similarly changes in products, publisher mergers or the sale of a product from one publisher to another can create problems for consortia, including changes in access to archive material, or price increases.    During these conversations, publishers explained why sudden changes happen.  As in other institutions, decision making processes can involve many layers of consultation, and changes such as mergers or acquisitions/sales must remain confidential for commercial reasons. 

Next steps

Participants had some recommendations for next steps.  This included the development of good practice guidelines for the transfer of publications between publishers;  and a broadening out of the Principles to cover resources beyond journal titles and Open Access publications.

Publishers for Development is a joint initiative between INASP and the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).