Commercial Digital Archival Collections and the charges for accessing them

At the end of last summer, we were not surprised to see publishers being asked, on one of our email lists, to justify the charges they make for enabling continued access to digital archival collections (DACs). The email was headed ‘enough is enough‘. The issue of platform fees has been a recurring theme for us at Jisc. It was a much-discussed topic during two pilots we ran in 2017 to look into the data which publishers provide for DACs. It has subsequently been subjected to ongoing discussion during our DAC advisory group meetings. The fees in question are often levied annually on collections which libraries have acquired as one-off purchases and for which often a perpetual licence is in place. These recurrent fees can be difficult to manage for librarians as library budgets reflect a firm division between one off collection expenditure and annualised expenditure.

We recently ran a survey to investigate this issue further. Here is a summary report.

The key issue seems to be about transparency. Some do suggest that such fees should not be charged at all, but most concur that we need to understand what they are for and how they will be charged over time. It is recognised that the development of digital platforms is costly and that those costs are often significant.

Our members are most interested to know whether the charges reflect ongoing investment which will improve the users experience. They also want to know if the content is being made available in accordance with the licence which has been applied to it. Collections can be static and not subject to ongoing updates and may also contain material which is public domain. The licence may state that the collection should revert to the public domain after a defined licence period, but this often does not happen. Then there are also charges which enable text and data mining (TDM) on collections. The pricing of DACs itself is open to question as often there is no book price for such collections and libraries do not always know if they are negotiating a fair market price.

All these issues are reflected in the summary report. The full report will be used internally to guide our ongoing work in this area. We are in the process of producing some guidance for those wanting to negotiate for the acquisition of DACs in their own institution, so do keep an eye out for further information on the purchasing of DACs and the related matter of platform fees.


By Peter Findlay

Subject Matter Expert, Digital Scholarship, Content and Discovery, Jisc

Working with Jisc's Higher Education members to improve access to to their special collections in the age of data-centric arts, humanities and social science research.

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