Archive for the 'Vendors' Category

Vendor Fail

All my plans of writing more documentation for ERMes, making small enhancements, and posting more about how I’ve been using ERMes last month were waylaid by an insurgence of necessary “Other Work” (OWs?), most notably multiple e-resource failures.

In the last month, we’ve had eleven database outages or interface/functionality problems along with four instances of off-campus access problems. Eleven and four might not be many if I could solve such issues in a few minutes or an hour, if I had a whole posse of troubleshooters at my side, or we were not paying thousands of dollars to access this content. However, I’m a lone ranger at present, some of the issues have taken days to resolve or remain unresolved, and we are certainly not getting what we paid for. In the meantime, students and faculty have assignment and research deadlines.

In my ideal little e-resource world, I wish that all e-resource vendors were customer-centered. Unfortunately, my experiences in the last month have done a mighty fine job of illustrating how this is decidedly *not* always the case.

While I am well aware that technology has hiccups and may even come down with a bug analogous to H1N1, there are significant, substantial, magnificent, plentiful, and <insert more adjectives here>, ways in which many vendors (i.e. humans) could better support their library customers.

Why? Let’s just say we pay $10,000 a year for access to one resource, and lack of customer service leads to four days of lost access. This means that $109.89 of our subscription fee was lost for access we did not get. Of course, this is not thousands of dollars, but an amount that rings loudly at renewal time when budget cuts lead to cancellations especially since $109.89 does not even begin to account for troubleshooting time or the immense frustration of faculty and students who actually need and want to use the resource instead of Google.

Based on this month’s experiences, I have a few suggestions for e-resource vendors:

  1. Support thy Customer
    After multiple voice mail/e-mail messages and a multi-day e-resource outage, I am very relieved to hear from a sales representative! I am even more relieved when the vendor “researched [our] issue,” made “an adjustment” to our account and access was back in less than an hour.However, this means that the multi-day outage could have been reduced to minutes *if* I had been able to contact technical support immediately. When I asked if I could please have a direct phone number/e-mail for tech support, since I could not find one said vendor’s website I was told “Well, that’s kind of by design.”  (!) When I heard this, I heard how profoundly the vendor cares for their customers – or not. An e-resource outage is frustrating enough, but the inability to even report the problem and have it fixed within a timely manner is excruciating to colleagues, faculty, students, and me.
  2. Know thy Customer
    To fix an access issue, one vendor suggested that a “cookie would have to be installed on your systems.” While this might be a viable and doable solution for some customers, it is not at all feasible for an academic campus with more than 500 lab computers that all have security settings that erase cookies upon logout, not to mention the faculty and staff computers and/or off campus access via EZ Proxy as permitted in license agreement.
  3. Speak to thy Customer
    While the ability to submit a problem report via a website is a welcome convenience, it is a bridge to nowhere if a. I do not receive verification that you received the problem report and b. the vendor does not alert me when the problem is resolved. Furthermore, it is wonderful when vendors offer to alert me when a problem is fixed, but if vendors do not follow-through with this offer, I assume the problem persists.
  4. Provide  for thy Customer
    While the links may not be broken for higher-paying corporate subscribers, the fact that they are broken for academic users means that future customers are seeing a dysfunctional product. Bad experiences linger long and vividly in one’s memory and could result in these future customers choosing a competing product. Also, just because a vendor added content to a database without a subscription increase does not help if functionality to access this content does not work (e.g. over 2,000 broken links) — kind of like it doesn’t help to have a GPS system in a car if the steering wheel is missing.

While I illustrate examples of poor service and support here, let it be known that I also work with vendors that do provide support, support us well, that do understand us, and that do provide content or make great efforts to fix content errors when found. I also wish to note that some of the humans I dealt with in the above-mentioned scenarios were professional and courteous and clearly trying to be customer-centered within the constraints of a system that was not.

We libraries could always walk away from e-resource subscriptions due to customer service failures now couldn’t we? Except that, it is not always that simple is it?

In the meantime, I am logging all such problems in ERMes so that, come renewal time, I can total days without access and deduct the cost of lost access from our invoices.

When the Price is Wrong

Perhaps it is because my time as an e-resources librarian is fairly short or maybe I just need to get out more, but I’ve been surprised by the number of times I’ve heard about the lack of price negotiations for e-resources.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am hardly an expert at license or price negotiations. However, I do believe that negotiations can be beneficial. Three years ago, I was able to negotiate renewal prices for three different databases so that we saved nearly $6,000 compared to what vendors initially quoted for these renewals. (I realize that this amount’s significance varies significantly depending on the size of your institution and budget.)

Yes, it took time, yes it was frustrating, but in the end, due to flat budgets, that $6,000 allowed us to keep some of the smaller databases and cancel less the following fiscal years. Incidentally, I negotiated with only three vendors, since, as a department of one, I do not have the time/staff to negotiate all subscriptions. Typically, negotiations are started because a price is extremely high, the renewal rate is high, or there are other reasons to argue for a lower price or better licensing terms.

Tactics that have worked for me in the past, but are probably not new to many of you, nor are they guaranteed.

  • Negotiate hard for a new subscription since a lower initial cost means that future percent increases are added to a lower amount.
  • In addition, when signing a license agreement for a new subscription, adding a clause to lock the annual percent increase of the next 3-5 years can help too.
  • When only students in a specific discipline use a database, find out how many students are in that discipline and argue for a lower price based on this figure instead of the school’s entire FTE, especially if the vendor does not offer lower prices for fewer simultaneous users. It is unreasonable to pay the full FTE price for a product that only a select portion of the student population uses.
  • Again for discipline specific databases, counter that by making the database available to students now, they are more likely to purchase a subscription at higher rates when they are out in the workforce.
  • Instead of asking the vendor to come up with a reduced rate, counter with a percent increase of your own. While the vendor’s final offer will usually be a little higher, it is usually less than the original quote.
  • Conduct negotiations via e-mail, and during a negotiation, send your reasons in several short emails over the course of a week rather than all at once in one long e-mail.
  • Develop negotiation phrases that you can copy and paste to save time.
  • Use the average percent increases for your library’s subscriptions. Vendors often say that their 5-8% increases is “industry standard.” However, our average percent increase is usually lower than this. Yes, there are outliers on both ends, but by telling a vendor that your library’s average percent increase for all e-resources is X% instead of 8%, you can sometimes reduce your renewal rate.
  • Plead flat budgets, have patience, and start well before the renewal date!
  • Consortiums can be a great help.
  • Cite competing vendors’ favorable terms, price freezes, low percent increases, etc.
  • If you have concerns about a particular license agreement, post your concerns on your blog, Twitter, FriendFeed, or a listserv to see out how others have dealt with the concern(s). If nothing else, your shout-out will alert other libraries of unfavorable terms.
  • Be prepared to walk away. In one experience, it took about a year and half license terms to changes, but it was definitely worth the wait. While it is rare that you can actually walk away from some products without repercussions of some kind, the more libraries are willing to walk away from unfavorable terms, the more likely the vendor will make changes.

What price negotiation strategies have worked for you?

ERMes Website

Download the latest version of ERMes, get instructions, etc.

Author Affiliations

Galadriel Chilton, Electronic Resources Management Librarian, University of Connecticut

William Doering, Systems, Catalog & Digital Initiatives Librarian, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Norma J. Dowell, Library Assistant IV, Iowa State University

Jen Holman, Periodicals & Acquisitions Librarian, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Anna Hulseberg, Academic Librarian, Gustavus Adolphus College

ERMes Users

Alverno College Library

Baker College

Beloit College

Bethel University

Birmingham City University

Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health

Capella University

Cardinal Stritch University

Carleton College

Carroll University

Deerfield Academy

Drake University

Florida Institute of Technology

Georgia Perimeter College

Gustavus Adolphus College

Harrisburg Area Community College

Illinois Wesleyan University

Indian Institute of Management Bangalore

Iowa State University

Irish Research eLibrary

Lincoln University (Lincoln, New Zealand)

Loyola University Health Science Library

Manhattanville College

Monterey Peninsula College

National Science Foundation

Nicolet Area Technical College

Northern Michigan University

Northwestern College

Oakton Community College

Presbyterian College

Ripon College

Rivier College

St. Norbert College

Southwestern College

Springfield College

SUNY-Rockland Community College

Technical University of Denmark

University of Alabama in Huntsville

University of Idaho

University of the Pacific - Stockton

University of Wisconsin-Colleges

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

University of Wisconsin-Platteville

University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Viterbo University

Walden University

Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds

ERMes Articles & Presentations

Presentation: The ERMes Story: A Work in Progress (Galadriel Chilton) part of Open to Change: Open Source and Next Generation ILS and ERMS
ALA Annual, Washington, DC, June 2010

Presentation: The ERMes Story: A Work in Progress (Galadriel Chilton)
Minnesota Innovative Users Group Conference, October 2009

Article: ERMes: Open Source Simplicity for Your E-Resource Management By William Doering and Galadriel Chilton
Computers in Libraries 29(8), September 2009

Presentation: Keeping It All Together: One Library's Strategy for Electronic Resource Management (William Doering)
WAAL, April 2009

Presentation: Getting a Handle on E-Resource Management: An ERM Panel (Galadriel Chilton)
Library Technology Conference 2009, March 2009

Article: A Locally Created ERM: How and Why We Did It By William Doering and Galadriel Chilton
Computers in Libraries 28(8), September 2008

April 2021