Since 1996, the “Big Deal” has enabled academic libraries of all sizes to license bundled access to a publisher’s journal at a significant discount off the list prices. Over the years, as Big Deal spending has come to occupy a greater and greater share of materials budgets, libraries have come to question the value of their Big Deal subscriptions, with some opting to cancel or significantly alter their existing arrangements. Today we are thrilled to announce a new report that explores the implications of such cancellations for scholars who rely on subscription-based academic journals for their research and teaching. Our findings will be of interest to librarians, higher education senior leaders, publishers, funders, and policy makers, as they strive to develop access models that are fit for purpose in a changing environment.

How did Ithaka S+R collect the evidence for the study?

Over the past year Ithaka S+R partnered with 11 academic libraries that were in the process of making strategic decisions around Big Deal packages to explore the potential impacts to their users. As part of that work, the group conducted interviews with 89 researchers who were highly likely to be affected by a cancellation at their institution. We explore the strategic implications of these perspectives for library decision making. While any library thinking of cancelling a Big Deal will need to take into account their specific institutional context, several of our findings will have broad applicability.   

Key Findings

The report highlights the key patterns of how library users are experiencing Big Deal cancellations across our cohort. It is also important to recognize how the unique institutional and cancellation contexts can affect the experiences of researchers. In an interview also published today, our partners from Freie Universität Berlin describe how the situation is developing at their institution and what they’ve learned from our project.

Perhaps the biggest take away from the study is that when a suite of journals is no longer available through a Big Deal subscription package, researchers experience little negative impact in the short term. There are some institutional, disciplinary, and career-stage variations, but overall researchers are able to work around the access barriers they encounter. This reality is deceptively benign. Researchers remain supportive of their libraries and are also interested in broader efforts to challenge the status quo of the scholarly communications business. However, they do not have a solid understanding of the strategies for advancing new modes of journal access beyond the subscription model, nor are they clear on what the library can and should provide in response. 

We detail patterns in how researchers approach discovery and access to journal content, focusing on their experiences when that access changes. We also explore researchers’ perceptions of various business models for providing their access to journal content and of the stakeholders engaged in that work.

Looking Ahead

The Big Deal is just one among many approaches for facilitating access to digital content, and it is clear that the fiscal challenges libraries are facing in this space extends far beyond journals. Video streaming is another area where researcher demand is in misalignment with current pricing models. Ithaka S+R is now in the process of assembling a cohort of academic libraries interested in exploring their patrons’ evolving needs working with streaming video content alongside a review of the streaming vendor market. As part of the project libraries will have the opportunity to assess their current library’s strategy related to streaming video and learn from peers with similar priorities. If you are interested in your institution participating, please contact Danielle (

Canceling the Big Deal Project Partners

We express our great gratitude to 11 libraries that have made such a collective research effort possible:

  • Florida State University
  • Freie Universität Berlin
  • Ohio University
  • Oklahoma University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University at Buffalo (SUNY)
  • University of Denver
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Wyoming
  • Wesleyan University