Drop the pilot: why business librarians should not give in to Harvard Business School Publishing’s new scheme

As Chair of BBSLG (the British Business Schools’ Librarians’ Group) which comprises some 200 academic business librarians and over 100 libraries across the UK and Ireland, I have recently spent a considerable amount of my time complaining about an outrageous and precedent-setting pilot scheme dreamt up by Harvard Business School Publishing. For a few years now HBSP have been requesting payments of as much as £15k pa from several UK academic business libraries simply for the privilege of making persistent links to HBR articles on reading lists and VLEs.

The links in question are being made to EBSCO’s Business Source products (which provide HBR in full-text), however, it is Harvard rather than EBSCO who have approached librarians directly for additional payment.  Thus far these demands for extra monies, which are being requested on top of the EBSCO subscription, are, as mentioned above, merely part of a ‘pilot scheme’, however, HBSP plan to roll it out to all EBSCO subscribers in due course.

Thus far, all UK librarians who have been offered the ‘opportunity’ to pay this additional sum have unsurprisingly turned it down, and as a result have recently had the ability to make persistent links to HBR turned off by EBSCO. This move has been greeted with a mixture of fury and disbelief  for a number of very good reasons:

1) The majority of UK business librarians make persistent links to HBR, and yet  only a handful of Universities have been selected to pay more now. Why should only a handful of libraries pay for a practice still in operation at other institutions?
2)  The ability to persistent-link has always been part and parcel of an EBSCO subscription. How can an additional fee be justifiably levied for what is considered to be a basic web experience rather than an added extra?
3) How can EBSCO justify turning off the ability to make persistent links to HBR at targeted institutions, when the links are still turned on and being used by EBSCO subscribers at other institutions that have not been targeted?
4) Why are EBSCO not protecting its customers from Harvard approaching them directly? As subscribers we have a relationship with EBSCO not Harvard. If Harvard are after after extra monies for access to their material then surely they should demand it of the aggregator not us? It seems a particularly odd strategy on EBSCO’s part when one considers that before now they have maintained uniformly excellent relations with their customers.
5) If HBSP get away with this practice, what’s to stop other journal publishers following suit? And what then is the purpose of paying a subscription to a journal aggregator if you’re having to pay additional fees to individual publishers on top?

However, in my opinion, the most important argument against HBSP’s scheme is that the primary reason which they cite for this cost recovery process is a clause in EBSCO subscribers contracts which states that access to articles within the product is for ‘individual, private study’ rather than for teaching purposes. Is accessing and reading an article cited on a course not individual study? Where does teaching begin and study end? Where do you draw the line? Harvard are of course drawing it at a point which conveniently supports their argument, but their definition is highly debatable.

Given the level of bad feeling around this issue, EBSCO’s Gareth Smith has agreed to speak on behalf of EBSCO in an open forum session at the 2009 BBLSG conference in Dublin in a few weeks time and subsequently feed back our views both to his company and to Harvard. The correspondence received thus far from HBSP suggests that they will stand firm and I consider it imperative that we do the same.


N.B. Visit Paul Stainthorp’s UoL blog to read a post on the same issue.


3 thoughts on “Drop the pilot: why business librarians should not give in to Harvard Business School Publishing’s new scheme

  1. Dennis McDonald says:

    This is another example of the “balkanization” of the web where users are being divided into two groups — “haves” and “have-nots.” Of course, Harvard can adopt any legal pricing and licensing scheme it wants; the middleman in this case, EBSCO is the one that inevitably gets squeezed, business-wise. An interesting question is, what do Harvard’s authors think about this since the practice would seem to reduce the value to them of publishing in Harvard publications?


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