Publishers: how are you working with developing countries?

Last year INASP published some principles for publishers concerned to do business responsibly in developing countries. To recap, these principles include:

    • Making the effort to understand the country context
      – understanding local needs and going beyond the capital city
    • Respecting a country’s wish to negotiate as a consortium or purchasing club – looking for alternative routes or withdrawing access during negotiations can damage relationships and reputations
    • Not making sudden changes – explaining plans early and giving consortia time to prepare
    • Thinking medium to long term on pricing – budgets won’t have increased just because countries are willing and able to deal directly
    • Being realistic about sales expectations – so where increases are needed, making these affordable, incremental and predictable

We discussed these with a number of you during a lively session at last year’s Publishers for Development conference (see this video of my presentation or view all the sessions here) and there was a general sense of agreement. We’ve heard of some good business approaches – publishers that are clear that consortia or their local equivalents make the most obvious partners for them, are willing to invest the time to develop those relationships and price appropriately, and recognize the importance of taking a five-year view. There are some good examples of attempts to understand the country context too. A number of publishers with which INASP works have visited consortia, while others have provided practical support, such as running short training events or sponsoring promotional activities.

But we’ve also heard of several instances where major publishers, seeking to sell directly to a country, have bypassed the consortium to establish business with government or directly with university heads. This creates considerable and unnecessary problems for consortia and bypasses the systems and structures that countries are trying to build – structures which are designed for long-term, sustainable access.

The pace of change

Access to research – at affordable rates, and at rates that will still be affordable into the future – is a major challenge.

INASP works with library consortia or other national bodies to ensure that researchers and students have the journals and books they need. This is as important now as ever as major efforts are underway to strengthen research and higher education systems across Africa, Asia and Latin America. We hear on a weekly basis how challenging this continues to be. The pace of change from philanthropic schemes to direct sales, and increases to subscription rates in the process, too often outpaces a country’s ability to respond.

Let’s be absolutely clear – INASP and our partners welcome the progressive shift to direct relationships between countries and publishers. In the long term, it is this which will better serve countries’ needs and enable them to develop the information collections that they most need. But we’re also clear that it needs to happen at the right pace. Countries need the time to develop their systems and processes, and to build the relationships they need with decision makers to ensure the right levels of future funding.

Building strong consortia, which can increase purchasing budgets and extend access to new institutions, takes time. Our partners are working hard to grow their consortia, to develop stronger relationships with university and research leaders, and to demonstrate the importance that access to information plays in building robust research systems. But too often the effort and energy that is needed to develop strong and sustainable structures is dissipated as consortia grapple with unaffordable pricing and the imperative not to let their users down.

Share your stories!

So, seven months on from the publication of our principles of responsible engagement, we’d like to hear from you. We’re keen to celebrate good practices and show what can be achieved when consortia and publishers build mutually productive and trusting relationships.

If you’ve got good examples to share – where you’ve followed these principles, and have developed good relationships – let us know. We’re keen to collect these stories – perhaps you’d be keen to write a post for the Publishers for Development blog. Or perhaps you’d like to share some of the challenges you’ve encountered too, when trying to put these principles into practice. Send us an email – we’re happy to share stories anonymously too.

You can see the principles here and can read more about why we think these are important here. My colleagues Anne Powell and Mai Skovgaard will be at UKSG next week so please do seek them out. They’d be glad to discuss these further with you.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Jonathan Harle
Jonathan Harle is Senior Programme Manager, Research Access and Higher Education and Director of the Strengthening Research and Knowledge Systems programme

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