Big Deal: classic game-theoretic situation with no credible defect option, so study shock defects

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Around 3500 words from Timothy Gowers complaining about yet another unsatisfactory publisher deal, this one between UK universities and Elsevier. Only around 400 words matter, excerpted:

A large part of the reason that Elsevier and the other large publishers walk all over Jisc in these negotiations is that we lack a credible Plan B. (For mathematics there is one — just cancel the deal and read papers on the arXiv, as we do already — but many other subjects have not reached this stage.) We need to think about this, so that in future negotiations any threat to cancel the deal is itself credible.

In any case, if you are unhappy with the way things are, please make your feelings known. Part of the problem is that the people who negotiate on our behalf are, quite reasonably, afraid of the reaction they would get if we lost access to important journals. It’s just a pity that they are not also afraid of the reaction if the deal they strike is significantly more expensive than it need have been. (We are in a classic game-theoretic situation where there is a wide range of prices at which it is worth it for Elsevier to provide the deal and not worth it for a university to cancel it, and Elsevier is very good at pushing the price to the top of this range.) Pressure should also be put on librarians to get organized with a proper Plan B so that we can survive for a reasonable length of time without Big Deal subscriptions. Just as with nuclear weapons, it is not necessary for such a Plan B ever to be put to use, but it needs to exist and be credible so that any threat to walk away from negotiations will be taken seriously.

How I would love to read an assessment of journal cancellation natural experiments.