Strauss Library Collection: Subscription Cost

Welcome to the second blog post about the Strauss Health Sciences Library collection. In the first blog post, we reported on the FY20 Library Subscriptions Survey results. In the next few posts, we will discuss general issues about the library collection, including cost, collaborative licensing efforts, different user groups and sites served by the library, and other questions raised by survey respondents.

Collection Expenditure The Strauss Library spends over around $3 million on the collections every year. Over 99% of the collection budget goes towards annual subscriptions for electronic resources, such as databases (e.g., UpToDate, Dynamed), electronic journal packages (e.g., Elsevier ScienceDirect journals, JAMA package), electronic book packages (e.g., AccessPharmacy, StatRef), and other resources with annual costs (e.g., Sage backfile host fee, R2 Digital Library access fee).

Subscription Cost Increase

Every year, the cost of subscriptions increases by around 5%, sometimes more. 

According to the EBSCO 2020 Serials Price Projection Report, the overall effective publisher price increases for academic and medical libraries in 2020 is projected to be in the range of five to six percent for individual titles, and four to five percent for electronic journal packages. Over the 2015-2019 period, the cost of academic medical library journals increased between 5.47% – 5.98% annually.

There is no national survey on database pricing trends, but our local experience is a similar upward trend. As an example, we have seen some of our top clinical tools’ cost increase by 5-7% every year.

If the library’s collection budget stays flat, then the library must make cuts to the subscriptions or identify funds from other budgets, such as operating or gift funds.  Typically the library does a combination of these practices.  The library will look for less utilized resources to drop as well as review other budgets for available funds.

Cost per Use

The library considers several factors in deciding whether to renew or cancel a resource, including: renewal price, usage statistics over the last few years, cost per use (CPU), if the resource is used in teaching, if the content is available through other options (such as interlibrary loan, third-party database of journal articles), and whether there are similar products. Among these factors, usage trend and CPU are examined carefully. In calculating CPU, use is generally defined as full text article requested (view or download) for journals, or searches run for databases. Usage data is provided by vendors. The library usually calculates cost per use using last three year’s usage average. 

For example, if a journal package costs $10,000 in 2020, and full text article downloads for the last three years are 5000, 6000, 5500 respectively, then the three-year average is 5500, and the CPU is approximately $1.82 ($10,000 / 5500 = $1.82).

CPU is an important number for renewal decisions as it reflects both subscription cost and local usage. We typically compare CPU among similar journal packages or databases when reviewing renewal quotes. It can also be used as leverage in price negotiation with vendors.


2020 EBSCO Serials Price Projection Report

Five Year Journal Price Increase History (2015-2019)

If you have any questions about library collections, please contact Yumin Jiang, Head of Collection Management, at: 303-724-2137,

Next Topic: Ways to Reduce Subscription Cost

This was written by Yumin, you can contact AskUs with questions.