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Content Cafeterias: Libraries Getting Locked-In

December 13, 2018

Sheikh_Hasina_National_Youth_Center_cafeteria,_gymnasium_and_library_area_signMore and more librarians are expressing distress over the aggressive behavior of academic publishers. It seems a new level of pushiness has accompanied the commodification of intellectual contributions which are getting prepared, one could say sliced and diced, and served up for consumption. Can we prevent the library from simply becoming the content cafeteria supplied by only a few select provisioners? One way to subvert this is to avoid getting locked-in by the content providers with which we deal. They use lock-in because it is good business for companies. Even so, a good first step toward leading a more cooperative approach is for librarians to get a better understanding of the concept.

The concept of “Lock-In” is not new to the business world but is something of which librarians and faculty need to be aware. The model in the globalized marketplace of just producing a good product seems no longer viable. Apparently, a well-designed business model these days needs several struts. Lock-In is just one of them. Zott & Amit (2010) describe a four-wheel drive: 1) Novelty = “Adopt innovative content, structure or governance,” 2) Lock-In = “Build in elements to retain business model stakeholders, e.g., customers,” 3) Complementarities = “Bundle activities to generate more value,” and 4) Efficiency = “Reorganise activities to reduce transaction costs.” Each one is semi-autonomous but needs to work well with the other three to get traction.

Librarians, therefore, can focus on the one where they have the most leverage. Sorescu, et al. (2011) states, “Lock-in refers to business models that emphasize retention of activities and actors.” Openness is an important way all libraries can resist this. Openly disclose what things cost, foster open content, promote open access, support open source solutions, and open wide the portfolio of content acquisition streams.

Let’s face it, universities and libraries make decisions based on what’s in the best interest of doing business, too. The problem is that the way of doing business in the name of ease, expediency and efficiency is to close-off options for competition and by extension freedom of expression and ideas. Librarians need to start talking with their administrations about adopting an open-business model. “An open-business model examines the creation of value between stakeholders, rather than simply considering the value created within the boundaries of a single firm” (Coombes & Nicholson 2013). This can take shape in lots of ways. We may no longer seal business deals with a handshake, but extending our hand in friendship to as many others as possible is a better way to do business.

Works Cited:

Coombes, Philip H., and John D. Nicholson. 2013. “Business Models and Their Relationship with Marketing: A Systematic Literature Review.” Industrial Marketing Management 42 (5): 656–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indmarman.2013.05.005.

Sorescu, Alina, Ruud T. Frambach, Jagdip Singh, Arvind Rangaswamy, and Cheryl Bridges. 2011. “Innovations in Retail Business Models.” Journal of Retailing 87 (July): S3–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jretai.2011.04.005.

Zott, Christoph, and Raphael Amit. 2010. “Business Model Design: An Activity System Perspective.” Long Range Planning 43 (2–3): 216–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lrp.2009.07.004.

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