more on weird OCLC business decisions

Originally posted in shorter version as a comment on a post by Karen Coyle on this issue

The frustrating thing here is that libraries ARE willing to pay a reasonable amount to SUBMIT their holdings to an ILL service, such as OCLC’s, which (unlike their cataloging copy service) really has no competitive peers (yet…?).

Libraries get no DIRECT benefit from this — submitting holdings just means other libraries can more easily request things from YOU, and I don’t think fulfilling ILL requests is usually a profit center. Libraries are willing to do it just to serve the larger community, and out of “generalized reciprocity” where they realize that we all need to submit holdings so we call can request from each other.

Libraries ARE still willing to pay a reasonable fee to fulfill their community responsibilities to resource sharing. They’re just not willing to pay an UNREASONABLE fee, or to be ‘locked in’ to buying cataloging from a service that is not the best quality-to-price point for them, in order to continue resource sharing!

(MSU noted they pay tens of thousands of dollars for the reosurce sharing/ILL service, and are willing to keep paying that, just not an unreasonable per-record rate for loading:)

Regarding these statements, MSU’s Haka wrote, “The contention has been made that actions such as ours seek to undermine the WorldCat database. I would simply respond that the price currently quoted to upload these records into the database is the factor that should be questioned.” He also notes that the $88,500 MSU pays for resource sharing “does not seem like freeloading.”

So… you think we’ll see a SkyRiver resource sharing network too? (I guess III already has one? Maybe they’ll provide infrastructure to open it up to non-III libraries?  Although III’s own reputation/history for promoting ‘lock in’ at all costs…  Is SkyRiver itself open and useable by non-III libraries?)

I don’t know if OCLC’s actions are an intentional attempt at forcing ‘lock in’, or due to unfortunate lack of technical flexibility in their back-end systems.

But if the former, it’s just as likely to backfire, and cause them to lose the Resource Sharing business that libraries were perfectly happy to keep with OCLC at a reasonable price!

What I would do if I were king of OCLC

Which I am clearly not.

1) Work with SkyRiver to get OCLC numbers added to as many SkyRiver records as possible. Not share cataloging copy, but merely get a SkyRiver cataloging record to have a MARC field somewhere meaning “this record represents the same manifestation as OCLC record # N.”  OCLC already has quite a bit of technical expertise with this kind of record matching, from their ‘reclamation service’. Charge SkyRiver a reasonable rate for this service, which SkyRiver is going to be willing to pay if the price is reasonable, because SkyRiver is worried about not being able to attract cataloging customers if they become locked out of OCLC resource sharing, and having OCLC numbers on the records will lead to…

2) Perhaps some of the apparently unreasonable expense of OCLC’s “just add holdings” quotes to MSU is not just an attempt to punish/enforce lock-in, but is actually because it’s expensive to load holdings from non-OCLC records, because you’ve first got to figure out what OCLC record they correspond to. But if the ‘foreign’ records have an OCLC number equivalency in them, as above, then it becomes technically must more feasible/efficient/cheap.   So OCLC can offer a much more reasonable per-record price for loading holdings (not loading the records themselves, with another vendor’s copy; just holdings attachments)  from records that have an OCLC equivalency in them.

OCLC gets to retain resource sharing record loading income from customers moving to other vendors for cataloging, instead of losing them entirely. OCLC gets a new revenue stream from vendors such as SkyRiver, paying to establish OCLC equivalencies on their records.  SkyRiver’s happy, because their customers aren’t being ‘locked in’ to OCLC.  Libraries are happy, because services have been “de-coupled” and they can choose the service at the best quality/price point for them. OCLC members who request items via the resource sharing service are happy, because their database of holdings continues to be as comprehensive as possible (and OCLC is happy that their valuable database of holdings maintains and increases in value with as many holdings as possible).

If lots of OCLC members move their cataloging away from OCLC, OCLC is still going to lose net revenue, but I think that’s inevitable at this point, the train’s already left the station. Better to establish revenue streams for their (without peer) resource network from libraries that are cataloging elsewhere, then to lose those too.

Many OCLC members are already purchasing cataloging from other vendors in addition to OCLC.  Many of those records do not end up having holdings registered in OCLC.  If those vendors could be brought into the fold as above, then it’s more revenue for OCLC, and more holdings in their database making their database more valuable (which is what gives value to their resource sharing service, and other services like WorldCat in the first place).

You can try to stick to the business model of 20 years ago, harming the interests of actual libraries in the process, and probably fighting a losing battle anyway. Or you can adjust to new environments with new business models. OCLC has still got a lot of valueable assets — discouraging people from supplying records to their resource sharing network (with infeasible prices) threatens to reduce the value of their assets.

In fact, even calling that a 20 year old business model might not be accurate. When OCLC still had competitors like RLG, did OCLC allow libraries who purchased cataloging copy from other sources to attach holdings for resource sharing at a reasonable cost?  I’m not sure if they did or not. But if they did… what’s changed?  If they did, that would make it seem like it’s less of a technical issue, and more of OCLC trying to take advantage of their (possibly short-lived) monopoly position to lock in customers. (Anti-trust issues?).


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