Miskatonic University Press

How much do "web-scale discovery services" for libraries cost?

Posted: 09 November 2011

Web-scale discovery services for libraries are search engines that allow people to search not just titles of books and videos and journals but to dig deeper down into the articles inside journals, and chapters inside books, and more. In theory they bring the full power of a search engine like Google to all of the content a library holds — and in practice they pretty much seem to do that. They’re not perfect, and it’s a complicated question as to who the right user is for such a system, but they are solving the problem of how stupidly, unutterably, pants-wettingly difficult it can be to find an article in a journal.

Example of such systems:

Notice there are no prices on any of those sites.

Traditionally libraries have been very secret about how much they pay for things. The vendors want that and build it into contracts. They want to have lots of freedom to cut deals, to make side arrangements and to negotiate, and they can’t do that if the Freedonia Public Library announces they just paid N thousand dollars for their system. The Ballygobackwards University Library system next door, that last year paid three times that for the same system, would be royally cheesed (even though their collection is larger and they had more finicky details to be ironed out).

I’m curious, though: how much are libraries paying for these systems? If you know, even roughly, let me know. I won’t attribute any sources. If it’s rumour, that’s OK. I won’t mention the library system. I’m wtd@pobox.com and @wdenton on Twitter.

(Updated 10, 11 November 2011; 5 December 2011) Various people have reported:

  • Ebsco Discovery Service: $30,000 - 35,000 per year (Australia)
  • Ebsco Discovery Service: $35,000 for one year, going up by 3% the next two years (US)
  • Ebsco Discovery Service: “about $150,000” (Canada, probably just rumour)
  • Primo: $40,000 - $45,000 per year (Australia)
  • Primo: $30,000 per year (US)
  • Summon: “high five figures” which I took to mean $75,000 (Canada)
  • Summon: “twice that” which I took to mean $150,000, for a three-year contract, i.e. $50,000 per year (Canada)
  • Summon: $40,000 per year (Europe)
  • Summon: $45,000 - $60,000 per year (Australia)
  • Summon: $50,000 per year (US)
  • Summon: $55,000 per year (US)

(I’m leaving this in Canadian dollars, but Canadian, American and Australian dollars are all around par right now.)

Some people have mentioned implementation fees ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 for different products. Vendors may offer other products as part of the deal, but those costs aren’t broken out.

Updated: 09 November 2011