Bowen Thagard, EBSCO Senior Vice President of Operations & Finance for the Subscription Services Division, offers questions to ask and topics to consider when assessing capabilities of subscriptions agents.
Subscription agents have been around for many years, but what does it take to do the job well, and what sets one agent apart from another?
An agent’s job is very specialized and requires current technology, as well as skilled staff with expertise. Overall, the agent should be one who can be entrusted with your institution’s financial resources, and one that has the financial resources to reinvest back into technology to continuously improve services for customers and publisher partners. In addition, the agent should be an expert who reduces the administrative workload, helps with management tasks and provides a convenient and reliable method of purchasing all types of content from all over the world. You may also find it important to choose an agent who offers not only subscription services, but also a range of access and management tools, offering a holistic solution for information management.
Overall, the agent should be one who can be entrusted with your institution’s financial resources, and one that also has the financial resources to reinvest back into technology to continuously improve services for customers and publisher partners.
How many titles are in your database? Do you maintain comprehensive bibliographic details for these titles, as well as pricing and format availability? How often is this information updated?
Do you provide activation and license details for electronic titles? How can this information be accessed?
How far in advance of the start date do you process orders? Are you able to pay publishers at the time of order and in local currency to ensure on-time starts and avoid lapses in service?
Will you provide a dedicated customer service representative to manage our subscription account? Do you have a customer service portal available directly from your subscription management platform?
Do you have staffed offices in countries around the world to provide local title and local language assistance?
Do you have an online subscription management system that allows us to order, claim and renew subscriptions and review current and past orders? Does your subscription management system provide the latest prices or estimates to assist in managing the renewal budget? What are some of your latest enhancements?
Are invoices and account statements available online?
What types of management reports can you provide? Can these reports be accessed in real time?
Can you work with our Integrated Library System to provide interfaces for ordering, invoicing and claiming?
How do you manage and track claims for missing or damaged issues? Can this be done online in real time?
How will you notify us if major changes happen to titles in our account (i.e., title cessations, splits, mergers, new format availability, etc.)?
Can you provide title-level detail for e-journal packages, with or without title-level pricing, as required? Do you assist with tracking titles as they move in or out of a package?
Do you offer a tool for collecting usage data for online subscriptions? Can that data be integrated into your subscription management tool at point of need?
What sort of tools do you provide to help manage access to electronic titles? Can you automatically populate our subscriptions into these tools?
These are just some questions to ask when evaluating a subscription vendor. As the subscription industry changes, agents are constantly working to implement new ways to help librarians become more efficient in their work, and new information may be required in order to make the best decision. Especially when resources are tight, it pays to ask questions and evaluate in order to partner with an experienced agent.