At first sight the “big (or all‐you‐can‐eat) deal” seems excellent value for libraries and their users, and represents the shining possibilities of the electronic age. A more thorough‐going evaluation, however, exposes dangers for universities, their funders and publishers. This paper examines the big deal in the light of fundamental market conditions and suggests alternative models for procuring electronic resources. The roles and strengths of the players in the information supply chain are defined and traditional hard‐copy procurement is analysed in terms of these roles and the concepts of authority, branding and monopoly. The fundamentals of procuring electronic resources and prevalent purchasing models are discussed in terms of the same roles and concepts. The advantages of the big deal are laid out ‐ access to resources, low unit costs etc. The dangers are also discussed. These arise mainly from the publishers’ position as monopolists. The possible long‐term effects, on library budgets and academic publishing, of dealing with monopoly suppliers are examined. Means of avoiding or minimising these dangers – consortia, alternative publishing methods, new economic models to promote competition – are examined.
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