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Some things never change, and still don’t work

On Monday I got a call from a publisher asking me to check on the renewal status of several periodicals. This is an old tactic; we don’t work directly with publishers, we work with a subscription agent, and when we cancel, the publisher often calls the library asking if we’ll please go check to see if we really truly meant to cancel that because surely we meant to renew?

We never meant to renew.

But it’s a shaming tactic, and one that relies on librarians to be the kind of eager-to-please business “partner” who says, “Oh, dear, that must have been an accident.” I’m not that librarian. Also, I’m the Director, not Collection Development Coordinator, at least update your records before you call…

And then today I got this email:

Ms. Rogers,

You recently spoke to one of my colleagues asking for a list of [our] titles that might have been cancelled.  I wanted to email you back to let you know which titles we were calling about.  This way you can reach out to your representative at EBSCO and figure out the status of each title.  Here are the titles listed below:

·         American XXXXXX XXXXXXX
·         XXXXXXXXX
·         Journal of XXXXXXX Research

Please let me know the status of the above titles.  Thanks and if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

-Carol

This tactic should never have worked, and it won’t work with me. And I’m tired of it. So I replied:

Carol,

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough on the phone. I am the Director of Libraries. I am not responsible for the day to day operations of our serials office, up to and including whether or not we’ve chosen to cancel a title, and I did not ask for any information. Additionally, I have the utmost confidence in both my librarians and our representatives at EBSCO. If you did not receive a renewal, it is because we chose to cancel the title. Any errors will be caught by our processes in-house. I have no question about the status of these titles, and I will not be checking on the status of these titles, as I have faith in my staff and their work. If you have a legitimate billing concern about our business relationship, please send the appropriate documentation so I might follow up with the appropriate staff.

Generally speaking, I have always viewed calls from publisher sales staff asking about the status of a subscription as cold calls in which you are attempting to “encourage” me to renew a subscription we have cancelled. I see no reason to view this call differently, and would appreciate it if you never call me without details of a legitimate financial concern again.

Best,

Jenica

Carol replied promptly with an apology and revealed the best bit of the whole thing: She doesn’t actually work for the publisher. She works for an outsourced call center that is, it appears, cold calling all the people who canceled subscriptions, and assured me that while she will ensure I don’t get any more calls during this “campaign”, she can’t promise I won’t be called by the publisher after her company has done their part. I can only assume, then, that I’m correct: the purpose of their campaign is to “encourage” libraries who’ve cancelled titles to renew them.

If you still think that by and large the publishers are our partners, and that they have anything but their own best financial interests in mind, please think again. They are not. They are not our partners, and they are not acting in the best interests of library users. They are vendors with whom we have a business relationship based on money. In this case, just one more example of that, a publisher is paying an external company to make guilt and confusion-based sales calls to libraries in an attempt to overturn our collections decisions. If this was about internal bookkeeping of subscriptions and sales, the call to “clean up” the records would come from in-house. That’s not what’s happening: this is not an internal control or customer-relations exercise. This is sales, and it’s dirty sales, too, based in an assumption that we will question our cancellation decision when asked about it directly.

No. I won’t.

You shouldn’t either. Don’t honor these calls. Don’t listen to them. Don’t spend your time following up on a sales pitch you didn’t ask for, and which directly contravenes your reasoned and rational decisions about your subscriptions and collections. Don’t play their game. Don’t let them set the terms.

Note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the vendor has been obscured because I’m not in the mood to fight about it.

5 Responses to Some things never change, and still don’t work

  1. Thanks for sharing this depressing tale, and especially the Big Reveal that this is being done systematically.

    I can’t help wishing you’d name-’n’-shame the guilty vendor, though. After all, they are, y’know, guilty.

  2. I love seeing my subscription dollars hard at work.

  3. Do they think folks in the library business have never gone shopping or gotten a solicitation call at home? Thanks for taking the initiative to write back – I’ve always wanted to but my manners get the better of me.

  4. What is worse – if this works at all like the nonprofit fundraising call center I once worked for oh so briefly, the call center employees’ pay and ability to stay employed is directly based on how many sales they achieve. We were judged on the total money we brought in and on the percentage of calls that resulted in a donation, but also judged on how successfully we upsold folks to a higher amount than what was previously on record for them. So the odds are that these folks will not only push for renewals, but try to slip in additional new sales along with it. I quit before my training week had finished after being reprimanded for not being pushy enough. We were literally instructed that, unless we were explicitly told never to call back or hung up on, we had to push the callee to say “no” three times before we were allowed to end the call.

  5. I was glad to see this post and I appreciate how directly you handled the issue. Last summer we cancelled a fair number of print journals. In the weeks that followed I received countless phone calls about these cancellations — none of which were from our subscription agents. The calls were placed to me (director) or to other librarians (part of the tactic, imo). The calls created confusion amongst library staff (emails to me or to the systems librarian asking, “Didn’t we cancel this title?”) I made several return phone calls to remove our name from the call lists but, as you stated, it is a temporary reprieve. Great post for creating awareness. Thank you.

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