I’ve taken to calling the journal subscription the Medium Deal because it’s just like the Big Deal, only smaller — it’s scaled to the article rather than the journal title. With the Big Deal you buy access to journals you don’t need in order to get reasonably-priced access to journals you do need. With a journal subscription you do exactly the same thing, only with articles. This was never a good model, but back when information could only be distributed in the form of printed documents, it was the only feasible one. Now, in the era of networked digital information, we still have that print-based mindset, thinking of journal “issues” as meaningful units (which they obviously aren’t, except in the unusual case of a themed issue) and going along more-or-less willingly with the proposition that the only way to get reasonably-priced access to a desired article is to pay for it in an annualized bundle with a bunch of others you don’t want.
I don’t see a solution to this problem either. What would obviously make the most sense is a Tiny Deal, one based on articles rather than journals, one that involves the efficient purchase only of what’s actually needed rather than the preemptive and wasteful purchase of large blocks of unneeded articles. But just because such a model would make sense doesn’t mean it’s feasible. For the Tiny Deal to work for libraries, the price of an individual article would have to be very low (as it is with a Big Deal). For it to work for publishers, the price of an individual article would have to be very high, because relatively few articles would be sold (cf. Joe Esposito’s recent posting on the projected economic impact of patron-driven acquisition on book publishers).