Open access fee income from “author-pays” and “author’s-funder-pays” is currently a small part of the revenue of these companies. But it is growing, and it is a strategic priority for publishers, while traditional journal subscription income continues to grow too.
Here’s what the big four (Reed Elsevier, John Wiley (now Wiley-Blackwell), Springer S&BM and Informa) say about open access in their annual reports.
Reed Elsevier (2013). Total revenue for year, combined business: £6bn. Science, Technical and Medical division: £2bn. Article publication fees for gold open access range from $500 to $5,000 plus tax (Elsevier, 2015).
“Over the past 15 years alternative payment models for the dissemination of research such as “author-pays open access” or “author’s-funder-pays” have emerged.” (p. 16)....“In the primary research market, Elsevier aims to grow volume through new journal launches, expansion of author-pays journals and growth from emerging markets…” (p. 15)....Over 1,600 of Elsevier’s journals now offer the option of funding research publishing and distribution via a sponsored article fee. In addition, Elsevier now publishes more than 50 open access journals.” (p. 16)....“Revenue growth was driven by solid subscription renewals and new sales. “Author-pays” or “author’s-funder-pays” article volumes continued to grow strongly from a small base.” (p. 17).
John Wiley (2014). Total revenue for year: $1.775bn. Article publication fees for gold open access range from $800 to $4,500 plus tax (John Wiley, 2015).
“Wiley Open Access is the Company’s publishing program for open-access research articles…. All research articles published in Wiley Open Access journals are freely available to the general public on Wiley Online Library to read, download and share. A publication service fee is charged upon acceptance of a research article by the Company, which may be paid by the individual author….[To support authors] an academic or research institution, society or corporation may fund the fee directly…. In addition to Wiley Open Access, the Company provides authors with the opportunity to make their individual research articles that were published within the Company’s paid subscription journals freely available to the general public through OnlineOpen.” (p. 16).
Research revenue by product type, fiscal year 2014: (data from p. 15)
Journal subscriptions: 64%
Other publishing income: 18%
Print books: 11%
Digital books: 5%
Open access: 2%
“Key growth strategies for the Research business include developing….. new open access revenue streams.” (p. 15). “Journal Subscription revenue and other related publishing income, such as open access, advertising, backfile sales, the licensing of publishing rights, journal reprints and individual article sales accounted for approximately 50% of the Company’s consolidated fiscal year 2014 revenue.” (p. 21) [Journal subscription revenue alone represented over $641 million (p. 44)]
“Research revenue for fiscal year 2014 increased 3% to $1,044.3 million. The growth was mainly driven by Journal Subscriptions, Digital Books and Open Access fees….” (p. 30). “Open Access revenue, which represents article publication fees from authors that provide immediate free access to the author’s article on the Company’s website, grew $11.5 million in fiscal year 2014.” (p. 30).
Springer Science and Business Media (2012). Total revenue for year almost 1bn euros. Article publication fees for gold open access $3,000 plus tax (Springer, 2015).
“[Financial year] 2012 saw very solid growth of more than 20% in the number of open access articles published.” (p. 3)
“[Financial year] 2012 operating performance was driven by further accelerated organic growth of Springer’s core STM [Science, Technical and Medical] divisions...[involving income from] peer reviewed academic subscription and open access journals, academic books, series and database products as well as the related publishing services….” (p. 3)
“Revenues from Springer’s various open access publishing offers grew above 25% in [financial year] 2012 driven by strong growth in articles submissions and the expansion of Springer’s open access journal portfolio.” (p. 4)
Informa (2013). Total revenue for year: £1.1bn. Academic publishing: £367m. Article publication fees for gold open access: £1,788 plus tax (Taylor and Francis, 2015).
“Operational highlights [of 2013 included the]…………. launch of open access publishing brand, Cogent OA (p. 01)…. which will launch a range of open access journal titles in 2014…… ensuring we are well positioned as this market grows.” (p. 03).
Does any of this matter, even given the extremely high rates of profitability for the oligopolistic big 4 (a gross profit margin of 73% on scholarly publications in Wiley's case, with open access contributing $17.6 million in revenue - John Wiley 2014, p. 30)?
Here’s what the SV-POW website says on the issue of the profits of the current system of academic publishing, focussing on Elsevier in particular:
“Yes, publishers have a right to make a living. Not only that, but they have a right to make as big a profit as the market can bear (though of course when they form a cartel that distorts the market monopolistically, that changes things).
But here’s what it means to scientists.....:
· When you pay $37.95 to download a PDF from an Elsevier journal, $13.56 of that goes straight into the pockets of Elsevier shareholders.
· When you pay $3000 to have your submission to an Elsevier journal appear as open access, $1072.20 of that goes straight into the pockets of Elsevier shareholders.
· When your library pays $1.7m for a bundle of Elsevier-journal subscriptions, $607,580 of that goes straight into the pockets of Elsevier shareholders…….
You just have to ask yourself whether that’s where you want your money going.”[ii]
I think a more productive question the academic world might want to ask itself is……..
Isn’t it time we took much more robust action to (re-)create a model of academic publishing that doesn’t drain the resources of taxpayers, universities and authors into the coffers of the global academic publishing oligopoly?
This is hardly a revolutionary question. A report by Deutsche Bank (2005) is frequently cited as stating the bank believes that “the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process”. A British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report lamented the public money being drained into academic publishing to generate its profits (HoCSTC, 2004). That report noted that the investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston's conclusion that “we would expect governments (and taxpayers) to examine the fact that they are essentially funding the same purchase three times” (HoCSTC, 2004, p. 37).
That detailed, well-considered and independent report from the House of Commons Committee makes a series of specific recommendations that so far have only been implemented in a partial and patchy way. Many of them have not seen the light of day at all.
I recommend readers of this blog to have a look at the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report. It’s easily available on the web here. It contrasts rather favourably with the better-known Finch report (2012), which many argue was captured by the industry.
[i] “Open access can be achieved in two ways: Green, which enables authors to publish articles in subscription based journals and self–archive the author accepted version of the article for free public use after an embargo period, and Gold, which enables authors to publish their articles in journals that provide immediate free access to the article on the publisher’s website following payment of an article publication fee.” John Wiley, 2014, p 7. Emphasis mine.
[ii] As I was finalising this blog I learned from an ESRC-funded student that their university’s library had, today, offered to pay Wiley’s ‘gold’ open access fee for an article from their PhD research, because funds were still available on a first-come-first-served basis. Like the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the ESRC have an open access requirement on outputs for which they provided funding. So in that student's case, the taxpayer has not only funded three years of research, but also funded the publisher, Wiley, to make it available, at a cost to the student's university of $3,000. One might say that the institution has ‘bought it back’.
As the House of Commons report (HoCSTC, 2004, p. 37) says: "It has been argued that public money is used at three stages in the publishing process: to fund the research project; to pay the salaries of academics who carry out peer review for no extra payment; and to fund libraries to purchase scientific publications. As one of our submissions asked, “what other business receives the goods that it sells to its customers from those same customers, a quality control mechanism provided by its customers, and a tremendous fee from those same customers?”
(Websites last accessed 27.5.2015)
Deutsche Bank AG, 2005, Jan 11. Reed Elsevier: moving the supertanker. Company Focus: Global Equity Research Report.
Elsevier, 2015. Open access articles. http://www.elsevier.com/about/open-access/sponsored-articles
Finch Report, 2012. Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: How to expand access to research publications. http://www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (HoCSTC) (2004) Scientific publications: free for all? London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmsctech/399/399.pdf
Informa PLC, 2013. Annual report 2013. http://www.informa.com/documents/investor%20relations/annual%20report%202013/informa%20plc%20annual%20report%20accounts%202013.pdf
John Wiley, 2015. Wiley open access. http://www.wileyopenaccess.com/details/content/12f25e0654f/Publication-Charges.html
John Wiley, 2014. Annual report for fiscal year ending April 2014. http://www.wiley.com/legacy/about/corpnews/fy14_10kFINAL.pdf
Reed Elsevier (Part of the RELX group), 2013. Annual reports and financial statements. http://www.elsevier.com/about/annual-reports
Springer, 2015. Open choice: your research. Your choice. http://www.springer.com/gp/open-access/springer-open-choice
Springer Science & Business Media, 2012. General overview and financial performance. http://static.springer.com/sgw/documents/1412702/application/pdf/Annual_Report_2012_01.pdf
SV-POW!, 2012. The obscene profits of commercial scholarly publishers. http://svpow.com/2012/01/13/the-obscene-profits-of-commercial-scholarly-publishers/
Taylor and Francis, 2015. Publishing open access with Taylor and Francis. http://journalauthors.tandf.co.uk/preparation/OpenAccess.asp