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As Universities and Libraries Defer Journal Subscription Deals, Micro- and Macro-Level Implications of Open Access Emerge

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New Year's Eve, Firework street, Seoul, South Korea, December 31, 2006 | © Courtesy of Sherwin Huang.

German and South Korean academic and research institutions seek to leverage the potential of Open Access to reduce costs by concerted bargaining with large publishers, such as Elsevier, as they let journal subscription negotiations protract or extend over deadlines.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


As German and South Korean university, research center and library consortia have concluded the year 2017 without a journal subscription deal with Elsevier, a large-scale transition to Open Access as a default publishing model is on the cards in Germany and South Korea. Though commentators, namely Alex Holcombe and Björn Brems advocating for Open Access in their respective fields, in their recent blog piece at The Times Higher Education, a hybrid-model subscription-based media outlet itself, are quick to indicate that the academic journal publishing market is price-inelastic, as researchers primarily respond to journal-level impact factor information in their publication venue decisions, this line of argument reinforces the status quo, when large publishers with valuable portfolios of established journals across scientific fields can exact ever rising subscription fees from academic and research institutions.

However, the micro-economic arguments that the switch to Open Access based on article processing charges (APCs) can, on the one hand, unleash the race to the bottom between Open Access journals on the basis of the publication fees they charge and, on the other hand, fall short of its expected effect on the publishing market, due to the close link between researcher utility, such as promotion, and journal prestige that impact factor metrics measure does not necessarily hold. In a growing number of cases and fields either national or international funding can be drawn upon to cover APCs, which relieves the purported pressure on Open Access journals to compete on price. As the Open Access market matures and alternative, article-level impact metrics gain in currency, researchers can be expected to equally advance their careers when they publish in Open Access journals, especially if mandated to do so by their supporting institutions that foot the bill for their labor costs, research expenses or publication fees.

Moreover, what holds for individual journals, such as PLoS One and Scientific Reports with the APCs of 1,495 USD and 1,675 USD respectively, but higher demand for the latter journal with higher impact performance, does not necessarily hold on the macro level, as research universities and institutions may decide to both federate their efforts to obtain more favorable deals from large publishers or refuse enter into journal subscription agreements if they do not contain Open Access as a recommended publication format, such as the Projekt DEAL does vis-à-vis Elsevier. Toward the end of 2017, this German consortium uniting almost 200 academic and research organizations has managed to convince a growing list of scholars, 25 by December 19, 2017, to resign from their editorial positions at Elsevier journals.

In other words, by avoiding non-transparent contracts with oligopolistic journal publishers, universities, libraries and institutes can redirect their funding from ever growing subscription fees toward innovative research, Open Access publication models, and pre-print repositories, while adjusting their knowledge dissemination, staff promotion and faculty tenure policies to make them favorable to Open Access. This can amount to a macro-level switch to Open Access, as the emergence of the Open Library of Humanities, BioRxiv, and alternative impact metrics indicates.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: New Year’s Eve, Firework street, Seoul, South Korea, December 31, 2006 | © Courtesy of Sherwin Huang.

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