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Berstein Report and the Tyranny of Competition

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Berstein Research recently released a report entitled The Tyranny of Competition – SCOAP3 shows that price premium is difficult to sustain in an OA World (see here). If you haven’t guessed from the title, the report doesn’t make for rosy reading if you’re at Reed Elsevier. There are lots of interesting nuggets of information contained within in the report. One thing I want to briefly highlight is that the APCs (Author Processing Charges) submitted by publishers are well below what Reed Elsevier needs to sustain its current level of journal revenues:

Our analysis shows that Elsevier journal revenues would be under significant threat because the APCs it would earn for many of its publications are unlikely to prove anywhere near what the company needs to be revenue neutral, and it is difficult to envision APCs that are high enough for its leading titles (the top 5/10%) to make up the gap. The issue is posed by the very competitive APC price points offered by competing publications: except for leading titles, the real value of publishing on the “long tail” of journals (at least 50% of the titles, and perhaps as much as two thirds) is not distinguishable from that of competing journals.

This is pretty damning and it’s not why I too surprised to read the following headline this morning: Academic Publishing Giant Springer For Sale. It makes sense that similarly large publishers will be facing pressures from the massive rise in OA over the past few years. We can arrive at several (speculative) reasons for why the established applecart is being upset: (1) the general discontent in academia over the perceived injustice of paywall journals and books; (2) the rise of new publishers that are geared towards Open Access; (3) The increased diversity in publishing stemming from (1) and (2). I’m sure there are many other reasons sitting alongside these, but the important point to take is that academic publishing landscape has changed dramatically and quickly over the last few years. Those that are languishing in vain attempts at trying to sustain older models are (eventually) going to be left behind by those more willing to change.

I’ll be covering aspects about the Berstein Report over the next couple of days. The first point, and one I find fairly contentious, is the claim that there exists a correlation between APCs and Impact Factor. For one, I’m not too keen on Impact Factor as a measurement, and second, the sample size is fairly small in the report (which, in fairness, the authors do acknowledge). But more on that tomorrow.

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