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Commercial Publishing is Taking Open Access Seriously

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This morning I came across a paper by Laakso & Björk (2012) examining the volume of scientific articles published as OA journals from 2000 to 2011. One of the most interesting points they demonstrated was the internal shift in the structure of publisher types that are involved in OA:

What we see here is the total OA article volume for 2000, 2005 and 2011 according to publisher type. As you can probably infer from the graph, the early years of OA publishing were primarily driven by scientific societies, professional associations, universities and individuals scientists. Most of these still play a major role, but since 2005 there has been a dramatic increase in articles published by commercial publishers — to the extent that commercial publishers are now the dominant force in the publication of OA articles. To me this suggests two things:

  1. Despite what we’re told, commercial interests are very rarely the innovators in these sorts of industries, as they tend toward safe and stable operations. Instead, we can view commercial publishers as adopters, with them letting others take most of the initial risk before taking the plunge themselves. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t necessarily a criticism of commercial interests, and you might even consider it a relatively wise strategy, but let’s get rid of any pretensions that they are the driving force of innovation.
  2. Following on from the first point, the dramatic growth in journals published by commercial publishers is indicative of OA being a successful model: after all, it’s very rare that, as a collective whole, the publishing industry is going to back a dead horse. That’s not to say OA is a completely safe bet.

There is also a new player in town as the authors note:

The category of professional non-commercial publishers is a new type of publisher that has rapidly emerged during the last few years, largely attributed to the journals published by the Public Library of Science.

It would be nice to see a concomitant growth in both non-commercial and commercial industries in this respect — as the relative success in both models is likely to fuel one another. What needs to be established is whether or not commercial and non-commercial interests in the publishing world can occupy relatively distinct niches.


Laakso, M., & Björk, B. (2012). Anatomy of open access publishing: a study of longitudinal development and internal structure BMC Medicine, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1741-7015-10-124

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    We have now tested the Finch Committee’s Hypothesis that Green Open Access Mandates are ineffective in generating deposits in institutional repositories. With data from ROARMAP on institutional Green OA mandates and data from ROAR on institutional repositories, we show that deposit number and rate is significantly correlated with mandate strength (classified as 1-12): The stronger the mandate, the more the deposits. The strongest mandates generate deposit rates of 70%+ within 2 years of adoption, compared to the un-mandated deposit rate of 20%. The effect is already detectable at the national level, where the UK, which has the largest proportion of Green OA mandates, has a national OA rate of 35%, compared to the global baseline of 25%. The conclusion is that, contrary to the Finch Hypothesis, Green Open Access Mandates do have a major effect, and the stronger the mandate, the stronger the effect (the Liege ID/OA mandate, linked to research performance evaluation, being the strongest mandate model). RCUK (as well as all universities, research institutions and research funders worldwide) would be well advised to adopt the strongest Green OA mandates and to integrate institutional and funder mandates.

    Gargouri Y, Lariviere V, Gingras Y, Brody T, Carr L & Harnad S (2012) Testing the Finch Hypothesis on Green OA Mandate Ineffectiveness Open Access Week 2012

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