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Open Access Can Help Scientific Societies Build Their Asset Portfolios, While Preserving Content Accessibility

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Resource Center Support Services, Okinawa, Japan, November 27, 2014 © Courtesy of OIST/Flickr.

While the social role of scientific societies continues being discussed, arrangements with publishers that outsource journal management may need Open Access to ensure continued service to scholarly communities, if journal titles change ownership.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


As a recent blog article by Joseph Esposito, published on April 26, 2018, suggests, as scientific societies outsource the technical journal management functions, such as production, sales and marketing, to commercial publishers, the publishing market dynamics might push these societies toward the transfer of these journals’ ownership to publishers, to maximize financial returns. While the ownership of intellectual property by publishers is more common for books than journals, publishers are in a position to exploit the economies of scale that the publication infrastructures and services they own offer, scientific societies can be expected to lack this advantage.

At the same time, private publishers respond directly to the pressure of market forces and purely economic considerations, whereas scientific societies serve the scholarly community in the framework of social responsibility, such as in the form of unpaid peer reviews provided to journals in recognition of their role as validators and disseminators of knowledge. However, as scientific societies seek to trade licensing arrangements for much more lucrative sale deals with commercial publishers, arguments over intellectual property can torpedo these deals. Though Esposito effectively argues that scientific journals as vehicles of scholarly communication are tantamount to a public good the availability of which needs to be protected from the vagaries of market forces, he does not consider whether flipping journals to Open Access can preserve their positioning in respective scholarly communities regardless of the underlying scholarly structure and whatever changes it may undergo over time.

As it prepares for an initial public offering at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, Springer Nature is a significant case in point. Though the publisher has significant capitalization needs and debt obligations, through its merger activity, such as the acquisition of Macmillan Science and Education in 2015, in recent years this Berlin-based company has emerged as one of the world’s largest English-language scientific publishers also in the domain of Open Access. Similarly, Relx that owns Elsevier, a major international scientific publisher, and Informa that holds ownership of Taylor & Francis, another big scholarly publisher, are listed on the financial market.

In the absence of Open Access arrangements, publishers, such as Springer Nature owning over 3,000 scientific journals, may be loath to provide free access to their otherwise licenced intellectual property, such as journal articles, as part of ensuring the viability of their extant business models, e.g., journal subscriptions. Yet the Open Access journal publishing sector, in which Springer holds a 30% share and earns about 10% of its revenues, maintains high growth rates, despite the article processing charges it involves. The presence of scientific societies in the Open Access sector is likely slated to increase too.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Resource Center Support Services, Okinawa, Japan, November 27, 2014 | © Courtesy of OIST/Flickr.

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