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The Journal Publishing Market Between Supply- and Demand-Side Models: The Case of Open Access in Germany

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The Berlin Wall, an Historical Exhibit, Berlin, Germany, April 17, 2017 | © Courtesy of Dean Shareski.

Without significant support for Open Access journals, large-scale transitions to Open Access may be slow to come, as the German case indicates.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

In their recent news item for the Science Magazine, Gretchen Vogel and Kai Kupferschmidt have expressed their expectation that a concerted negotiation front that German university libraries and research institutions present to large publishers, such as Elsevier, Wiley, and SpringerNature, may produce a nation-wide, disruptive switch to Open Access with possible momentous consequences globally. Contracts with these publishers may include provisions for both publishing in the journals they manage and accessing the collections they make available, which refers to the supply and demand sides of the academic articles market. This is part of the reason for which the possible transition to Open Access takes place at a slower pace than it can be expected, since different market forces are at play as far as producers and consumers of scientific knowledge in the form of articles are concerned.

While multiple reports on the per-article revenues of large publishers exist, such as that of Schimmer, Geschuhn and Vogler (2015) evocatively entitled “Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access”, it is important to keep in mind that publishers are also likely to bear significant costs to sustain their business models and that dividing industry-wide revenues by article output for subscription-based journals produces estimates before the costs of not only producing new articles, but also ensuring their accessibility and delivering distribution solutions are taken into account. This creates the supply and demand sides to the publishing market in which publishers, their institutional clients, funding bodies and governments are involved. In the subscription model, universities and institutes effectively stimulate the supply of academic articles, while facilitating the transfer of copy rights and intellectual property to publishers that put results of scientific research behind paywalls. Especially German universities with stagnant budgets and rising costs are likely to be interested in capping their constantly growing subscription fees by opting out of subscription agreements and choosing Open Access as a default option.

This promises the Open Access model that amounts to the demand stimulation as it removes barriers to article access. Though in this model producers and disseminators, such as authors and libraries respectively, retain or acquire full or limited licensing and intellectual property rights, such as through Creative Commons agreements, this approach involves article processing charges that regardless of their sources of financial support apparently reduce the cost of making research results public. At the same time, unless the adoption of Open Access for newly produced research reaches a critical tipping point, such as the majority of published articles in any given year, the effective monopoly power of large publishers over legacy archives of highly cited scientific journals and entry barriers for Open Access journals, such as covering their operation costs, are likely to make the transition to Open Access a much longer process than many scholarly and press observers suggest.

In this respect, it is indicative that the Open Library of Humanities that also sponsors the transition or flipping of journals to Open Access has its business model based on both charitable grants and library subscriptions which shows that the transition from the supply to demand stimulation in the publishing market remains wedded to costs which also need to be covered in the latter model.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: The Berlin Wall, an Historical Exhibit, Berlin, Germany, April 17, 2017 | © Courtesy of Dean Shareski.

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