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The Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Open Access Transitions on Library Budgets in Britain and Germany

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Views, Saltire Centre, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland, UK, February 5, 2006 | © Courtesy of Jisc infoNet.

As recent media reports indicate, a significant impact of Open Access transitions on university and library costs related to scientific journal subscriptions can primarily be expected in the long term, if no concerted measures by academic institutions are undertaken. By contrast, short-term subscription cost reductions are likely to demand contract renegotiations. In both cases, Open Access is an integral part of changing the model based on which the journal publishing market operates.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


In a news brief from December 5, 2017, The Times Higher Education has recently recapitulated the key findings of a recent report on the transition to Open Access in the United Kingdom (UK) appearing on December 5, 2017. Based on spending data from a sample of 10 UK universities for the period between 2013 and 2016, this report indicates that journal subscription costs of these institutions have increased by 20% in this time span. In other words, this publication argues that in this period transitioning to Open Access not only has not lead to a significant reduction in university library subscription budgets, but was also accompanied by growing expenditures for both subscriptions that have reached 16.7 million GBP and article processing charges (APCs) which have amounted to 3.4 million GBP in 2016.

Yet, while report authors, such as Michael Jubb, express their concern about the rise in overall journal access- and publication-related costs, disentangling the short- and long-term perspectives on these data could be instructive. More specifically, it is difficult to expect Open Access have a significant effect on journal subscription costs in the studied period, since large publishers, such as Elsevier, have continued to be successful in renewing their journal access contracts with British universities, the growing popularity of Open Access notwithstanding. All things being equal, in the short-term without systemic changes the adoption of Open Access is likely to add to university costs, such as through APCs, especially if these academic institutions do not renegotiate their extant subscription agreements.

However, in the long term, the prevalence of articles in Open Access should make it possible to demand lower journal subscription charges, as their share of paywall protected articles in the yearly total of scientific articles published will continue to fall. Moreover, as the report shows, in the UK in recent years Open Access has experienced explosive growth of 453%, based on the APC expenditure rise from 2013 to 2016. As the report effectively argues, this transition to Open Access can be further accelerated by flipping journals into Gold Open Access, as they support a universal access to scientific findings, while making a break with the subscription model. Moreover, as the transition to Open Access already continues to gather increasing steam both in the UK, where 37% of scientific articles have been in Open Access in 2016 vis-à-vis 20% in 2014, and around the world, where the corresponding figures are 25% and 18% respectively, in the long term Open Access can be expected to decrease journal subscription costs.

However, as the current UK academic library journal spending figures and on-going non-resultative negotiations between Elsevier and German universities demonstrate, these trends cannot be expected to be effective in the short term. While British universities have renewed their subscription contracts, despite rising costs, a consortium of their German counterparts has demanded from Elsevier and Springer Nature that they largely abandon subscription models in favor of Open Access, which has led to a negotiations’ stalemate.

Therefore, unless a universal switch to Gold Open Access takes place, both short-term effects of Open Access library budgets can be uncertain at best, as APCs tend to rise across the publishing industry, or lead to overall cost increases, ceteris paribus. By contrast, in the long term, the adoption of Open Access is likely to augment the bargaining power of university and research libraries vis-à-vis large publishers, while cutting costs.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Views, Saltire Centre, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland, UK, February 5, 2006 | © Courtesy of Jisc infoNet.

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