Throughout the twentieth century, academic institutions had a mandate to provide full access to the peer-reviewed scholarly literature and budgets that were more or less up to the task. Scholarly societies could count on journal subscription revenues to help fund programs and activities that benefitted their organizations, members, and fields.
Now open access models are gaining attention and growing in popularity, sometimes adding to and other times threatening the steady revenues that journal publishers have counted on for years. How will this and other seismic shifts affect the journal publishing industry moving forward?
Unprecedented challenge and change
Cara Rivera, Vice President of Consulting and Market Analysis for KnowledgeWorks Global Ltd. (KGL), says that open access represents a sea change in how journal publishers are doing business.
“Although the subscription model kept thousands of journals healthy for more than a hundred years, it also resulted in some scholarship being walled off from potential users who couldn’t afford to pay,” she said. “Open access was meant to pull down these walls, democratizing access for all and ensuring that knowledge remains freely available.”
In practice, Rivera says, the adoption of open access hasn’t created the utopia that some envisioned.
Instead of subscription fees, open access publishing is funded mainly by Article Processing Charges (APCs) paid by authors or their institutions. Some authors cannot afford to pay these charges – especially if they are early in their careers or from institutions that lack funding.
“In some cases, the burden has moved from the institution to the individual author and other times, such as with some new types of institutional arrangements called transitional or read and publish deals, the burden remains with the institution but relying more heavily on research-intensive institutions, which creates new types of barriers and inequities in the system,” Rivera said.
Mandating open access
Open access today represents only a small percentage of the total peer-reviewed literature, but it’s growing rapidly. This growth is being driven by mandates from the funders who pay for scholarly research. As a condition of issuing research grants, governments and foundations tell their grantees that they must make any publications based on the grant funding openly available to all. Read and publish deals also increase the amount of open access publishing, as authors do not have to pay directly.
The most ground-shaking of these mandates has perhaps been “Plan S,” with its push to only support publishing in fully open access journals after 2024. “More than any other open access mandates before it, Plan S moved stakeholders to see an open access future and their publishing strategies accordingly,” says Rivera. Many journal leaders are rethinking the role and mission of their publishing programs to prepare for imminent change, Rivera says.
“Traditionally, journal leaders viewed their role as curating a collection of the very best content for their subscribers,” says Rivera. But in world where journal revenues are driven by APCs instead of subscriptions, publication quality and volume is often seen as the key to the health of journal portfolios.
“Publishers already are being challenged to attract and publish a greater volume of high-quality submissions,” Rivera says. Doing so will require attention on multiple fronts, most notably a laser focus on creating the best possible author experience.
“Author expectations are changing, and the bar will continue to get higher,” she says. “Authors increasingly want and will expect a simple submission process, fast decisions, constructive reviews, and effective promotion of their work. Journals will have to provide these benefits or risk seeing their authors go to competing publications.”
And contact your Sheridan or KGL representative for a consultation or visit our contact pages (Sheridan contact page / KGL contact page) to learn how we can help streamline and simplify your publishing processes.