ALPSP report indicates publisher health but OA concerns

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A report by the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) on the state of the publishing industry shows that publishers are generally in good health. However, the association warned that the report should be seen as a benchmark against which to assess the future effects of changes in scholarly publishing, particularly the move towards open access.

The report found that publishers of all sizes continue to launch new titles and acquire new titles and that smaller publishers have shown the most growth over the past four years. Revenue streams are also changing. The majority of publishers show a decrease in income from single subscription sales and an increase in income from other revenue streams, such as aggregator sales, consortia sales, pay-per-view and sales of content collections.

Another finding is that use of pay per view as a revenue stream has increased; 65 per cent of publishers offered it in 2003 but this had grown to 83 per cent in 2012. Large publishers have done the most to monetise directly their back files and also to provide the greatest flexibility in content purchasing, especially of content packages.

In addition, most publishers now offer perpetual access to subscribers. Libraries argue that once they have paid for the journal they should have ‘life-long’ access however publishers argue that there are continuing costs for hosting the online material.     

There have also been trends on the author side of the process. Nearly all the publishers surveyed have now moved to automated systems for receipt of manuscripts through to publication. In 2005 39 per cent did not use automated systems but this had dropped to only 5 per cent by 2012. Larger publishers have also moved away from demanding the assignment of copyright from authors in favour of a licence to publish.

In 2008 half of publishers had some form of open access but this had risen to two thirds by 2012. Most publishers surveyed now have a hybrid model in place across all titles (i.e. author has option to pay for their article to be open access). However take up of the hybrid model by authors is low, 1 per cent of articles published. There has also been a large increase in publishers offering open access after an embargo period (normally 12 months). In 2005 25 per cent of publishers offered this and this rose to 42 per cent in 2012. Because the demand for text and data mining is so low, it is not yet commonly offered by the majority of publishers.

Another trend is that most publishers, regardless of size, are working with Google and Google Scholar. However, fewer publishers are working with the library technology companies.

The report by the ALPSP, Scholarly Journals Publishing Practice, is the fourth survey in a series that looks into scholarly publishing practice for journals, and was conducted during the summer of 2012. It follows on from earlier surveys conducted in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

'Our report has taken the pulse of the industry at a key point in time,' said Audrey McCulloch, chief executive of ALPSP. 'Mandates from bodies such as Research Councils UK (RCUK) on open access have yet to affect the data we have collected, and I fear that our next report will reveal some very detrimental effects for learned societies - who have a key role in academic research - if current policies on open access, particularly very short embargo periods, are not reconsidered.

'The length of the embargo period is absolutely key, particularly to smaller and learned society publishers,' she continued. 'If the embargo period is too short then there is not enough time to recoup the costs of publication through sales and subscriptions before it becomes freely available. The RCUK’s current desire to set an embargo period as short as six months will leave many smaller publishers and learned societies unable to cover their publishing costs.'

ALPSP's concerns over six-month embargoes were made clear in a survey carried out of international librarians. This revealed that only 56 per cent of libraries in the science, technology and medical area would continue to subscribe and only 35 per cent in the arts, humanities and social sciences, if the majority of content was freely accessible within six months of publication.