HSS publishing 'squeezed by emphasis on science and medicine'

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The global emphasis on scientific, technical and medical (STM) research is hurting humanities and social science (HSS) fields and, by extension, the publishing of its findings, according to research by Simba Information.

In Simba's latest report, Global Social Science and Humanities Publishing 2013-2014, the firm identifies three main areas of disparity between HSS and STM: research funding; library purchase decisions; and public policy decision affecting academia. The report estimates that research spending in HSS subjects is one-tenth of what governments and private foundations dedicate to STM discovery.

In addition, the report says, academic libraries have had difficulty keeping up with the rising cost of STM content so HSS materials often suffer in budget allocation decisions. There are other differences too: in particular books play a more important role in HSS than in STM publishing. While the typical academic library spends less than 10 per cent of its STM collection development budget on books, more than 50 per cent of social science and humanities publishing goes toward books.

On the policy front, Simba says, 'debate over open access to research papers is viewed through the prism of STM and social scientists worry about collateral damage to their disciplines'. The report finds that HSS publications have different price points, a different funding environment and different patterns of usage, but STM is driving the debate.

So what effect do these trends have on the market? Simba estimates that the global HSS publishing market shrank in 2012. A weak euro, declining print books and precipitous declines in public library database sales offset continued growth in online delivery of book collections and journal site licences. Global sales were down an average compound rate of 2.5 per cent since 2010, the company says.

The company noted that e-books, books sold as apps on smart phones, for e-readers and digital collections are all growing, but print book sales are in terminal decline, and that journals are the only growing publishing activity in SSH, benefitting from the emergence of new disciplines and are being carried along in big deals by large STM publishers who also publish HSS titles.

However, in terms of revenue, Simba found that many small commercial publishers specialising in HSS sustain levels of profit sufficient to satisfy their investors. Unlike STM or law, says the firm, social science and humanities publishing is highly fragmented and in 2012, no publisher had more than about 5.1 per cent share of the world market.