Why the price of scholarly publishing is so much higher than the cost | Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

“In an efficient market, competing providers of a good will each try to undercut each other until the prices they charge approach the cost. If, for example, Elsevier and Springer-Nature were competing in a healthy free market, they would each be charging prices around one third of what they are charging now, for fear of being outcompeted by their lower-priced competitor. (Half of those price-cuts would be absorbed just by decreasing the huge profit margins; the rest would have to come from streamlining business processes, in particular things like the costs of maintaining paywalls and the means of passing through them.)

So why doesn’t the Invisible Hand operate on scholarly publishers? Because they are not really in competition. Subscriptions are not substitutable goods because each published article is unique. If I need to read an article in an Elsevier journal then it’s no good my buying a lower-priced Springer-Nature subscription instead: it won’t give me access to the article I need.

(This is one of the reasons why the APC-based model — despite its very real drawbacks — is better than the subscription model: because the editorial-and-publication services offered by Elsevier and Springer-Nature are substitutable. If one offers the service for $3000 and the other for $2000, I can go to the better-value provider. And if some other publisher offers it for $1000 or $500, I can go there instead.)…

Björn Brembs has been writing for years about the fact that every market has a luxury segment: you can buy a perfectly functional wristwatch for $10, yet people spend thousands on high-end watches. He’s long been concerned that if scholarly publishing goes APC-only, then people will be queuing up to pay the €9,500 APC for Nature in what would become a straightforward pay-for-prestige deal. And he’s right: given the outstandingly stupid way we evaluate reseachers for jobs, promotion and tenure, lots of people will pay a 10x markup for the “I was published in Nature” badge even though Nature papers are an objectively bad way to communicate research.

But it feels like something stranger is happening here. It’s almost as though the whole darned market is a luxury segment….

How can funders fix this, and get APCs down to levels that approximate publishing cost? I see at least three possibilities.

First, they could stop paying APCs for their grantees. Instead, they could add a fixed sum onto all grants they make — $1,500, say — and leave it up to the researchers whether to spend more on a legacy publisher (supplementing the $1,500 from other sources of their own) or to spend less on a cheaper born-OA publisher and redistribute the excess elsewhere.

Second, funders could simply publish the papes themselves. To be fair several big funders are doing this now, so we have Wellcome Open Research, Gates Open Research, etc. But doesn’t it seem a bit silly to silo research according to what body awarded the grant that funded it? And what about authors who don’t have a grant from one of these bodies, or indeed any grant at all?

That’s why I think the third solution is best. I would like to see funders stop paying APCs and stop building their own publishing solutions, and instead collaborate to build and maintain a global publishing solution that all researchers could use irrespective of grant-recipient status. I have much to say on what such a solution should look like, but that is for another time.”

Why I am building Arcadia.

“I walked away with the backing to establish a new startup, Trove….

At Trove, we are led by curiosity and remain committed to learning and sharing the knowledge we’ve gained. There is no need to lock up the lessons we’ve learned from others in the tick community. In fact, we have sought their feedback, and we will publish most of our protocols, tools, and datasets without paywalls or delays. It’s the most rigorous any of us have ever had to be, and all of this is in the absence of journals. Our work may ultimately translate into products that could be useful to many more people….

For all these reasons, I have decided to take the best parts of my experiences to build a new research organization called Arcadia Science. I am co-founding Arcadia with yet another fierce woman scientist Prachee Avasthi, who is a leader among leaders in the fight for open science. …”

‘Strong’ first half for RELX despite Exhibitions losses | The Bookseller

“Elsevier, RELX’s STM division, saw revenue dip 1% year on year to £1,276m, but that represented a 5% rise in constant currencies, with underlying growth (excluding acquisitions and sell-offs) calculated at 4%. Profit was flat with 2020’s first-half at £476m, up 4% in constant currencies and with underlying growth also up 4%.

Elsevier’s performance was driven by “continued good growth in electronic revenue”, which now stands at 88% of divisional revenue. Print revenue, which now represents a little over 5% of total sales, “stabilised following the unusually steep declines seen in the same period last year.” For its full-year outlook, RELX predicted the division would see underlying revenue growth “slightly above historical trends”, with adjusted operating profit growing slightly ahead of revenue.”

Taylor & Francis revenue and profits decline despite ‘strong’ performance | The Bookseller

“Revenue at Taylor & Francis fell 4.4% in the six months to 30th June 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, half-year results from parent firm Informa show.

The publisher’s revenues fell to £245.2m, down from £256.5m in 2020. Statutory operating profit also decreased 4.5% to £59m, while adjusted operating profit declined 11.5% to £86m, from £97.2m at the same time last year.

However, Informa said there was underlying growth of 3% at the publisher, describing it as a “strong” first half performance “reflecting flexible, customer-led approach and consistent investment, including in Open Research”. It reported “robust subscription renewals, strength in e-books and a full pipeline of Open Research activity” were expected to deliver more than 2% underlying revenue growth in the full year….

It added: “In Open Research, our investment in building a platform of scale and quality, with a broad base of flexible, customer-led offerings for authors, funders and institutions, continues to deliver. This is reflected in the volume of Open Research articles published in the first half, which were up 20% on the same period in 2020.” …”

New Social Enterprise Seeks to Expand Affordable Global Access to Health Care – Open Society Foundations

“A group of philanthropic funds and investors led by the Soros Economic Development Fund (SEDF), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is today announcing the launch of Global Access Health (GAH), a social enterprise that will seek to expand access to affordable state-of-the-art medical technology through decentralized research, development, and manufacturing in and for the Global South….

The transaction is important in that it transitions a world-class for-profit company into a social enterprise and allows it to entirely reinvest its profits in pursuing these goals. This transformation will give it the ability to address gaps in the provision of global diagnostics in low-income communities and regions that profit-focused business has failed to address….”

5 Things with Demmy Verbeke, head of KU Leuven Libraries Artes · Commonplace

“A question that I have lately been asking myself more and more is what the purpose is of academic libraries in the changing landscape of research and teaching. For example: the Open Access future is, to a growing extent, already here and librarians like myself need to ask themselves what role they want to play, if any, in this new world. So I welcomed the request to come up with 5 Things as an exercise in finding materials that might help to make up my mind….”

MIT and Harvard Have Sold Higher Education’s Future

“Last week Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sold their edX platform to a for-profit company for $800 million. Founded by the two institutions nearly a decade ago, edX was higher education’s answer to the venture-backed start-ups jostling for an online-course windfall. With the sale to one of those firms, Maryland-based 2U, Harvard and MIT have surrendered. Their decision to fold is a major, and potentially fateful, act of betrayal.

Alan Garber, Harvard’s provost, adopted the language of edX’s profit-maximizing rivals in conceding defeat. “Taking full advantage of [online learning’s] potential,” he told The Harvard Gazette, “will require capital investments at greater scale than is readily attainable for a nonprofit entity like edX.” The decision to sell comes as investor interest in higher education has swelled during the pandemic. Coursera, the Silicon Valley online-course provider, went public in March, and Instructure — the maker of the popular learning-management software Canvas — filed for an IPO last week. The Covid Zoom boom has brought the inevitable wave of start-ups hoping to cash in on the virtual college classroom. So it’s no surprise that the market value of 2U, after the edX announcement, surged past $3 billion.

Before the sale, edX was academe’s public option — a mission-aligned satellite of the brick-and-mortar campus. Now all the major players in the sector are profiteers, legally obligated to maximize shareholder return….

By the turn of the millennium, most societies had handed over their journals to be published by the big commercial players, in exchange for a share of profit. Now most scholarship is published by an oligopolist quintet of information conglomerates that, in turn, charge their college customers usurious fees.

That industry is among the most profitable in the world, in part because academics write and review for free. As the historian Aileen Fyfe has shown, there was nothing inevitable about the joint custody — nonprofit colleges and for-profit publishers — we’ve ended up with. We owe our current predicament, in part, to the decisions of learned societies who chose short-term cash over their scholar-members’ long-term interests. Harvard and MIT have just made the same disastrous miscalculation….

2U’s mission is fundamentally misaligned with the university tradition. 2U, Coursera, and their venture-funded competitors are built to squeeze profit from our students, using our faculty and course offerings. Harvard and MIT had no right, in the meaningful sense, to sell us off. None of us — not faculty members, not students — signed up for edX to increase Silicon Valley’s wallet share. We will look back on this careless abrogation of stewardship as the tragic squandering that it is.”

Self-help for learned journals: Scientific societies and the commerce of publishing in the 1950s – Aileen Fyfe, 2021

Abstract:  In the decades after the Second World War, learned society publishers struggled to cope with the expanding output of scientific research and the increased involvement of commercial publishers in the business of publishing research journals. Could learned society journals survive economically in the postwar world, against this competition? Or was the emergence of a sales-based commercial model of publishing – in contrast to the traditional model of subsidized journal publishing – an opportunity to transform the often-fragile finances of learned societies? But there was also an existential threat: if commercial firms could successfully publish scientific journals, were learned society publishers no longer needed? This paper investigates how British learned society publishers adjusted to the new economic realities of the postwar world, through an investigation of the activities organized by the Royal Society of London and the Nuffield Foundation, culminating in the 1963 report Self-Help for Learned Journals. It reveals the postwar decades as the time when scientific research became something to be commodified and sold to libraries, rather than circulated as part of a scholarly mission. It will be essential reading for all those campaigning to transition academic publishing – including learned society publishing – away from the sales-based model once again.

 

Open Access Charges – Consolidation, Increases, and Breaking Through the $10k Barrier – Delta Think

“To compare like for like, we analyze non-discounted, CC BY charges. Overall, list prices are increasing slowly, but with some outliers:

The big headline is the high-impact journals now offering OA options. This has pushed maximum APCs for hybrid journals to well above their previous limits of $5,900. This year, the maximum is now $11,390 (from the Nature research journals), with the Cell titles mostly coming in at $8,900 ($9,900 for the flagship Cell).
The highest prices for fully OA journals have risen from $5,435 to $5,560.
Fully OA journal APCs are less expensive than hybrid, averaging around 58% of hybrid average APCs. This difference has increased a few percentage points over previous years, representing a small convergence.
The average hybrid APC has increased by just over 5%. This is significantly larger than the 1% or so increases over the previous few years.
The average fully OA APC has increased by 8.5% over the last year – more than twice that of previous years….”

What Is the Price of Science? | mBio

Abstract:  The peer-reviewed scientific literature is the bedrock of science. However, scientific publishing is undergoing dramatic changes, which include the expansion of open access, an increased number of for-profit publication houses, and ready availability of preprint manuscripts that have not been peer reviewed. In this opinion article, we discuss the inequities and concerns that these changes have wrought.

 

Why Is Access to the Scholarly Journal Literature So Expensive?

“For more than 30 years the spiraling costs of scholarly journal subscriptions, often called the “serials crisis,” have been a hotly debated topic. Academics and librarians have pointed out the high profit levels of the major commercial publishers, despite that the content they sell is provided by unpaid authors and reviewers. The publishers then resell it to the universities of these same authors and reviewers. Publishers have attempted to justify their prices by cost increases, their investments in information technology, and the value they add. A useful framework for understanding the situation is Michael Porter’s five forces model for explaining the competitive conditions in an industry. Despite claims to the contrary, the degree of market concentration in scholarly publishing is not higher than that in many other industries, and it is not the main cause of the problem. But because the big deals of different publishers are complements rather than substitutes, the leading companies essentially do not compete for customers, in contrast to other industries, such as mobile phones or automobiles. The high barriers to new entrants, partly due to journal ranking lists and impact factors, as well as the low bargaining power of suppliers and customers, explain why this industry has been so well shielded from the disruptive forces of the Internet. The protected competitive position and high profitability are also major reasons why the big subscription publishers have been slow to adopt the open access business model….”

Science Policy, Competition and Profits

How much India is spending on journal subscriptions? how difficult is it for Indians to access publicly funded research? A nationwide subscription proposal comes with a lot of financial and moral baggage. 

Knowledge Unlatched Strikes Again and Again | Jeff Pooley

“With a hat tip to the indispensable Richard Poynder, here is a quick follow up to yesterday’s post on Knowledge Unlatched’s latest move to disguise its for-profit status. I focused on KU’s Open Research Community (ORC), launched last year as an implied nonprofit. In yesterday’s post, I focused on ORC’s “Community Manager” Pablo Markin and KU head Sven Fund.

The plot is quite a bit thicker, though I won’t do the topic—KU and Sven Fund’s persistent failure to disclose—justice in this short follow-up….”