Is Infrastructure Consolidation the Next Step? CCC Acquires Ringgold – The Scholarly Kitchen

“It seems that barely a month goes by these days without another acquisition in the scholarly communications and publishing space. Most of the attention has focused on major acquisitions by Elsevier and Clarivate, particularly Elsevier’s recent acquisition of interfolio, the company behind the reporting tool researchFish, and Clarivate’s purchase of ProQuest at the end of last year. And to be sure, their movement towards scholarly workflow tools and platforms is an extremely important development. The recent news that the Copyright Clearance Center will acquire Ringgold is an important reminder that many other firms, including not-for-profits, are actively pursuing growth strategies that contain elements other than organic growth. It is also another confirmation of the extreme strategic value of infrastructure, including in particular the persistent identifiers, lovingly known as PIDs, that is needed to advance scholarly communication in an increasingly open access environment. And it raises the question of whether infrastructure will be managed openly through community governed organizations or the extent to which the sector can live with its privatization….”

Boycott heralds Chinese publishing shake-up | May 3, 2022 | Times Higher Education (THE)

“China’s top research organisation has suspended its use of the country’s largest academic database, causing some scholars to question whether its stranglehold on the sector might be loosened. Several research institutes under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have pulled out of its subscription to the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) due to mounting subscription fees, local news outlet Caixin reported. According to reports, CAS made the decision over mounting costs. In 2021, CAS paid ¥10 million (£1.2 million) to access the database, with a similar amount expected for 2022. Academics said the reasoning behind the move – long-simmering frustrations over fees – was understandable enough. But they wondered what its knock-on effects could be in a market largely controlled by a single, powerful player. Roughly 90 per cent of China’s journal articles are listed on CNKI, according to estimates.  Futao Huang, a professor at the Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University, suggested that CNKI’s monopoly was under threat. While he said it was “extremely difficult” to predict what could happen, a reduced role for CNKI “might open up the market to new players”, including open access platforms, which allow readers to access papers for free….

Fei Shu, a senior researcher in the Chinese Academy of Science and Education Evaluation at Hangzhou Dianzi University, argued that “oligopoly” was a more fitting term for the country’s research database market, but he was also sceptical that a move away from its biggest player would result in a proliferation of openly accessible journal articles. “In my perspective, some other research institutions will follow the CAS and stop [their] subscription if they cannot get a deal with CNKI,” similar to when Western sectors boycotted Elsevier in the past, he said. “However, it has little to do with open access. In China, due to [its] censorship, OA is not favoured and promoted by the government. I don’t believe that this situation will change in a short term.””

https://web.archive.org/web/20220504111208/https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/academys-database-boycott-may-herald-chinese-publishing-shake

Elsevier to Acquire Interfolio – The Scholarly Kitchen

“On Thursday, Elsevier announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire Interfolio. Interfolio has a series of products that fall into two related categories, one of which I call researcher career management and the other of which is the more familiar, impact assessment. While the price being paid was not revealed, Interfolio was acquired by a private equity firm in 2018 for a reported investment of $110 million (prior to adding several additional services into the Interfolio portfolio). Elsevier’s acquisition, if it succeeds, will further strengthen it as a provider of platforms and services to the university provost’s office and office of research, as well as research funders, an important consideration as it seeks to diversify its academic segment revenue basis beyond libraries. Ultimately, this acquisition would further increase the disparity in services in the increasingly direct competition between Elsevier and the new Clarivate, particularly if Elsevier can integrate it effectively. …

 So, for Elsevier, Interfolio’s faculty activity reporting, tenure and promotion, faculty search, and dossier management services should integrate very well with its already strong PURE platform. …

Interfolio’s products and services contain substantial data that already contribute to assessment and impact analysis. These are held in the aforementioned faculty career management services, on a proprietary basis for individual and institutional customers, in ways that could intriguingly be integrated into various analytical tools and services. And, at least in the UK, the oddly-named ResearchFish, acquired several years ago by Interfolio, is used by funding agencies to track the work of their funded researchers (attracting a bit of controversy lately for its unexpected approach to social media). Notwithstanding data protections in place, there could easily emerge additional opt-in opportunities for data from Interfolio services to populate other Elsevier platforms and analytics over the course of time. …

One thing is for sure — Elsevier is bringing together a premier researcher career management offering with its highly competitive research information management system — and that can make a compelling combination. Clarivate has an even higher mountain to climb now as it works to create a competitive research information management offering, working to combine Converis, which has not captured meaningful market share since Clarivate acquired it, and the more nascent Esploro, a category-bending service which it gained through the ProQuest acquisition. …

The most disappointing part of this reaction is the surprise that many librarians and other community advocates express about an acquisition of one company by another company. This should not be a surprise, as I wrote years ago when Elsevier bought bepress. Universities for whom this is a substantial concern should not outsource strategically sensitive services to commercial firms, or alternatively should ensure their contracts are structured to protect their interests in the face of the most outrageous acquisition they can imagine. …”

Elsevier announces its intention to acquire Interfolio

“Elsevier, a global leader in research publishing and information analytics, and part of RELX, announced today that it has entered into an agreement to acquire Interfolio, a provider of advanced faculty information solutions for higher education, headquartered in Washington DC, US.

Founded in 1999, Interfolio supports over 400 higher education institutions, research funders and academic organizations in 25 countries, and over 1.7 million academic professionals and scholars….”

bjoern.brembs.blog » EU: academic publishers are monopolists

“The market power of academic publishers has been a concern for all those academic fields where publication in scholarly journals is the norm. For most non-economist researchers, the anti-trust aspects of academic publishing are likely confusing and opaque.

For instance, libraries and consortia are exempted from organizing tenders for their publication needs as each article exists only in one journal with one publisher. This is called the single or sole source exemption from procurement law and essentially means that academic publishers have monopolies on each of their articles and hence each of their journals.

At the same time, this conglomerate of monopolies is often referred to as the “publishing market“, where there is market consolidation or concentration, leading up to an “oligopoly“.

So which is it now, a market with competing providers or a conglomerate of monopolists?…”

bjoern.brembs.blog » Why publication services must not be negotiated

“Recently, the “German Science and Humanities Council” (Wissenschaftsrat) has issued their “Recommendations on the Transformation of Academic Publishing: Towards Open Access“. On page 33 they write that increasing the competition between publishers is an explicit goal of current transformative agreements:

publishers become publication service providers and enter into competition with other providers

This emphasis on competition refers back to the simple fact that as content (rather than service) providers, legacy publishers currently enjoy monopolies on their content, as, e.g., the European Commission has long recognized: In at least two market analyses, one dating as far back as 2003 and one from 2015, the EC acknowledges the lack of a genuine market due to the lack of substitutability…

Without such prestige, the faculty argue, they cannot work, risk their careers and funding. Arguments that these ancient vehicles are unreliable, unaffordable and dysfunctional are brushed away by emphasizing that their academic freedom allows them to drive whatever vehicle they want to their field work. Moreover, they argue, the price of around one million is “very attractive” because of the prestige the money buys them.

With this analogy, it becomes clear why and how tenders protect the public interest against any individual interests. In this analogy, it is likely also clear that academic freedom does not and should not trump all other considerations. In this respect, I would consider the analogy very fitting and have always argued for such a balance of public and researcher interests: academic freedom does not automatically exempt academics from procurement rules.

Therefore, ten experts advocate a ban on all negotiations with publishers and, instead, advocate policies that ensure that all publication services for public academic institutions must be awarded by tender, analogous the the example set by Open Research Europe and analogous to how all other, non-digital infrastructure contracts are awarded.”

Surveillance Publishing · Elephant in the Lab

“Clarivate’s business model is coming for scholarly publishing. Google is one peer, but the company’s real competitors are Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, and SAGE. Elsevier, in particular, has been moving into predictive analytics for years now. Of course the publishing giants have long profited off of academics and our university employers—by packaging scholars’ unpaid writing-and-editing labor only to sell it back to us as usuriously priced subscriptions or article processing charges (APCs). That’s a lucrative business that Elsevier and the others won’t give up. But they’re layering another business on top of their legacy publishing operations, in the Clarivate mold. The data trove that publishers are sitting on is, if anything, far richer than the citation graph alone.

Why worry about surveillance publishing? One reason is the balance sheet, since the companies’ trading in academic futures will further pad profits at the expense of taxpayers and students. The bigger reason is that our behavior—once alienated from us and abstracted into predictive metrics—will double back onto our work lives. Existing biases, like male academics’ propensity for self-citation, will receive a fresh coat of algorithmic legitimacy. More broadly, the academic reward system is already distorted by metrics. To the extent that publishers’ tallies and indices get folded into grant-making, tenure-and-promotion, and other evaluative decisions, the metric tide will gain power. The biggest risk is that scholars will internalize an analytics mindset, one already encouraged by citation counts and impact factors….”

Sounding the Alarm: Scholarly Information and Global Information Companies in 2021 | Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Abstract:  Vendors and publishers collaborate and work to protect their bottom line — which is threatened by open access (OA) — by expanding into research lifecycle and data analytics, and by continuing to merge and acquire each other, reducing choice in the library market. The implementation of Seamless Access and other systems force library staff into the position of gatekeeper for systems and platforms that we have no control or input over. Vendors and publishers control the online content that librariescan access: they add and remove content at will, and classify titles according to their greatest possible sales margins, making valuable resources unavailable to libraries to license for campus-wide access. These vendor actions—which impact the research lifecycle as a whole, disrupt traditional publishing, and seek to monetize user data—are extremely concerning. Collective action is the only way to make significant inroads against these developments. We suggestsome proactive ways that we can initiate these collective actions and resist these industry-wide developments imposed by vendors and publishers.

Covid has deepened the West’s monopoly of science publishing — Quartz

“For nearly a decade, Jorge Contreras has been railing against the broken system of scientific publishing. Academic journals are dominated by the Western scientists, who not only fill their pages but also work for institutions that can afford the hefty subscription fees to these journals. “These issues have been brewing for decades,” said Contreras, a professor at the University of Utah’s College of Law who specializes in intellectual property in the sciences. “The covid crisis has certainly exacerbated things, though.” …”

Who’s afraid of Green? Market forces and the Rights Retention Strategy | Plan S

“Publishers state that the version of record (publisher’s version or VoR) is the product that readers and authors prefer, want, and specially seek out. In fact, Springer Nature published a white paper describing their findings from their own survey on this very topic. If it is the case that authors and readers prefer the VoR, then authors (or their agents such as libraries) will pay for it. That is how the free market works. If a company provides a product or service people want, customers will pay for it. People will cancel if the service is not delivering what they need, is too expensive, or a competitor provides an alternative that’s better, cheaper, has more widgets, etc. 

So what’s the big deal? Why are major publishers trying to discredit repositories and the use of AAMs? What are they frightened of?

They should have nothing to worry about. They’ve even got years’ worth of external evidence in the form of Arxiv (hosting >2M articles), which, every year, disseminates thousands of physics and related subject preprints and AAMs very similar to the VoR. Journals continue to publish those same papers, despite content being freely available in Arxiv. If Springer Nature and other publishers believe their own statements, readers and authors will seek out the VoR. Repositories even help them to do this; one of the benefits of repositories is the free publicity they provide for publishers. Each discoverable record in a repository includes the DOI of the VoR for users to easily locate the VoR with a single click, and either access the full text immediately, or pay to access it (e.g. here and here). 

If an author wants to make an unformatted AAM version available, then so be it. Provided the VoR offers the features that customers want, then publishers have no cause for concern. If it doesn’t, then the publisher will have to rethink – but that’s how it should be, and how markets work. According to the publisher produced white paper cited above, there is nothing for publishers to worry about. As Peter Suber, arguably the father of the OA movement, stated, ‘There are no good reasons to put the thriving of incumbent toll-access journals and publishers ahead of the thriving of research itself’.

Perhaps it is true that services like Unsub and the SPARC log of journal big deal cancellations mean that ‘green’ OA is having an effect on subscriptions. If it is, then why? Could it possibly be because what is on offer is too expensive, rights are too restrictive, and the product is not what the customer wants in some way? This is what the competitive market entails, and any services that are losing out clearly need to re-evaluate and reconsider what they are offering. …

Publishers that talk about self-archiving as “The false promise of Green OA” are missing the point. Green OA isn’t promising anything – it is an expression of the right of authors and institutions to disseminate and use the research finding papers and other outputs they created, or were created with their affiliation, in a way that they choose. If supporting that right happens to result in a service that users prefer and choose to use in preference to a publisher’s VoR, then so be it. But publishers should not be so disingenuous to the authors that contribute content for the publisher’s use at no charge by trying to deny them the rights to disseminate their own work in the ways they choose. The content belongs to the author. 

It would appear that these publishers don’t want a normal market to operate. They are creating a monopoly (“the exclusive possession or control of the supply of or trade in a commodity or service”  

Life in a Liminal Space; Or, The Journey Shapes the Destination – The Scholarly Kitchen

“Another important factor in our journey so far is that in those negotiations for partnerships between publishers and societies, we’re seeing an increased emphasis on publishing in quantity – remember that under the APC and the TA model, you get paid for every article you publish, so more articles means more revenue. This creates another tricky balance. High-quality, selective, flagship journals are essential for selling subscription packages. Libraries want to subscribe to the best journals, or at least the journals their readers see as most important. But flagship journals publish a small number of articles and reject a lot of submissions. They usually have higher overheads and lower outputs than journals with less rigorous acceptance requirements. So for the subscription short term, you need these expensive-to-run, low-volume flagship journals, but for the OA long term, they cost too much and publish too little to be highly profitable. We’re starting to see a changing attitude from publishers toward these flagship titles, with an emphasis on lowering acceptance standards and publishing more articles over time. Some publishers go as far as requiring quotas for the journals – you must accept X number of articles per year….

In an OA world, you want to emulate MDPI and have low-overhead, high-volume journals and, as subscription wanes, to rid your program of those pesky, small, high-quality titles with high expenses and low publication volumes. So what emerges from our journey is publishers investing heavily in low-rejection, high-volume journals….

This scenario has the most prestigious journals staying in-house where they can remain profitable, but most other prestige journals falling back to independent status, where they will be run with rigor and care by mission-driven research societies rather than profit-driven companies. But remember, all the tools and infrastructure needed to make these journals happen have been bought by the big commercial publishers, and so rather than working together as partners, the societies now become paying clients to the publishers, purchasing the technologies and services they need to keep their journals running….

Are there routes that don’t require success to be based on scale and output volume? There are lots of experiments going on now that essentially ask libraries to pay for things they can otherwise get for free. While promising, I’m concerned that the frame shift needed, both for the library and the university, going from being a place that brings in money to spend on itself to more the mindset of an investment portfolio manager, sending money out into the world for the benefit of the larger community, may be both fragile and take a significant amount of time, given the priorities of academic institutions and how slowly they move….

By examining where these efforts have succeeded, it becomes clear that investment in infrastructure needs to start with a business plan for the long term, with an assumption that funding is going to be limited and driving a financial surplus to ensure long term sustainability is essential….”

bjoern.brembs.blog » Small changes, big effects

“EU regulators long-since recognize in principle that academic publishers are monopolies, i.e., they are not substitutable, justifying the single-source exception granted to academic institutions for their negotiations with academic publishers (another such negotiation round just recently concluded in the UK). Openly contradicting this justification for the single source exemption, the EU Commission nevertheless classifies academic publishing as a market and, moreover, demonstrates with Open Research Europe, that public, competitive tenders for publishing services are possible. This now offers the opportunity for the first decision: we propose that now is the time for regulators to no longer allow academic institutions to buy their publishing services from academic publishers that do not compete with one another in such tenders. The consequences would be far-reaching, but the most immediate ones would be that the (mostly secret and NDA-protected) negotiations between institutions and publishers, which allowed prices and profits to skyrocket in the last decades, would now be a thing of the past. Another consequence is that the obvious contradiction between academic publishing as a set of recognized monopolies in procurement regulation, but as a regular market in anti-trust regulation would be resolved. After this decision, academic publishing would be an actual market that could be regulated by authorities in pretty much the same way as any other market, preventing future lock-ins and monopolies. Yet another consequence would be that competitive pricing would reduce the costs for these institutions dramatically, by nearly 90% in the long term, amounting to about US$10 billion annually world-wide….”

Creating a market to replace publisher monopolies | Plan S

an abbreviated version of a more detailed proposal available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5526634

by Björn Brembs, Philippe Huneman, Felix Schönbrodt, Gustav Nilsonne, Toma Susi, Renke Siems, Pandelis Perakakis, Varvara Trachana, Lai Ma, & Sara Rodriguez-Cuadrado.

Replacing traditional journals with a more modern solution is not a new idea, but the lack of progress since the first calls more than 20 years ago has convinced an increasing number of experts that a disruptive break is now necessary. The list of problems that have been accumulating is long, but three stand out as the most severe:

Quality control by traditional journal peer review has often proven to be opaque, capricious, and insufficient for catching even overt errors, leading to what is now called a “replication crisis”;
An “affordability crisis” is the consequence of large international corporations that each own their separate monopoly on scholarly content and enjoy an exemption from procurement rules such that they can dictate conditions;
A lack of digital modernization has caused a further “functionality crisis”, where some of the most basic digital functionalities are missing for research objects.

The reason for three decades of inaction is a social dilemma, where every player – researchers, libraries or institutions – is at a disadvantage if they move (first), so all remain locked-in. Reminiscent of the big internet platforms, the corporate publishers exploit this situation by using their massive profits not only to resist and delay any research- and public-oriented reform, but to fund a reform of their own and on their own terms: The major publishing houses are tracking their academic users in order to, among other reasons, expand their monopolies beyond scholarly texts. Over the last decade, the four leading publishing houses have all acquired or developed a range of services aiming to develop vertical integration over the entire scientific process (Fig. 1). For any institution buying such a workflow package, the risk of vendor lock-in is very real: Without any standards, it becomes technically and financially nearly impossible to substitute a chosen service provider with another one.

The Future State of Our Scholarly Publishing Vendors – The Scholarly Kitchen

“One of the benefits of moving to a commercial publisher is that you no longer have to manage (or directly pay for) vendor services — typesetting, copyediting, online hosting, enhancement features, metadata maintenance, printing, distribution, manuscript submission and review systems, sales support, etc. Further, due to the efficiencies of scale, the commercial publishers are paying less for these services than independent societies. Having recently transitioned a program from self-published to commercially published, I can tell you that this is 100% the case.

What does all of this mean for the vendor landscape? We have seen several examples of consolidation or the outright purchase of vendors and services by commercial publishers:

Atypon to Wiley
Aries to Elsevier
eJournalPress to Wiley
J&J Editorial to Wiley…

HighWire (now owned by MPS) was built in response to society publishers needing an online home for their journals. Unencumbered by the needs of a Wiley or an Elsevier, HighWire was an early partner with Google and had tight relationships with the library community. HighWire was exactly why many society publishers could stay independent during the tumultuous move to online journals.

But again, is there space for a new “HighWire”? What are the incentives of innovation when more and more journals are consolidated under very few publishing houses? Without a customer base, there is no investment. A new entrant will find it very difficult to build enough support to justify financial investors. And without that growth, likelihood of being acquired is low.

Even if you build a better mousetrap, if there are no customers, you won’t get very far. The barrier to entry for any new player seems nearly impossible. This is not good for any industry and makes us particularly vulnerable to disruptors outside our space….”

Analysis shows further growth in OASPA member journals output: CC BY dominates whilst content consolidation grows – OASPA

“OASPA members were invited to share their data to update the previous post on this topic which was published on the OASPA blog at the end of 2020 (we also published OA book data this year). Journal information shared here by OASPA covers the number of open access articles across all journals (including hybrid) and the license under which those articles were published, up to the year 2020. Figures were supplied as number of articles published per year since implementation of the license by that publisher. See the downloadable spreadsheet for full details. …

2 publishers now account for 50% of OASPA members’ output; 5 account for 75% of it. This represents a greater consolidation over last year, where the top 3 together covered over 50% and the top 6 over 75%. While the top publishers are the same, the order has changed slightly from previous years. MDPI, Springer Nature and Frontiers remain the top three (although if we add Hindawi’s output to that of Wiley, then Wiley would come in 3rd). …”

The volume of publications from OASPA members continues to grow. Just under 2.7 million articles were published by members in the period 2000-2020. Over 579,000 of these were published in 2020, representing a growth of around 28% over the previous year.  The number of articles published each year reported by members has grown around 13x from 2011 to 2020. 

 

CC BY in fully OA journals continues to dominate output. However, beneath the headlines lie some interesting nuances, especially around articles in hybrid journals….”