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:
it is rare that two different publications can be viewed as perfect substitutes, as there are differences in the coverage, comprehensiveness and content provided. Therefore, in terms of functional interchangeability, two different publications could hardly be regarded as substitutable by the end-users, the readers. On that basis, the Commission found that consumers will rarely substitute one publication for another following a change in their relative prices
Publications for different academic subjects are clearly not substitutable from the reader’s point of view. Even within a given discipline, there may be little demand side substitution from the point of view of the individual academic between different publications.
As this lack of substitutability is one of the main sources of the problems associated with academic publishing today, not just the German WR, but many initiatives around the globe see increased competition among publishers as key to moving forward.