Deni Auclair
Deni Auclair
VP & Lead Analyst, Outsell, Inc.

We continue our celebration of Open Access week with a reflection on the past, present and future of the movement from Deni Auclair of Outsell Inc This week, Deni participated in the Wiley/CCC webinar: "Open Access: Case Studies Yield Insights for Societies".  View the recorded webinar here.


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In response to the rise of open access, Elsevier is quoted in Outsell’s 2004 report Competitor Assessment: STM – Revolution In The Land Of The Giants as saying that subscription-based journal publishing is “the most effective and efficient way to deliver to researchers a huge volume of high quality, peer reviewed research through increasingly sophisticated online delivery and navigational tools that require substantial investment.” At the time, that’s how most – if not all – scholarly publishers felt, and it was big news when Springer acquired BioMed Central in 2008, the first commercial publisher to dive into open access in a significant way.

As OA continued to make inroads, Outsell published its first report focused on open access in 2009, An Open Access Primer – Market Size and Trends, covering prevailing business models as well as myriad market drivers. Only two inhibitors were cited in the report: the fundamental cultural change for researchers, and resistance by large commercial publishers. Today, the cultural change aspect appears moot as researchers have more faith in the quality and impact of open access journals. The Taylor & Francis survey of authors, published in June, shows clearly that the majority of the almost 8,000 respondents feel that under the OA model, their research has wider circulation, higher visibility, and larger readership, and will be published faster and drive innovation. In addition, Nature Communications announced it is OA as of this week, the first NPG-branded journal to move to open access, with APCs of  3,150 or $5,200 (plus VAT or taxes, of course), giving researchers comfort that branded elite journals are moving into the open access space.

Finally, the more open culture of today’s startups is helping to move the needle from proprietary technology, paywalled content, and secret journal impact formulas to open source technology, free or freemium content, and an open discussion around analytics, metrics and alternative ways of looking at both.

The second inhibitor cited in the report, resistance from publishers, primarily stemmed from a single issue: finding a business model that would not seriously erode margins. Article publication charges (APCs) in particular presented a challenge as both institutional mechanisms for paying APCs and publisher systems for processing them did not exist or were rudimentary. And when it came to the cost of publishing an article, the basis of determining an APC, the vastly disparate views are represented in responses to the 2003 UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee enquiry into OA, with BioMed Central stating that the “irreducible cost of peer review per article is between  50 and  200,” and the then-CEO of Nature Publishing Group (NPG) suggesting that a cost of  10,000- 30,000 per article would be required to replace subscription-access revenue from NPG’s flagship journal Nature.

Despite the many changes in the scholarly publishing landscape driven by open access – new business models and revenue sources, cascading peer review, devious practices such as predatory and hijacked journals – what remains unchanged is the spectrum across which feelings about open access reside. These passions take the form of new organizations, initiatives, reports, debates around copyright and licenses, and mandates – with some OA advocates railing against profit-driven publishers on one end of the spectrum, and concerns about the quality and ethics of some OA publishing raised at the other.

Today’s status of OA is expressed in a commonly heard phrase: “Open Access is here to stay.” That is difficult to argue with. In 2013, Outsell sized the 2011 open access market at $172 million, growing by 34%. Assuming consistent growth rates, the market will be at around $300 million by the end of 2014, still a mere 1% of the total STM market.

So while open access is at top of mind for most publishers and continues to develop, at the current rate of growth it will be years before it is a significant part of the STM market, and the impact on margins and bottom lines is yet to be determined. While diminished market value is always a possibility, it is not a probability. Publishers and open access advocates – at least the less militant ones – are slowly moving together to make the business model work. While smaller publishers and societies are struggling more than their larger brethren to come to terms with open access, they are involved in the discussion and have not shut it down completely, realizing that it is, in fact, here to stay.

As publishers look to alternative revenue sources, products, and business models, hope springs eternal that both OA advocates and commercial publishers can emerge with some semblance of satisfaction – and profitability. There’s no way of knowing if this will actually happen, but all indications are that both sides, while still not agreeing on every aspect of the debate, are working diligently to make it happen.