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Ten trends in academic publishing
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Posted by IPG
Ahead of the IPG’s next Academic and Professional Special Interest Group dinner, Francis Dodds looks at some key sector developments

1 Pressure on university library budgets

The principal market for both journal and monograph publishing is university libraries, and the long-term trend in expenditure in the UK has been downward. In the US, a recent Special Libraries Association (SLA) survey found almost half of respondents reporting cuts in budgets, while another 2016 report across both North America and Europe showed four in five libraries reporting flat or decreased budgets for monographs, with just over 70% reporting flat or decreasing journal budgets.

2 Some resilience in STM journals and monographs

Despite these constraints, the most recent figures for the sector suggest the continuing strength of the global STM journal market, which grew from $8 billion in 2008 to $10 billion in 2013—an annual growth rate of 4.5%. It has been fuelled by continued growth in article output—but there is also informal evidence of a significant increase in ‘big deal’ journal cancellations in North American libraries from around 2015. A recent report on monograph publishing in the UK meanwhile concluded that, despite constraints in library funding, ‘The picture… does not suggest that there has been a decline in the position of the monograph’.

3 Independents ahead of the curve?

The IPG’s 2016 Harbottle & Lewis Independent Publishing Report found that 32% of members publishing in academic and higher education sectors reported sales growth, with another 41% describing sales as stable. It suggests impressive buoyancy among IPG members.

4 Fast adaptation to open access publishing

Perhaps the biggest single change in scholarly publishing in recent years has been the move to the open access (OA) model. With more major funding bodies now mandating that journal research outputs are made available through OA channels, sales through ‘gold’ OA—where authors or, more usually, institutions pay for an article to be made freely available—have grown rapidly. In general, established journal publishers have adapted remarkably well, migrating income from traditional institutional subscriptions to article processing charges (APCs), paid in many cases by major research bodies. But it is important to note that the OA market is still worth less than 5% of overall monograph output, and it still has some way to go to challenge traditional publishing models.

5 Controversy and change in open access

The transition to OA has not been without controversy. There has been particular criticism of ‘double dipping’ by publishers of hybrid OA journals that combine both subscription and OA content, and a 2014 report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, one of the major funders of medical research in the UK, described the hybrid OA journal market as ‘dysfunctional’. In response, some funders have started to develop their own platforms, including a new OA eLife journal and Wellcome Open Research platform from the Wellcome Trust.
OA has started to impact monograph publishing too, and indeed has even been seen as a way to maintain it in the long term. Some funding bodies have moved to require researchers to publish monographs through OA channels in the same way as journal article output—though others have been much more cautious to mandate OA publishing for the time being.

6 New university presses

Another development triggered by open access has been the emergence of new university presses subsidised by their parent universities to offer OA options for authors. The UK saw five new university presses established in 2016, four of which were OA publishers.

7 Changing researcher attitudes and behaviour

Will OA eventually start to undermine traditional publishers? That depends on researchers’ attitudes and behaviour, and surveys of these show some contradictory results. Research Libraries UK and Jisc have found that, following the lead of many research funding bodies, 64% academics said they would like to see subscription-based journal publication replaced by OA—but another survey found that even early-career researchers seem to have limited support for OA. In practice, many researchers remain committed to the status quo in publishing.

8 Scholarly collaboration on academic publishing

Other aspects of researcher behaviour may prove more disruptive for publishers in the long run. A rising trend noted by many observers is the move towards greater collaboration between researchers, most obviously seen in scholarly collaboration networks (SCNs) such as, Mendeley and ResearchGate. A recent survey of more than 7,500 researchers found that more than half uploaded copies of their work to SCNs. This weakening of the traditional copyright control exercised by publishers can also be seen in recent research that showed more than half of articles on ResearchGate had been posted in contravention of publishers’ copyright agreements. The market is caught in the paradox of researchers still wanting to submit articles to established journals but reserving the right to share and access material across the traditional boundaries set by subscription models.

9 Changes in content discovery

Another study has shown how the ways content is discovered have diversified, with academic search engines like Google Scholar growing in importance. This is significant because it has helped researchers gain access to a much wider range of material. The study found that more than half of journal article downloads by researchers were from free sources.

10 Revolution or evolution?

Do these trends indicate revolution or evolution in academic publishing? Some have suggested that we may, finally, be on the brink of major change, with academics less willing to underwrite expensive traditional publishing models for the benefit of the publishers.
In my view, these predictions are wrong, at least in the short term. Academic publishers, both large and small, have proved themselves adaptable and resilient, helped by the continued commitment of many researchers to publish in the most prestigious journals and with respected monograph publishers. Not-for-profit OA and researchers’ self-publishing may make the market more fragmented, and publishers will come under increasing pressure to add more value to content—but the best of them will remain relevant and successful.
Francis Dodds is editorial director at Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing. These and other trends will be discussed at the next meeting of the IPG’s Academic and Professional Special Interest Group on 21 June.

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