The Role of the Academic Journal Publisher and…

The Role of the Academic Journal Publisher and Open Access Publishing Models :

“This article explores the role and value of the academic journal publisher as paradigms of Open Access gain momentum and challenge the standards of paid subscription models. To recover the costs of publication services (which include everything from printing copies to online hosting and protection of intellectual property rights), publishers have traditionally employed a model in which subscribing individuals or institutions pay for access to content. The two main versions of Open Access publishing currently at large—Gold (in which a funding body or person pays the publisher to make the content freely available) and Green (in which there are no payments made for publication and articles are archived in free public repositories)—pose a challenge to the user-pays models that have served as a foundation of the business since its inception. However, these changes do not portend an undermining of the importance or viability of the academic journal publisher.”

The academic journal-publishing industry was born in 1665, when the Royal Society in London launched the world’s first peer-reviewed journal, Philosophical Transactions. In the years since, the industry has evolved a great deal, but the role of the academic journal publisher has remained largely unchanged. We continue to perform the functions that the Royal Society envisioned so long ago: registering and date stamping new research findings across the disciplines; ensuring the highest quality through a rigorous system of peer review; disseminating material as broadly as possible so that those who require it may access it; and creating a permanent archive as a legacy for future generations. Publishers of academic journals have long played a vital role in the research process, and we believe our work will continue to be valued highly by researchers, students, practitioners, and librarians for many years to come.

Today, about 2,000 publishers—including learned societies, other not-for-profit organizations, and commercial enterprises—produce more than 25,000 journals across the disciplines (Ware and Mabe 2009). The journal-publishing enterprise is a complex one that requires significant expertise and resources. For each of the 1.5 million journal articles which appear each year, publishers manage a complex process of peer review, including the appointing and relationship management of editorial boards; the licensing of editorial office workflow systems; strategic development and branding; the copyediting and formatting of papers for both print and electronic production; print manufacture, mailing, and warehousing; enhanced electronic features such as linking and citation metrics; the facilitation of discovery and access, involving highly sophisticated and expensive online platforms; and a range of other activities which ensure quality, consistency, authority, stewardship, and the protection of the author’s and the publisher’s intellectual property rights. Much of this work requires specialized training and/or education, and our industry employs about 110,000 people globally in a range of roles (Ware and Mabe 2009). Publishers also invest heavily in supporting the editorial process and in developing new systems and technologies which aid in preparing and disseminating research material. Collectively, we have invested more than $3.5 billion in online publishing technology alone since the year 2000 (Taylor, Russell and Mabe 2010).

For many decades, journal publishers recovered costs via a subscription model, in which libraries and/or individuals purchased access (originally print copies and increasingly a combination of print and online access) to the journals. The Internet and the new communication tools which have resulted from it have allowed us to experiment with and develop a range of new models for getting the content we publish into the hands of people who wish to have it. Over the past 15–20 years, the combination of investments in technology (by publishers as well as others), and the formation of library purchasing consortia around the world (assisted by publishers, in many cases), has significantly and cost-effectively accelerated and broadened access to, and usage of, journal articles (see, for example, RIN (2009a), which shows that, in the UK, full-text article downloads more than doubled between the academic years 2003–04 and 2006–07, with a compound annual growth rate of 21.7% and with the cost of access falling to about 80 pence per article). Publishers and philanthropic organizations have also formed partnerships which have allowed for free or very low-cost access to academic journals in the developing world, meaning that more researchers and practitioners in these areas now have access to the most current research findings (see A key feature of the subscription model which has existed for so many years is that it has provided publishers with a reliable way to recover costs and earn a profit (or, for not-for-profit publishers, a surplus) that can be reinvested in the business.”