Market Consolidation and the Demise of the Independently Publishing Analysis Society

2021 has been a yr of market consolidation. Whereas the massive mergers and acquisitions have garnered a lot consideration (most lately Clarivate finishing its deal for Proquest and Wiley’s ongoing spending spree), I needed to deliver to gentle a unique space of fast market consolidation, specifically the demise of the independently publishing analysis society. 2021 has seen an acceleration of this development which started in 2018 with the announcement of Plan S.

At first of 2019 I declared that we had entered “The Great Acceleration“, that means that we had been embarking on a interval of serious, fast change, and in that weblog submit I mentioned the next about Plan S:

Plan S is a superb instance of acceleration — the analysis world has been shifting slowly towards open entry, with completely different fields shifting at completely different paces by way of completely different routes. This evolution has taken place at (not surprisingly) an evolutionary tempo, and a small group of serious analysis funders have declared their impatience with this degree of progress. Plan S is a deliberate try and speed up change, throwing a comet into a posh ecosystem in hope that it’s going to produce mammals, relatively than mass extinction.

The comet has struck, and we’re now in a interval of what one college of evolutionary biology calls a “punctuated equilibrium”, which is the concept relatively than evolution taking place progressively and regularly, it as a substitute reveals lengthy durations of stability and stasis, after which sudden bursts of fast change.

Dinosaurs and a meteor falling from the sky

Evolution, nonetheless, is unpredictable, as one would anticipate for any course of that’s pushed by random change. What we’re seeing up to now is that relatively than a mass extinction or the spurring of all kinds of latest species of publishers, Plan S has as a substitute resulted in an surroundings that has strengthened the dominance of the incumbent market gamers and created a drive towards rising scale – in different phrases, it’s evolving greater dinosaurs.

As an apart, I need to be clear that I’m not referring to bigger publishers as dinosaurs to indicate that they’re out of date or stodgy and caught of their methods. If something, the biggest of publishers have achieved that success for a motive – they’re excellent at what they do, and since publishing is a service business, which means having the ability to change to satisfy the wants of their prospects. And open entry (OA) has been a fantastic instance of that willingness to adapt, as the biggest publishers have all embraced OA and prolonged their already profitable companies round it.

But when the purpose was to shake issues up and displace the dominant gamers, then that has not occurred, and the online consequence up to now of Plan S has been an enormous consolidation of the market. The largest publishers are rising greater, and the smaller, impartial publishers are largely abandoning their independence and signing on with the largest homes. I’ve been in form of a singular place right here as an observer over the previous couple of years – I’ve been on either side of the negotiating desk for Publishing Service Agreements, first as a writer wanting to herald new journals, and now as a advisor working the Request for Proposal (RFP) course of on behalf of journals in search of a writer.

I can let you know that because the announcement of Plan S, at my former employer, we noticed an unlimited spike within the variety of previously impartial journals in search of a bigger publishing associate, and that now as a advisor, there stays a seamless stream of impartial journals who’ve realized that they’ll’t thrive within the new surroundings on their very own.

I believe there are three forces driving all this consolidation: Uncertainty, Transformative Agreements, and the required Expertise and Reporting Burdens.

Uncertainty

A significant transition to a brand new enterprise mannequin, significantly the place there’s no reply that’s clearly sustainable and equitable, goes to create a number of market instability. Probably the most developed and predominant mannequin obtainable for open entry is having the creator pay an article processing cost (APC). That is an imperfect resolution that creates as many issues because it solves. We all know it doesn’t remove the inequities within the system, it simply strikes them from readers to authors. But additionally, most analysis societies think about themselves as stewards of their fields – they exist to instill rigor and drive excellence in analysis. As a part of this, they’ve constructed highly-selective journals to current the easiest analysis leads to their area. Sadly, these flagship journals don’t actually work with an APC mannequin. The extra articles you reject, the extra bills you might have that don’t have any means of being coated.

For the second, APCs at their present ranges work for lots of journals as a result of they’re closely sponsored by subscription revenues. However because the subscription revenues start to wane, the APCs alone aren’t going to be sufficient to switch them and nonetheless keep present earnings.

You even have the key downside of the APC mannequin concentrating prices on a small variety of authors relatively than the subscription mannequin’s broad unfold of readers overlaying prices. Because of this productive establishments that publish a number of papers are going to have to spend so much extra to switch the funds that now are available from establishments that learn the literature however don’t produce a number of it. And albeit, that cash simply isn’t there – the productive establishments don’t have some magical pile of cash they’ll add to their library budgets, and lots of the high analysis establishments I’ve spoken with are bored with drastically rising their spending.

Add within the pandemic, and issues are much more unsure. For an impartial not-for-profit society with restricted scale, this can be a horrifying place during which to be. However should you’re a part of a a lot greater group, there’s extra buffer there to climate the short-term storm, and a Publishing Providers Settlement (PSA) usually provides assured revenues which let you guarantee your future existence.

Transformative Agreements

Transformative Agreements (TAs) are in all probability the primary motive we hear from smaller societies as to why they need to associate up with an even bigger publishing home. Simply because the Large Deal turned the dominant means that journals are offered, making it tough to get right into a library’s finances until you had been half of a bigger bundle, so too has the ascendance of the “Greater Deal”, together with subscription entry and APCs. Most present journals and their creator communities aren’t but prepared for a full flip to OA and being a part of a TA provides a route to purchase a couple of years’ time with a view to plan and probably make that transition. The issue is that TAs typically should be individually negotiated with every establishment and are so complicated and time-consuming to place collectively that librarians solely have time to barter a small variety of them with the biggest of publishers. There’s merely no means for a society with one or two journals to get a seat on the desk.

Expertise and Reporting Calls for

Plan S asks a lot from a journal with a view to qualify as compliant. Let’s begin with the know-how necessities, which embrace the usage of persistent identifiers like DOIs, participation in a long-term digital preservation or archiving program like CLOCKSS or Portico, what’s described as “prime quality article degree metadata” that have to be in a regular non-proprietary and interoperable format licensed underneath CC0 phrases, and that metadata should embrace full and dependable info on funding of the analysis, together with the identify of the funder and their grant quantity. Additional, the article should have machine readable info on its OA standing and license embedded within the article in a regular, non-proprietary format. That’s so much to ask for from a small, low-budget journal owned and run on a shoestring by the neighborhood, and lots of must make investments considerably to satisfy these calls for. A 2019 study showed that the large majority of OA journals listed in the DOAJ were not compliant with Plan S’s technology demands.

Past the technological necessities, the Plan S reporting calls for additionally make it inconceivable for the small gamers to be in compliance. First, there’s the price transparency details, which for my part are obscure and meaningless sufficient that I’m unsure they create an excessive amount of of a burden for many journals. Nonetheless, should you’re a fully-OA journal or a hybrid journal in a transformative settlement, that you must have an in depth description of your entire editorial insurance policies and decision-making processes publicly obtainable in your journal web site. It’s a must to have an in depth description of your peer evaluation course of posted as nicely. It’s required that at the least yearly you publish statistics exhibiting the journal’s variety of submissions, numbers of critiques requested, numbers of critiques acquired, the acceptance fee, and the typical occasions between submission and publication. A lot of that is information that has largely been seen as proprietary and confidential, so I think many aren’t snug sharing it with their opponents.

If you wish to take the “transformative journal” method, things get even more demanding. On high of these earlier issues, you need to publish an annual report exhibiting downloads, citations and Altmetric scores for all papers printed, and you need to current that information sorted by OA papers versus non-OA papers. It stays unclear why Plan S wants this information, nor why they’ll’t supply it themselves. In the event you’re an enormous writer otherwise you associate with one, that is no huge deal – you ask your crew of analysts to make use of your costly Net of Science and Altmetrics subscriptions to generate automated reviews. In the event you’re a small, impartial journal, you in all probability don’t have a crew of knowledge analysts and doubtless can’t afford Net of Science or Altmetrics entry.

So the one possibility that is sensible for you if you wish to live on on this quickly shifting OA world is to signal on with an enormous writer, additional reinforcing the truth that scale is essentially the most important part to OA success.

The Future

It’s not all doom and gloom although. The APC mannequin and lots of the different fashions in use at present could grow to be evolutionary lifeless ends, and the mammals that we’re in search of should but emerge. One in all the biggest issues for societies in recent years has been lock-in – when you’re in an enormous writer’s Large Deal bundle, it’s actually exhausting to get out as a result of libraries subscribe to the bundle, to not your journal, which implies should you depart, you’re mainly beginning over from scratch. In a fully-OA world, this lock-in could go away, as a result of subscribers will not matter.

So finally, societies could have extra mobility and freedom of alternative. The massive query is, by the point we attain that time, whether or not the market may have consolidated down a lot that there aren’t any selections left.

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