Three different traits of open access publishers

This week I’ve been compiling some data for the next meeting of the RLUK Ethical and Effective Publishing Working Group. Some of the data itself is pretty interesting so I thought I would write a quick blog post and share some preliminary thoughts on what it means. The table below shows the top 5 publishers in terms of money spent on article processing charges (APCs) from the RCUK open access block grant in 2013-14.

Publisher Total spend No. of APCs Average APC Discount on list price
Elsevier £52,596 36 £1,461.00 25%
Wiley £51,781 35 £1,479.46 25%
Public Library of Science (PLOS) £23,737 24 £989.04 0%
Nature Pub Group (NPG) £21,226 8 £2,653.25 0%
BioMed Central (BMC) £20,746 16 £1,296.63 15%

Article processing charges (APC) for the most popular journals for Edinburgh authors.

We found that 2 publishers stood head and shoulders clear from the rest of the field. In terms of gross spend and number of articles published the top publisher was Elsevier, with £52.6k and 36 articles. In second place, with a similar publisher profile was Wiley with £51.8k and 35 articles. Both of these publishers were followed by PLOS, NPG and BMC who all had broadly similar spends of around £20k. Whilst the total cost per publisher is interesting, what is really noteworthy is the number of articles that money pays for, revealing something of the publisher’s strategy in the open access market place.

The lowest APCs are incurred from the open access journals – PLOS and BMC – who have fees roughly a third less than the other publishers. The highest APCs are incurred by hybrid journals, who also make money from subscriptions, and article reprints. NPG stand out from the crowd as they charge nearly double compared to their competitors.

In summary, what we see here are broadly 3 groups of publishers with different traits:

Money Makers – traditional publishers with the biggest market share, the highest number of articles published, APC set to the highest they think market can bear without losing submissions, initially offering biggest discounts for institutional deals to get sign ups (and easier access to authors).

Prestige reputation – traditional publishers trading on their reputational status. Significantly less articles published but with larger APCs levied to publish in the journals with the highest impact factors. Strategy of selling high end products and services to those that can afford them.

Emerging challengers – new business model and products, more reasonable APCs to attract a market share. However, it is worth noting that since being bought out by Springer, BMC have attracted criticism for raising APCs much quicker than the rate of inflation.

When we get round to submitting the final RCUK report we’ll release our full dataset of article processing charges.

[Minor edits made to original to correct grammar, headings and stylesheet]

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