Ever so slow maturation for the Open Access sector

New figures show the relatively limited size and slow rate of uptake of the Open Access market

Open Access (OA) continues to be the subject of discussion in the scientific community, as do debates about the need for greater levels of open access. However, the reality on the ground is not as clear cut and the adoption rate of OA is not as quick as its promoters would like it to be. At the recent STM Association conference held on the 10th October 2017 in Frankfurt, I presented the findings of a study by independent publishing consultancy Delta Think, Philadelphia, USA, about the size of the open access market. The numbers help unearth recent trends and the dynamics of the OA market, giving a mixed picture. Although open access is established and growing faster than the underlying scholarly publishing market, OA’s value forms a small segment of the total, and it is only slowly taking share. With funders’ showing mixed approaches to backing OA, it might be that individual scientists have a greater role to play to effect change.

Size and growth

New figures about the size and growth of the current Open access market have been published recently by Delta Think’s Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, which combines and cross-references the many and varied sources of information about open access to provide data and insights about the significant number of organisations and activities in the OA market recently released. They give a sense of how Open access is faring, and what the future has in store for its adoption.

In 2015, the global Open access market is estimated to have been worth around EUR €330m (USD $390m), and grew to around €400m ($470m) in 2016. This growth rate is set to continue, meaning that the market is in course to be worth half a billion dollars globally going into 2018.

In the context of the overall market

To put the sizing numbers into context, the growth rate in OA revenues is much higher than the growth in the underlying scholarly publishing market, which typically grows at a few percent –low to mid-single digits–per year.

However, the share of the OA market is low compared with its share of output. Just over 20% of all articles were published as Open access in 2016. Meanwhile, they accounted for between 4% and 9% of total journal publishing market value, depending on how the market is defined. The OA numbers cover Gold Open access articles publishing in the year, being defined as articles for which publication fees are paid to make content immediately available, and excluding such things as articles deposited in repositories under an embargo period or articles simply made publicly accessible.

Rate of change and drivers of uptake

The degree to which Open access is taking market share is slow. Taking the 2002 Budapest OA Initiative as a nominal starting point for market development, the data suggest that it has taken over 17 years for Open access to comprise one-fifth of article output, and, at best, one-tenth of market value.

The key driver of changes in the OA market remains funders. When choosing which journals to publish in, researchers continue to value factors such as dissemination to the right audience, quality of peer review, and publisher brand over whether their work will be made OA.  Numerous studies have shown this, and suggest similar attitudes towards both journals and monographs.

Movement towards OA therefore happens where funders’ impetus overcomes researchers’ inertia. Funders’ appetites for OA in turn vary by territory, so the outlook for Open access growth of market share remains mixed. Funders in the EU have the strongest mandates, but many in the Far East, for example, incentivise publication based on Journal Impact Factor, regardless of access model, as they seek to enhance reputations and advance careers.

So what now?

The relatively low value of open access content compared with its share of output poses interesting questions about the sustainability of the open access publishing model. To some, the data suggest that open access is cost effective and could lower systemic costs of publishing. By contrast, others suggest that we need to be realistic about systemic costs and global funding flows.

Further, although open access is clearly entrenched in the market, at current rates of change, it will be decades before open access articles and monographs form the majority of scholarly output. Opinions vary as to whether the transition to Open access is frustratingly slow or reassuringly measured.

The current data suggest that the discussion and debate around open access will continue as they have been. For the average researcher, it is therefore business as usual and so it might be that individual scientists have a greater role to play now to shift the balance, regardless of whether funders nudge them in the OA direction.

Dan Pollock

Daniel is Director of Data & Analytics for Delta Think, a consultancy specialising in strategy, market research, technology assessment, and analytics supporting scholarly communications organisations; helping them successfully manage change.

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