2 Access to academic research |
12. In order to understand how a large scale
shift to open access in the UK could be managed to deliver the
maximum benefits for all stakeholders, it is necessary to understand
the underlying economic issues in the scholarly publishing market,
and the main barriers to access. Currently, public funds are used
three times in the research process: to pay the academics who
conduct the research, to pay the salaries of the academics who
conduct the peer review process,
and finally to pay for access to this research through institutional
journal subscriptions, which is the dominant business model in
the scholarly publishing market.
13. Each year, UK Higher Education libraries
alone spend more than £150m purchasing subscriptions to academic
journals, yet they
still cannot afford to access all the research that academics
need. The massive
increase in journal subscription prices over the past few decades
(known as the 'serials crisis') has forced even the very wealthiest
libraries to limit
subscriptions as prices become unaffordable. Figure 1 plots relative
growth of serials expenditures against the consumer price index
over the past 25 years (data compiled by the Association of Research
expenditures have been rising at approximately triple the rate
of the consumer price index over this time.
Figure 1: Data from Association of Research
Libraries showing relative growth of serials expenditure against
the consumer price index
14. Against this backdrop, the profit margins
of the large commercial scholarly publishers continue to increase,
far outstripping the profits of the rest of the publishing sector.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report Scientific
Publications: Free for all? (2004) stated:
There is mounting concern that the financial benefits
from the Government's substantial investment in research are being
diverted to an excessive degree into the pockets of publishers'
15. Those concerns were based in part on the
market leader Reed Elsevier's then operating profit margin of
34%. By the time of this inquiry, Reed Elsevier's operating profit
margin had increased to 37%.
Their representative told us that the Competition Commission had
reviewed the scholarly publishing market and concluded that "there
was vibrant competition" and "a functioning market".
This is only a partial description of that review. When the Commission
considered the proposed acquisition of publisher Harcourt by Reed
Elsevier 2001, the review panel was split. Although two members
concluded that there was no public interest issue, one strongly
disagreed on the basis that the merger would both result in higher
journal prices than would otherwise have been the case, and disincentivise
developments in open access.
Since then, two of the largest scholarly publishers (Wiley and
Blackwell) have merged and journal prices have continued to rise.
16. The Finch Report, the Government and RCUK
have all argued that universities should negotiate with publishers
to bring down subscription costs, particularly in light of an
expected increase in payments of APCs. However, non-disclosure
clauses attached to subscription contracts, which are widely used
by commercial publishers and which prevent subscribers from disclosing
the financial terms and conditions of their arrangements with
publishers, represent a significant obstacle to these negotiations.
One academic described the effect of such clauses:
There is no way I could know I am being charged more
or less than another, which means that the power for us to negotiate
is driven down. We are given one price that we cannot tell anyone
else; we do not know what they are being charged, and the cycle
17. The Minister for Science and Universities,
the Rt Hon David Willetts MP told us that although such clauses
"leave a nasty taste in the mouth",
they were not illegal and the Government would not intervene.
Other factors preventing healthy competition in the publishing
market include the fact that although researchers are the primary
users of the products of academic publishing, libraries are the
primary purchasers of those products. Users are therefore largely
insulated from the product cost and pressure on prices is reduced.
We consider these issues further in Chapter 6.
11 Research Information Network's Activities, costs
and funding flows in the scholarly communications system in the
UK, 2008, estimated that the time spend by UK peer reviewers
in 2007 represented a cash cost of £165m. Back
Ev w125 Back
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Scientific
publications: Free for all? 2004 (hereafter, 'Free
for all?') para 2
Note: Free for all? assessed the provision
of scientific journals to the academic community and wider public,
the market for scientific publications, the effects of trends
in journal pricing, and the impact that new publishing trends
would have on the scientific process. Back
Ev 103 Back