Open access threat receding, suggests briefing

Analysts’ report points to ‘little or no damage’ inflicted on publishers

September 27, 2014

The threat posed by open access to the profits of the world’s largest scientific, technology, engineering and mathematics publisher is fading, an investors’ report has said.

In the report, released to investors by Bernstein Research on September 24, the analysts say their previous downgrading of Reed Elsevier stock, in 2012, was based on an expectation that the political push in Europe for a shift to full open access would have “negative consequences on the economics” of the company, leading to a fall in its operating profits of between 6 and 22 per cent.

However, in their latest report – published on the website of open access blogger Richard Poynder - the researchers now observe that open access “appears to inflict little or no damage on the leading subscription publishers”.

“The hybrid model deployed by subscription publishers to meet the requirements of the UK government is not threatening in any visible way the subscription model of the journals; the rate of adoption of deposit policies for US federal agencies, and the embargo period of 12 months also protect the position of subscription publishers,” they say.

They also note that open access may be adding to the profits of publishers due to their dual revenue from subscriptions and open access fees. This phenomenon is known by critics as “double dipping”. Publishers have pledged not to indulge in double dipping, but some that claim the term actually means taking the readership of open access articles into account when setting subscription prices.

The investors note that “the relative lack of transparency in how [article fees] are returned to libraries adds to the concerns of a political backlash”. But “publishers seem to use practices which leave wiggle room to keep at least some of the money”.

The analysts’ expectations that continued cuts to academic library budgets would lead to widespread cancellation of “big deals” by libraries have also not been realised.

“We think that academic librarians, as long as they receive sufficient funding, will continue to renew big deals,” the analysts say.

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