Smaller publishers ‘last in the queue’ for open access deals

Interviews with learned societies raise fears that independent imprints will be frozen out of publishing’s future

June 9, 2021
Source: iStock

Smaller independent publishers say they are “last in the queue” when it comes to speaking to library consortia about potential transformative agreements, according a new report that highlights how learned societies are struggling to keep pace with larger publishers in the switch to open access publishing.

According to the study, commissioned by Coalition S and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, learned societies and professional organisations that own academic imprints say they have found it almost impossible to begin conversations with library consortia about potential open access deals.

Drawing on comments from dozens of representatives from learned societies and university library publishers, the study’s authors – Alicia Wise, Lorraine Estelle and Dave Jago from consultants Information Power – report how “every single smaller publisher we have spoken to, without exception, has said that starting conversations with library consortia is incredibly challenging”.

“They are the last publishers in the queue,” they state.

Some university libraries had a “disdainful and adversarial approach” to smaller publishers, the study adds, with some “treating a society with 10 members of staff in just the same way that they might treat professional sales representatives from a large company”.

“One [publisher] told us that they had finally got a consortium to talk to them, only to be told that because their journals only cost $250 [£177] a year, they were not problematic enough to warrant further conversation,” it recounts.

For their part, librarians report that their consortia “no longer have enough staff to work with a huge, long tail of smaller publishers” and were “conflicted, trying to work out whether and how to invest in their own publishing”.

“The consortium must deliver impact, and frankly we get this from the largest publishers,” explains one group of libraries quoted in the report. They add: “We need to change our rules so that we can negotiate with smaller publishers; currently, there must be interest from a minimum number of our library members for us to negotiate and smaller societies can have very niche subject areas that only appeal to a sub-set of our consortium.”

The report, which was published on 9 June to coincide with the start of the London Book Fair, where the Research and Scholarly Publishing Forum will be held online, also observed how bureaucracy and governance were blocking efforts by smaller publishers to engage with library consortia.

“Another recurrent message from society and other small independent publishers is that even when they secure a consortial deal, they are still expected to speak to every single library member to secure opt-ins,” the report explains.

“They report that libraries often have misgivings about OA agreements in principle, are not always convinced that they are sustainable and have no understanding that smaller society publishers usually offer cost-neutral agreements with no article number caps.”

The report recommends that “libraries and consortia ensure their open access strategy includes smaller independent publishers and that they invite them to present offers for affordable, cost-neutral open access agreements”.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles