Wiley buys Hindawi in bid to expand open access platforms

US-based academic publisher eager for digital expertise of London counterpart, but outsiders express concern about growing commercial control of scholarly communication

January 5, 2021
Brian Napack, president and chief executive officer of Wiley
Source: Wiley
Brian Napack, president and chief executive officer of Wiley

The US-based academic publisher Wiley has agreed to acquire London-based Hindawi in what it described as a push to improve its delivery of open access options.

Wiley, with nearly 1,700 journals, adds about 200 more and gains a stronger presence in Asia with its $298 million (£219 million) purchase of Hindawi.

The most important aspect of the deal, Wiley’s leadership explained, was Hindawi’s expertise in open access models that use author-paid fees to make articles immediately available to all readers.

The acquisition comes five years into a partnership that began when Hindawi took several of Wiley's subscription-based journals and converted them into such “gold” level open access versions.

“They were early pioneers in this area, and we are taking it up to a new level,” Wiley’s president and chief executive, Brian Napack, said in an interview.

Because of the efficiencies Hindawi has developed in digital processing, “you get higher value at lower price”, Mr Napack said. That will translate into “benefits for the university ecosystem”, he said.

Outside experts were less sure.

Wiley clearly has set its sights on expanding open access, though its ultimate model for accomplishing that goal may still be taking shape, said Roger Schonfeld, director of scholarly communication at Ithaka S+R, a non-profit higher education services company.

Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, a group that represents academic and research libraries, expressed outright alarm.

Academic publishers have been claiming for decades that consolidations and new technologies will mean lower costs, only to retain profits and leave universities and researchers struggling to afford the cost of reading the science they produce, Ms Joseph said.

“This kind of consolidation just further cements commercial control of scientific communication,” she said.

Mr Napack said he anticipated growing competition in the open access environment to hold down costs for academia. “Hopefully, the answer is that the marketplace works, and we do wind up seeing benefits for the university ecosystem,” he said.

The stakes loom especially high for academic societies, as Wiley is the world’s leading society publisher, with some 700 discipline-centred journals. Such societies often are among the leading defenders of subscription-based funding models, given that they rely on the revenues to finance their scholarly operations.

Wiley also saw value in Hindawi’s strong position in Asia, the world’s largest and fastest growing academic publishing market, Mr Napack said. “Hindawi’s significant footprint in China is a major benefit from that perspective,” he said.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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