As we go into 2018, it is interesting to reflect on continued developments in the open access landscape. The open access market manages to be both dynamic and slow moving at the same time.

The open access market Itself will continue to grow – we estimate by 15-20% over 2017 – to be in excess of $500m in 2018. This is outstripping the underlying STM publishing market’s growth of low single digit percent per year.

  • Green open access has not proven to be the big disruptor that the idealists had hoped for. It is either tucked into the subscription model via embargos, or safely contained as a complement to existing workflows by license limitations to pre-prints.
  • Gold open access remains the mainstay the market, levied mostly via the corresponding author, and paid by funders or institutions. Sponsorships, discounting schemes, and bundling with subscription deals add further complexity. Assuming that the transition costs are now largely sunk, ongoing open access revenues will translate directly into incremental margin.
  • Public access has seemingly satisfied policy makers in the US, even though the absence of full permission licenses means that this is not “pure” open access.

Dynamics within the market

The transitional phase is proving to be the end state.

  • Advocates pushing for a global flip to a fully open access ecosystem see the current mix of hybrid as a transitional stage.
  • Most major and established publishers now offer open access options for the bulk of their portfolios. The rate of increase for open access articles published in fully open access journals, while still increasing, has halved over the last 3 years.
  • Funders have been key to driving adoption of open access, but are showing little appetite to push for further change. Large and influential funders (such as Wellcome and Gates), the US, EU, and UK all have policies to mandate open or public access, as does the EU’s Horizon 2020 vision, and all are prepared to fund hybrid without price caps. China, while encouraging open access archiving, is access-agnostic, rewarding publication in any publications with impact factors as it seeks to gain reputation.
  • Notable exceptions exist in Germany and Austria. However, as these nations account for around 7% of scholarly output, it is unlikely they alone will shift the market.

Hybrid will grow in share and plays to established publishers’ strengths.

  • Hybrid is likely to take increasing share of market and output and, given funders’ and policymakers’ apparent satisfaction with the current structure, this is likely to continue.
  • Hybrid yields on average 50% more revenue per paper than fully open access, mostly due to higher average APCs. The proportion of the total open access market attributable to hybrid is growing.
  • Top tier institutions spend more on hybrid than the market does on average.
  • Hybrid is the natural extension to supplement established subscription publishing revenue streams. Its wide adoption by publishers is further entrenching large players and big deals.

The Megajournal is diffusing.

  • PLOS One’s much-discussed decline highlights how entrenched and inflexible current systems of reputational assessment are. Rapid, massive growth in a journal’s article output over successive years outpaces the corresponding growth in citations, so a successful Megajournal will see a downward pressure on its Impact Factor (and similar measures) as it really scales.
  • We have therefore seen a decline in Impact Factor of the two largest – and most successful – open access journals. It is likely that PLOS One’s output will continue to decline, but the outlook for Scientific Reports is perhaps better, given its higher Impact Factor and proportionately larger input from China.
  • Meanwhile, we have seen the growth in the number of “Megajournals” (i.e. broad scope) launched, as organisations seek to capitalise on the demand demonstrated by the big two Megajournals, so it is likely that this part of the market will become increasingly fragmented.

Possible disruptors

  • Institutions are finding that open access increases their costs of publication, reflecting their higher proportion of authorship compared with the readership-driven costs of subscriptions. In particular, governments of wealthy nations may see this as subsidising global research. If they lose their appetite for this – say, due to the rise of populism – then they may roll back policies encouraging open or public access.
  • SciHub has demonstrated that users value a one-stop shop, with easy access to all content from all publishers. Aside from the legalities of this activity, usage on SciHub means that publishers and institutions lose sight of usage data. It is difficult for publishers to respond to SciHub or anything like it under current mixed access models. In a fully open access ecosystem, whilst still difficult, these would be addressable issues. If users continue to push in this direction, addressing these questions will become an increasingly pressing.
  • Data suggest that since 2014 the growth of overall scholarly output may be slowing from its long term average annual growth of 6%. If this trend in the data continues, output will be flatlining by 2023. Only time will tell if this indicates a real underlying trend, or is due to lags in data gathering.


The open access market is nuanced, growing well, but taking share slowly. Existing market structures have not merely adopted open access but, large incumbents especially, are using it to further consolidate their position, leveraging their market dominance via big deals and offsetting arrangements. The transition phase involving hybrid appears to be the new normal. Now that most of the large players have completed the addition of open access options to their portfolios, and so transition costs are effectively sunk, expansion of hybrid open access uptake could represent significant incremental margin for them going forward.

The flip to a fully open access world appears to be a distant prospect, and so the narrative amongst its advocates is a mixture of encouragement at the initial progress towards open access, but frustration at its apparent failure to change existing market structures to a more “functional” market.

We would argue the contrary: the market seems to be reflecting the appetite of its consumers. Authors are much more concerned about Impact Factor than price, institutions pursue fragmented rather than collective bargaining, and funders appear satisfied with the status quo, so the culture of scholarship itself is now the biggest inhibitor of further change.

2018 in a nutshell, therefore: Plus ça change.

We wish all our readers a happy and healthy year ahead.

Editor: Ann Michael


Frontiers forms open access publishing agreement with the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – December 22, 2017

“The library of the HU Berlin has entered an institutional agreement with Frontiers whereby affiliated corresponding authors publishing in any of the (currently 60) Frontiers journals receive a 5% discount on the APC.”

New Open Access publishing deal for Austrian researchers – December 20, 2017

“Under a landmark Open Access Publishing Framework Agreement signed today between Frontiers, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and the University of Vienna, Austrian researchers affiliated with or funded by these institutions can now publish their articles in Frontiers’ open access journals through a simplified process that covers article processing charges.”

All SNSF research publications to become freely available as of 2020 – December 19, 2017

“Based on the decision by the National Research Council, the Swiss National Science Foundation will expect all publications to be available free of charge as of 2020, as Open Access is quickly becoming the accepted standard in science. Until now, less than 50% of the publications produced in SNSF- funded research have met this requirement.”

De Gruyter and United Nations cooperate on open access book project – December 18, 2017

“De Gruyter and the United Nations are cooperating on the publication of two open access books on mathematics…The first volume covers Linear Algebra and the second volume focuses on Probability and Statistics.”

Open Access: What should the priorities be today? – December 12, 2017

Response to Richard Poynder’s canvassing of opinion about ‘what should the stakeholders of scholarly communication be doing now to fully realise the BOAI vision from Danny Kingsley of Cambridge University. Rounds up her views of the various stakeholder groups.

French academics to benefit from national open access deal with EDP Sciences – December 12, 2017

“Supported by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, EDP Sciences and the national consortium for academics in France, have signed a significant 5-year open access deal.”

Monitoring the transition to open access: December 2017 – A Report by the Universities UK Open Access Coordination Group – December 5, 2017

“The proportion of UK research which is available via open access is increasing at a considerable rate, with 37% of research outputs freely available to the world immediately at publication.”


January 3, 2018

A new engine of discovery and innovation for Earth Science: introducing Big Earth Data

“Taylor & Francis announces the launch of a new open access journal which aims to revolutionize our understanding of the Earth’s systems. Big Earth Data, published with the International Society for Digital Earth (ISDE), encourages researchers across a range of disciplines who are using a growing body of large data sets to make new discoveries in Earth Science.”

December 21, 2017

IOS Press Publishes Inaugural Issue of Open Access journal Data Science

“IOS Press is proud to announce the publication of the first issue of Data Science, a new interdisciplinary peer-reviewed Open Access journal covering a broad range of aspects around Data Science, aiming to unleash the field’s full potential.”

December 20, 2017

First publication of HemaSphere, the new journal of the European Hematology Association, now online

“HemaSphere is an open access journal, powered by the European Hematology Association and dedicated to support hematology patient care, research and education worldwide.”

December 15, 2017

Journal of Biomedical Optics and Neurophotonics to become fully open access journals

“SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, has announced that two of its journals, the Journal of Biomedical Optics and Neurophotonics, will become fully open access journals starting in January 2019.”

November 30, 2017

Introducing iScience, Cell Press’s first interdisciplinary journal

“Cell Press, home of the flagship journals Cell, Chem, and Joule, welcomes a new addition for basic and applied research across life, physical, and earth science. iScience (@iScience_CP), an interdisciplinary, open-access, peer-reviewed journal, will publish on a continuous basis starting early 2018.”