In December, Universities UK published a 2017 update to its 2015 study, Monitoring the Transition to Open Access. The results are important to all publishers as the UK public and private funders are taking a leadership position in shifting the market towards open access. What happens in the UK now may hint at what the future holds more broadly.

Jointly produced by independent consultants and Elsevier, the report examines the effects of open access globally and from a UK perspective. It combines analysis based on Scopus data from 2016 publications, with samples from publisher websites and repositories, and surveys from UK Universities. It provides a read on the market from 2012 to 2016 (reflecting the most recent Scopus data.)

Uptake of Open Access

The findings in the report are not surprising: they match closely with Delta Think’s numbers from October, and with those in similar reports. Open access is established; it now covers significant minority share of output, but its growth is slowing:

  • Globally, publishers offer OA options mainly through hybrid journals: 72% of journals are hybrid, 19% fully OA, and 9% of journals are subscription only.
  • Uptake, in terms of articles suggests that 19% of all articles published are available immediately on publication as OA, split between 15% in fully OA journals and just under 4% in hybrid journals.
  • The report explores delayed OA options, giving a read on Green OA, with an uptake of just under 5% in the year of publication.
  • The 2017 update reduces its OA estimates slightly compared with its 2015 version. The results are summarized in the table below. The variations speak to the challenges in gathering data, and the necessity to keep refining models over time.

Table 1 – Proportion of articles published under different publishing models globally from both “Monitoring the Transition to OA” Reports

Source: Delta Think Inc. analysis and summary of FigShare Data from 22-Feb-18 shared under CC BY 4.0 arising from Universities UK, Monitoring the Transition to Open Access. Table rendition shared under CC BY NC.

Global Variations

Although not presented in the report, the published data offers some analysis of take-up in the US and China:

Figure 1 – Proportion of publications by country and business model

Source: Delta Think Inc. analysis and summary of FigShare Data from 22-Feb-18 shared under CC BY 4.0 arising from Universities UK, Monitoring the Transition to Open Access. Chart image shared under CC BY NC.

  • Federally funded US research has a public-access mandate with a 12 month embargo period. We would therefore expect (perhaps) that proportions of immediate OA would be low, with the proportion of delayed OA only rising in 2nd and subsequent years after publication. The data for the year of publication bear this out for immediate OA options (lower than the global average) but suggest an equivalent appetite to the UK for embargoed OA (9.8% vs 9.9%).
  • China has no OA mandate as such, and a well-known focus on incentivizing researchers towards Journal Impact Factor regardless of business model. Surprisingly, however, it shows a greater appetite for immediate OA (particularly paid-for Gold) than the US.

To put these figures in context: Delta Think’s data suggest that the UK accounts for around 4% of research output, China and the US just under 20% each, with only China increasing its share. So the UK will have a relatively modest effect in influencing the overall market on its own, although with the rest of the EU pushing an OA agenda we would expect to see global averages continue to rise.

Gap closing between fully OA & hybrid APCs?

Findings from UK bodies such as JISC and RCUK, and private funders under the UK’s COAF umbrella, provide insights into the costs of the uptake of OA in the UK. The report pulls on some of these statistics, and also looks into its own sample of universities and publishers.

  • APCs now form a significant additional expense. For the payments that universities make to the seven largest publishers, the ratio between subscriptions and APCs is 5:1. This equates to a 17% share of revenue compared to a 31% share of output. As we have discussed in our previous market analyses, on average the revenue generated by OA is proportionately less than its share of output.
  • More than half the expenditure on APCs in 2016 went to the three major publishing groups, Elsevier, Springer Nature, and Wiley, with a particularly sharp rise for Elsevier since 2014.
  • The report confirms the well-known finding that APCs for hybrid journals are more expensive that those in fully OA journals: 28% higher on average in 2016.
  • But, this gap may be closing: hybrid prices paid rose by 14% in the three years from 2013 (to £2,095 on average), but by 33% for fully-OA journals (to £1,640) in the same period. Delta Think’s market models suggest that, whilst hybrid prices are higher, they also bear higher discount levels, so it would appear that the gap between fully OA and hybrid prices is closing.

Overall spending on APCs more than quadrupled between 2013 and 2016, driven by a combination of higher use of OA options and rising prices.

  • The number of APCs paid by a sample of 10 UK universities rose more than fivefold.
  • The average cost of an APC rose by 16% (as compared with a rise of 5% in the consumer price index; the CPI.)
  • Spending on subscriptions for the report’s sample rose by 20%.
  • Nuances within hybrid spending show the same quadrupling of APCs, with combined APC & sub spending up by one third…in other words, APC spending is eating share. The ratio between subscription and hybrid APC spending has fallen to 6:1 in 2016 from 19:1 3 years previously.

It should be noted the study focuses on a subset of institutions in the UK, so its findings will diverge from global average simply due to different sampling profiles.


The above-average uptake of OA in the UK in all its forms, and the concomitant rising costs of APCs are not surprising. The UK has a highly centralized structure compared with many other territories, and the aim of policy in the UK (of both public and private funders) is to achieve a shift towards OA. Further, the UK is a net exporter of research, and will therefore burden a higher proportion of publication fees as the models used transition away from subscriptions.

Differences in samples notwithstanding, we see the study echoing our own findings of the difference in value between subscription and OA, with OA generating significantly less revenue compared with its share of output than subscription models. This will inevitably lead to downward pressures on the market value as OA increases share, unless publishers can exact much larger prices than at present. We will be examining this trend in more detail in a forthcoming review.

For all the excellent ground covered in the report, the hard work needed shows how difficult obtaining data remains. Although it’s gratifying for Delta Think to see the results of our own models confirmed, a paucity of standard reporting infrastructure and enforced policies remains an obstacle to understanding the market. It is a measure of the market’s opacity, for example, that UK researchers had to use Freedom of Information requests to obtain even headline numbers about public spending on publicly-funded research.

Whatever one’s position on OA policy, a more transparent system would enable all actors to understand more clearly the effects of policies and activities on the market place. Moreover, as noted in our update last month, a competitive and healthy market requires transparency of information, so the challenges in understanding the market place are also a measure of its dysfunction.

Footnote: in the spirit of full attribution, the data generated and reported were results of work undertaken by a team led by Michael Jubb and comprising Andrew Plume, Stephanie Oeben and Lydia Brammer, Elsevier; Rob Johnson and Cihan Bütün, Research Consulting; Stephen Pinfield, University of Sheffield.

Updates this month include a number of minor refinements:

  • Business Model Categories and Examples has been rewritten to better categorize article and journal business models. Each example now has links to specific instances to facilitate easier research.
  • Figures from additional sources have been added to Market Dynamics for numbers of Articles in OA journals.
  • APC Pricing vs. Subjects visualization for Average APCs by Subject now defaults to bar chart rather than spider plot (better visualization).
  • Compliance Analyzer charts for Funders and for Publishers now allow filtering by information type.
  • Further APC data has been added.


The California Digital Library joins Royal Society Open Access Membership – April 2, 2018

“The California Digital Library (CDL) has recently signed on to the Royal Society Open Access Membership, an arrangement under which UC-affiliated authors (from any UC campus, UC Office of the President, or Lawrence Berkeley Lab) are entitled to a 25% discount off of Article Processing Charges (APCs) paid to Royal Society for open access publication during 2018.”

PLOS announces new website for peer reviewers – March 26, 2018

“In support of its global peer reviewer community of more than 74,000 researchers, PLOS created the PLOS Reviewer Center. The Reviewer Center is designed to support reviewers working on manuscripts submitted to PLOS journals, with information and resources freely available to anyone.”

Oxford University Press and VSNU reach agreement on open access deal – March 15, 2018

“The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and Oxford University Press are pleased to announce a new three year deal covering subscriptions to OUP’s journals and 100% open access to Dutch contributions in these journals in 2019 and 2020.”

MDPI Becomes a Member of UKSG – March 13, 2018

“MDPI is now a member of UKSG, the UK´s largest scholarly communications community. Through UKSG, different stakeholders share their knowledge and experience in order to improve the knowledge and information environment for researchers.”

Open access is the future, according to Springer Nature survey – March 12, 2018

“The overwhelming majority of professional staff in research institutions and libraries across the globe view open access as the future of academic and scientific publishing. However, many are not satisfied with the speed of transition, according to a survey by Springer Nature.”

TU Delft joins Hindawi’s Institutional Membership program – March 12, 2018

“Hindawi has signed a new membership agreement with the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). Article Processing Charges (APCs) for accepted manuscripts, where the corresponding author is affiliated with TU Delft, will now be funded directly by the university. APCs funded in this way will also be discounted by 10%.”

‘Bronze’ open access supersedes green and gold, according to a recent ImpactStory survey – March 12, 2018

“Most open-access articles are not accompanied by a license, severely curtailing their use, a recent survey of 100,000 articles sampled from the CrossRef database has revealed. Heather Piwowar, co-founder of the open science not-for-profit ImpactStory, led the analysis and published the study in PeerJ.”

Springer Nature and VSNU renew agreement on open access publishing – March 12, 2018

“Springer Nature and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) have renewed their agreement to secure open access publishing for Dutch universities up to 2021.”

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft to grow open access publishing with IOP – March 7, 2018

“Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG) and IOP Publishing (IOP) have announced a new pilot agreement to help grow the society’s participation in open access publishing. The new Institutional Research Licence has been developed by IOP to enable institutions to manage the cost of hybrid article publication charges (APCs) against their journals licence fee, enabling institutions to support the participation of their researchers in open access publishing.”

Wellcome is going to review its open access policy – March 5, 2018

“Wellcome will do their first full review of their open access policy. They plan to carry out this review over the next six months and will announce its outcome before the end of 2018. If the review leads to any changes to the OA policy, they will allow sufficient time for stakeholders to understand these changes and make any adjustments as required before these are implemented.”


April 4, 2018

Not-for-profit publishers partner to launch new research journal Life Science Alliance

“EMBO Press, Rockefeller University Press, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press today announce the launch of Life Science Alliance, a new global, open access, editorially independent, peer-reviewed journal committed to rapid, fair and transparent publication of valuable research from across the life sciences.”

March 28, 2018

De Gruyter launches new open access journal Chemistry Teacher International: Best Practices in Chemistry Education

“As part of their publishing partnership with the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), De Gruyter will launch a new open access journal, Chemistry Teacher International: Best Practices in Chemistry Education (CTI), in summer 2018. This open access journal will publish biannually on behalf of IUPAC’s Committee on Chemistry Education of IUPAC.”

March 26, 2018

Next Einstein Forum Launches Scientific African, an Open Access Multi-disciplinary Journal to Boost the Global Reach of Research From Africa

“A unique partnership between the Next Einstein Forum (NEF), an initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), and Elsevier will see the creation of a new pan-African, peer reviewed, open access publishing journal, dedicated to boosting the global reach and impact of research by Africans.”

March 9, 2018

Institution of Engineering and Technology launches new, gold open access engineering journal – IET Smart Grid

“The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has launched a new, gold open access engineering journal – IET Smart Grid. The new journal aims to disseminate cutting-edge research results spanning multiple disciplines including: Power Electronics, Power and Energy, Control, Communications, and Computing Sciences.”

March 9, 2018

Peter Lang converts eleven journals to Open Access publications

“As part of Peter Lang’s ongoing commitment to Open Access in academic publishing, the publisher today announced plans to transition eleven of its subscription-based scholarly jour­nals to full open access. Free online access to articles from these journals will be available on the new Open Access platform IngentaOpen, starting with each journal’s first issue of 2018.”