A driving force behind this decades-long trend of significant annual price increases has been an increase in the number of journal titles published by a handful of large, multi-national commercial publishers, as they increasingly absorb titles traditionally published by independent, not-for-profit entities. These large commercial players routinely operate with profit margins on their Science, Technology and Medical (STM) journal portfolios of between 30% and 40% annually.
This trend has proliferated, in part, because the scholarly journal market is unique in several key respects. Perhaps most notably, it is unique in that it was not intended to be a commercial market. Unlike authors of books or music, authors of scholarly articles do not publish their work in exchange for financial compensation. The authors of the articles – the creators of the work – are unpaid. Authors publish their work so that it can be seen – and used – by the broadest possible constituency.
Scholarly authors must publish their work in a journal to receive increased visibility – both so that others can build on it, and so that their individual careers can be advanced. The “publish or perish” culture is still the dominant culture in the Academy. Scholars who want to advance their careers through promotion and tenure, or by receiving grants, must publish in scholarly journals. Thus, the supply of free content available to journal publishers is a rich, seemingly bottomless, resource.
While journal publishers have argued that they add significant value to the work created by the authors to justify this current trend of perpetual exclusive distribution and the costs to the Academy associated with it, some industry analysts disagree. For instance, Exane BNP Paribas publishing industry analysts have gone on record as saying:
In our view, the economic model of journal publishing is based on selling access to an aggregate of non-proprietary academic content. While we understand that publishers own the exclusive publishing rights of scientists work, we do not share the view that they own the intellectual property of their work.
The trend of increasing subscription prices and increasing cancellations has led market analysts to examine the current journal publishing market in depth, and to note that tensions between the profit maximization models of many publishers is in direct conflict with the desire of scientists and scholars to maximize the dissemination of their research. This trend has lead to a decrease in the reach of research – a situation that does not serve the individual author’s interest, the interest of the research community or the interest of the public.