Chapter 1: Introduction: overview of academic and professional publishing – Academic and Professional Publishing


Introduction: overview of academic and professional publishing

Robert Campbell


This introductory chapter presents the reader with an overview of the historical trends, current status and market developments in academic and professional publishing, and a dark cloud gathering over the industry. The chapter notes how these widespread changes are addressed throughout the book, with chapters providing insight into the integrated, innovative and multi-disciplinary approaches publishers are applying to adapt to the challenges facing the industry and take publishing forward. It also outlines what publishers do, how publishers add value and what the future may look like for the industry.

Key words

Industry trends

peer review

added value




market development


The purpose of this book is to provide publishing professionals and interested stakeholders with a timely and comprehensive update on the widespread changes in academic and professional publishing and the integrated, innovative and multi-disciplinary approaches being applied to adapt to the challenges presented. While we attempt to cover books, journals and new models for scholarly communication in this work, the emphasis is on journals given their dominant position in the academic and professional publishing market. In several of the chapters, the authors look at recent developments to shape their views on how publishing may evolve. We all agree that we are in a period of rapid change and this has been the stimulus for our writing the book. We also cover what publishers do, how publishers add value and what the future may look like for the industry. This introductory chapter presents the reader with an overview of the historical and current trends and developments, a dark cloud gathering over the industry, and an outlook on the industry’s exciting future.

Trends in journal publishing

Journal publishing is a success story, although it has its critics. The nature of this criticism has been fairly constant and is typified by the quotation below:

‘Librarians are suffering because of the increasing volume of publications and rapidly rising prices. Of special concern is the much larger number of periodicals that are available and that members of the faculty consider essential to the successful conduct of their work. Many instances were found in which science departments were obliged to use all of their allotment for library purposes to purchase their periodical literature which was reported as necessary for the work of the department.’

This might have been published last week, but in fact it appeared in a report prepared for the Association of American Universities in 1927. One of the concerned institutions was Cornell University, where a list of 633 periodical subscriptions increased in price by 182 per cent between 1910 and 1925 (Okerson, 1986).

Such criticism – mainly around pricing, too much published, role and control – has led in the last decade to a much greater understanding of the field, partly gained through research into publishing, which is reflected throughout this book. As a core example, Michael Mabe (in Chapter 17) takes us back to the mid-17th century correspondence of Henry Oldenburg to outline the basic functions of a research journal: registration, certification, dissemination and archiving. This has proven to be a robust model with the number of titles growing steadily in an almost straight-line graph from the launch of The Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society in 1665 to a total of around 23 000 journals (Mabe, 2003) and at least 27 000 in 2011 with the proliferation of pay-to-publish (Gold Road) Open Access titles. Although these basic functions remain the same, means such as pricing and technology continue to evolve as is discussed in several chapters in this book.

Mabe also identified the answer to the ‘increasing volume of publishing’ concerns, as he showed that journal growth simply reflects the growth in the research community. This trend also addresses another criticism, that peer review is unsustainable as reviewers can no longer be found to review the ever increasing number of articles submitted. The answer is that the growth in the research community and thus the availability of reviewers increases in line with the growth in articles produced (Vines et al., 2010). There is also evidence that the number of articles produced per researcher per annum is dropping slightly, e.g. from 0.82 in 1984 to 0.78 in 1998, although the average number of authors per article is increasing, e.g. from 2.5 in 1980 to 3.8 in 2002 (Moed, 2005).

The four phases of the ‘modern journal’

Journals were essentially national entities until the Second World War, published by societies, university presses or specialist academic publishing houses (particularly in Germany). The international research journal as a successful business model stems from the launch of Biochimica et Biophysica Acta in 1946. It lost money for several years but was seen by Robert Maxwell and others as the future. The investment in tertiary education and research ensured a well-funded market in the 1950s and 1960s. Mari Pijnenborg at Elsevier saw this as the ‘discovery’ phase in the four phases of development of the ‘modern journal’ (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1 The four phases of the ‘modern journal’, based on an idea from Mari Pijnenborg. From Campbell and Wates (2009)

In the second phase, ‘exploitation’, commercial as well as not-for-profit publishers invested in launching new titles and growing them. Commercial publishers gained market share as they were able to publish more articles and charge accordingly as they were not constrained by needing to keep costs down for members. These subscription-based journals probably reached their peak in hard copy circulation around 1986, when the industry saw more restricted library budgets, cutbacks in holdings and talk of a ‘serials crisis’. Publishers had to manage their journals more carefully in the third phase (‘management’), seeking efficiencies through new technology (e.g. typesetting) and the economies of scale achieved through mergers and acquisitions.

By the early 1990s the loss in circulation was forcing prices up, leading to further cancellations and thereby reducing access to journal content. A symptom of this problem was the rise in document delivery activity. The British Library’s document supply service was delivering over 3 million articles per annum. Publishers sought to collect compensatory copyright income from photocopying either directly or through Reproduction Rights Organization (RROs) which grew with this increasing photocopying.

The impact of these difficult times was a driver in the development of the Open Access (OA) movement, although the situation has improved hugely since then. Just in time the Internet and related technology enabled publishers to develop new pricing models based on licences giving online access to much more content for little extra cost, epitomised by the so-called ‘Big Deal’ (see Chapter 12 by O’Rourke). The development of this transformative pricing model was actually state-funded. The original pilot was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council in the UK in 1996, with the aim of maintaining access to high-quality peer-reviewed journals in the face of rising print-on-paper costs and cancellations, and to reduce the unit cost of information.

We are now deep in the fourth phase, ‘re-invention’, to which most of this book is devoted. Unlike the newspaper and music industries, journal publishing has survived the migration to the digital age stronger and more successful. Part of the explanation for this may be that newspapers and music sell largely to individuals while journals sell largely to institutions.

The role of institutional libraries is to provide access to the appropriate information for researchers and students. The peer-reviewed journal is an essential element and the library community has the responsibility for maintaining this. Librarians may criticise publishers at times, yet they have worked with publishers to see the journal through an extraordinary metamorphosis. The development of journals has depended on the relationship with the library community, although now that research funders have joined the publishing scene (with the aim of ensuring access to the outcome of the research they have funded, as discussed below) the system will most likely become more complex.

The rise, fall and rise in circulation

The circulation of a particular research journal (see Figure 1.2) since its launch in 1972 illustrates the recent history of journals publishing. The print circulation increased steadily reaching a peak in 1986. Despite the efforts of two exceptional editors in this case, and although the journal published more articles and thus became a more significant publication, the circulation fell slowly and steadily. It probably held up better as a life science title than other titles in other disciplines, e.g. chemistry and physics.

Figure 1.2 The rise, fall and rise in circulation of a research journal. From Campbell and Wates (2008)

As in Mari Pijnenborg’s model, ‘re-invention’ for this journal was dramatic. The journal was made available online from 1996 and new pricing models came into play with the minimal extra cost per extra user, as exemplified by the ‘Big Deal’. Circulation was also boosted by arrangements with organisations providing access in developing countries (e.g. International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications – INASP; Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture – AGORA). With a higher rejection rate, higher Impact Factor, faster publication and greater circulation, this fairly specialised journal typifies what has been achieved since the mid-1990s (see Chapter 5 by Green and Cookson, and Chapter 6 by Haynes). With hard copy circulation down to 60, it is now effectively an e-journal (see Chapter 8 by Böing).

In contrast, the publication of monographs has seen an unremitting decline in circulation from the early 1970s when print-runs were often around 2500–3000 (see Chapter 5 by Green and Cookson). More titles are produced than ever before but print-runs are down to 300–500. What we saw happen 15 years ago in journals, however, is now happening for monographs as the e-book concept gets underway. There are even OA book publishers (see Chapter 7 by Pinter).

Current status

As discussed above, the journal has come through an initial phase of re-invention successfully, with digitisation of the model leading to much wider access at lower unit cost. However, as indicated in later chapters, after an investment of more than £2 billion since 2000 in digitising the publishing process, there is potential to do a lot more. Around 3500 publishers produce around 1.8 million peer-reviewed articles per year in 27 000 journals. The journal publishing industry employs (directly) 110 000 people globally and publishers return at least 10 per cent of their revenue to the academic community through support for editorial activity. The structure of the industry is presented in Figure 1.3. Many of the small publishers in the industry are self-publishing societies producing one or two titles. A number of journals are also published on behalf of societies by commercial and not-for-profit publishers. Currently there is some migration of titles from self-publishing societies to international publishers (Campbell, 2010).

Figure 1.3 The journal publishing industry – From Access to Research Outputs: a UK Success Story. The Publishers Association, STM and ALPSP

In total around half of the 27 000 journals are owned and controlled by societies and in virtually all of these cases article peer review and journal policy are the responsibilities of independent academics rather than publishing staff. The false accusation that editorial policy is determined by ‘big global businesses’ seems to be one irritation that publishers have to put up with and is grossly unfair to the huge community of academics who devote so much time to editing.

What journal publishers do is outlined in Figure 1.4. It is dependent on publishers providing authors with a service first encapsulated by Oldenburg in his four functions. Why authors submit an article to a journal has been regularly surveyed since the 1980s. Reaching their peers and gaining recognition usually heads the list with concern over copyright at the bottom. The involvement of the academic community is massive: over 125 000 editors, 350 000 editorial board members, 2.5 million referees and 12 million researchers.

Figure 1.4 What do publishers do? From Access to Research Outputs: a UK Success Story. The Publishers Association, STM and ALPSP

In a recent Outsell Report (Ware, 2011) a wider range of STM publishing is used (including workflow and geophysical markets) to reach a total estimated market size for 2011 of $26 billion as opposed to the widely used estimate of $5 billion for the library market for journals. Ten billion dollars might be a more accurate estimate for the journal market for 2011. The report lists the ways in which STM publishers and information providers add value:

 sorting and assessment of research outputs;

 publication of primary literature, supplementary data and patents;

 aggregation of content;

 distillation of evidence – reference works and meta-reviews;

 creating standards and consensus seeking;

 granularisation, tagging and prioritisation of content, identification, and application of rules;

 systems integration, data structure and exchange standards, content maintenance, and updating procedure;

 integration of content from multiple sources;

 creating and monitoring behaviour change;

 development of workflow analytics and best practice benchmarking at the level of the individual, department, institution and geopolitical entity.

As Mark Ware points out this list is evolving, driven by market demand (e.g. for just-in-time knowledge) and new technologies. For a more detailed description of what journal publishers do see Morris et al. (2013).

Electronic publishing

Most journals are still distributed as print on paper along with online access but the migration to e-only is inevitable and should hugely enhance the efficiency of the scholarly communications system and engender change. Indeed, e-only is already the basis of Gold OA, i.e. open access on publication funded by author-side payment via Article Processing Charges (APCs).

Along with the saving in publishing costs, an e-only environment enables new pricing models, and should allow for significant saving in library overheads. The development of appropriate pricing (see Chapter 12 by O’Rourke), perhaps based on usage and even citation status and other post-publication metrics, along with the reduction in library overheads, will require close co-operation between publishers and librarians. Universal access is the objective. One extreme approach might be a national site licence enabling access to all of a publisher’s content across all users from Higher Education and industry to the general public.

A global survey in the UK (PRC, 2010) indicated 93 per cent of researchers reported ‘very easy or fairly easy access’ in universities, but it should be possible to do better provided that policy-makers realise not only that increasing funding of R&D will produce more articles, but also that the cost of publishing these articles has to be met. Alongside this, funders need to accept responsibility in managing the wider issue of the research data that is analysed and reported in journals, which should be properly curated and preserved to enable permanent access (Campbell and Meadows, 2011), more on which below.

It should be clear from this book that publishing in 2012 involves a range of investment and expertise scarcely imagined in the early 1990s, and yet library budgets that support the publication of journals have dropped steadily as a percentage of total university budgets.

Journals and data

Our current era of research was described by Jim Gray of Microsoft as being all about data exploration, unifying theory + experiment + simulation. It should offer tremendous opportunities for publishers. The journal has been described as the ultimate metadata for a researcher’s data yet until recently the relationship between a journal article and the underlying data on which it is based has received little attention. As outlined by Efke Smit: ‘data and publications belong together because publications make data discoverable; are the most thorough metadata of data; provide the author/research credits for the data; and gain depth by supplying data’ (Smit et al., 2011).

Again we are seeing policy driven by funders who have become more aware of the importance of improving access to the accelerating quantity of data their funding has generated. They have been supported by publishers in this; for example, see the declaration on Open Access to Data by the STM Association and ALPSP (STM/ALPSP websites, 2006).

Currently, funders’ policies on data management are not well aligned with market needs, with policies varying by funder, type of research, university and discipline. The situation in publishing is also unclear. For example, in the Parse Insight 2009 survey, 71 per cent of the larger publishers stated that authors can submit their underlying digital research data yet 69 per cent of the larger publishers said they have no preservation arrangements for digital research data (Knipers and van der Hoeven, 2009). The accessibility of data lags behind the accessibility of journals. In the 2010 PRC survey only 38 per cent of researchers found it easy or fairly easy to access data sets and data models.

It seems likely that libraries and their repositories will take on much of the responsibility for managing data. Funders will require a plan for data management in any grant proposal and the researcher will usually go to their library colleagues to provide for and then implement this. Where librarians once employed subject specialists they will now recruit data managers. And we are seeing Oldenburg’s four functions applied to data management. We could even see the later ‘fifth function’ – i.e. generating citation data used for measuring impact – operate for data as researchers will need to demonstrate the impact of their work. DataCite, a library-led organisation, is co-operating with CrossRef to provide DOIs for linking, which could create the necessary basis for research data metrics. A new community of data managers could forge a new and productive relationship with journal publishers, but it is early days. Alongside all the technical issues there is no clear business model.

A dark cloud

Many of the chapters in this book take a view on the future from the standpoint of the subject addressed, but sitting above like a dark cloud is the possible intervention by policy-makers and funders. Journal publishing has flourished through its independent yet close relationship with the academic community: researchers, teachers and librarians. Much of its value comes from this independence and the concomitant need to maintain high standards in an ever more competitive marketplace.

Driven by the slogan ‘what is publicly paid for, should be publicly accessible’, funders have added ‘with free access to the outcome’ to their mission to fund the best research. Led by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), some have introduced stipulations on how grantees should publish. The NIH request that grantees should archive for free access over the Internet made little impact, but when stiffened up to a mandate more researchers complied, especially when publishers posted for them. Damage was limited by an embargo of up to 12 months and a policy based on posting of the author’s accepted version of the article although the final published version is preferred.

The problem with this so-called ‘Green Road’ approach to OA (often referred to as the ‘no-one pays’ model) is that if free access to versions of an article become commonplace then librarians are likely to cancel subscriptions (Beckett and Inger, 2007). It would also lead to a different article version (see NISO, 2008) being archived in different places, undermining one of the basic functions of the journal. The author’s accepted version is inevitably inferior to the Version of Research maintained on the publisher’s site (Wates and Campbell, 2007).

We could see further intervention from the European Commission. With Framework Programme 7 (FP7) there was a target of 20 per cent of the projects funded to follow a policy of Green OA. Compliance seems to have been limited, partly because publishers are not posting for authors. There was also vague support for Gold OA (which could be described as ‘sustainable OA’), but the funding is unclear and will not apply to articles published after the end of the programme. There is talk, however, of a more comprehensive policy for the next research framework programme, Horizon 2020, which follows on from FP7 in 2014. For example, there could be a target of 100 per cent Green OA, funding for Gold OA but with a set maximum APC, or a model amendment to any publication agreement that the author might sign with the publisher to this end. It is not clear how researchers would react to restrictions on a basic right, freedom to publish how they choose (with potential implications for their autonomy as researchers).

One notable development in this area has been the announcement that the Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Institute are launching a Gold OA journal – eLife – aimed at competing with Nature, Science and Cell. It will be completely OA, i.e. no charge even to the author, for an initial period. Apparently the peer review policy will eliminate unnecessary requests for revision and cycles of revision. It will be interesting to see how any potential conflicts of interest are managed and whether other funders will also switch budgets from research to journal publishing. (At least it might create a new market for this book.)

Strangely the major funders in North America and Europe are silent on the role of research reports. Most funders expect grantees to produce a report at the end of their study. These could give the public free access to the outcome of the research they have funded (one of the drivers of the Open Access movement), yet clearly funders prefer to pick up the low-hanging fruit – the journal articles in which publishers have invested. At this stage, funders do not seem to be prepared to invest in properly organising the production of research reports to a sufficient standard for general access despite policy statements on public access and sharing data – such reports could be developed to act as an interface with the underlying research data.

Such influential newcomers and market developments could disrupt the system for a while, but in the long run publishing could emerge stronger, just as with OA publishing, which has been absorbed by the industry and is now represented on trade committees and in international organisations such as CrossRef. The understanding of publishing that funders might gain from direct involvement should shape their policy.

The future

The future of publishing is addressed throughout this book and particularly in the closing chapters (Chapter 17 by Mabe, Chapter 18 by Anderson and Chapter 19 by Pentz).

In the introduction to Journal Publishing (Page et al., 1997), the section on the future concluded that no one model would be dominant over the next few years and that: ‘Publishers may just have time to develop new systems to cope with even more research output alongside even more limited budgets’.

The race against time continues at a greater pace, as will be apparent in the book. Academic and professional publishing is an exciting place to be.


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