representation of the open access sector through light image

Open Access sector moves slowly to mature

New figures show the limited size and slow rate of uptake of the Open Access market

The Open Access sector (OA) continues to be the subject of discussion in the scientific community, as do debates about the need for greater levels of open access. However, the reality is not so simple and the adoption rate open access is not as quick as its promoters would like it to be. 

I presented the findings of a study by independent publishing consultancy Delta Think, at the recent STM Association conference held in Frankfurt. This study related to the size of the open access sector. The numbers help give a mixed picture of recent trends in the OA market. Consequently, Open access is established and growing faster than the underlying scholarly publishing market. The open access sector’s value forms a small segment of the total, and it is only slowly taking share. It might be that individual scientists have a greater role to play to effect change with funders’ showing mixed approaches to backing OA.

Size and growth of the open access market

New figures about the size and growth of the current open access sector have been published  by Delta Think’s Open Access Data & Analytics Tool. Therefore, these combine and cross-reference sources of information about OA to provide data and insights into the number of organisations and activities in the Open Access market. Additionally, they give a sense of how Open Access is faring, and what the future has in store for its adoption.

In 2015, the global Open access market is estimated to have been worth around EUR €330m (USD $390m), and grew to around €400m ($470m) in 2016. This growth rate is set to continue, meaning that the market is in course to be worth half a billion dollars globally going into 2018.

Size numbers of OA in context

To put the numbers into context, the growth rate in the open access sector revenue is much higher than that of the  scholarly publishing market. In contrast, the publishing market typically grows at a few percent –low to mid-single digits– per year.

However, the share of the OA market is low compared with its share of output. Just over 20% of all articles were published as Open access in 2016. They accounted for 4% to 9% of total journal publishing market value, depending on how the market is defined. The OA numbers cover Gold Open access articles publishing in the year. These are defined as articles for which publication fees are paid to make content immediately available. They also exclude articles deposited in repositories under an embargo period, or articles simply made publicly accessible.

Uptake of OA

The degree to which Open access is taking market share is slow. Take the 2002 Budapest OA Initiative as a nominal starting point for market development. The data suggests that it has taken over 17 years for Open access to comprise one-fifth of article output, and, at best, one-tenth of market value.

Moreover, the key driver of changes in the OA market remains funders. When choosing which journals to publish in, researchers continue to value factors, such as dissemination, quality of peer review, and brand, over whether their work will be made OA.  Numerous studies have shown this, and suggest similar attitudes towards journals and monographs.

Consequently, movement towards OA happens where funders’ impetus overcome researchers’ inertia. Funders’ appetites for OA vary by territory,  so the outlook for Open access growth of market share remains mixed. Funders in the EU have the strongest mandates. However, many in the Far East, for example, incentivise publication based on Journal Impact Factor. They do this regardless of access model, as they seek to enhance reputations and advance careers.

Future predictions of open access 

The relatively low value of open access content compared with its share of output poses interesting questions about the sustainability of its publishing model. Relating to this, the data suggests that open access is cost effective and could lower systemic costs of publishing. However, others suggest that we need to be realistic about systemic costs and global funding flows.

Further, although open access is clearly entrenched in the market, at current rates of change, it will be decades before open access articles and monographs form the majority of scholarly output. Opinions vary as to whether the transition to Open access is frustratingly slow or reassuringly measured.

So, the current data suggest that the debates around open access will continue as they have been. It is business as usual for the average researcher. It might be that individual scientists have a greater role to play now to shift the balance, regardless of whether funders nudge them in the OA direction.

Dan Pollock

Daniel is Director of Data & Analytics for Delta Think, a consultancy specialising in strategy, market research, technology assessment, and analytics supporting scholarly communications organisations; helping them successfully manage change.

Original article published on

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