Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Costs of for-profit and non-profit journal publishing

Roger Clarke, The cost profiles of alternative approaches to journal publishing, First Monday, December 2007. 

Abstract:   The digital era is having a substantial impact on journal publishing. In order to assist in analysing this impact, a model is developed of the costs incurred in operating a refereed journal. Published information and estimates are used to apply the model to a computation of the total costs and per–article costs of various forms of journal publishing. Particular attention is paid to the differences between print and electronic forms of journals, to the various forms of open access, and to the differences between not–for–profit and for–profit publishing undertakings.

Insight is provided into why for–profit publishing is considerably more expensive than equivalent activities undertaken by unincorporated mutuals and not–for–profit associations. Conclusions are drawn concerning the current debates among conventional approaches and the various open alternatives.

From the body of the paper:

[I]t would appear that open access journal publishing is achievable through not–for–profit channels far more cheaply and efficiently than through for–profit organisations....

For–profit publishers have higher cost–profiles than not–for–profit associations, because of the additional functions that they perform, in particular their much greater investment in branding, customer relationship management and content protection....

The distinctive differences that remain in for–profit publishing are:  [1] higher–quality branding; [2] more active marketing; [3] more aggressive customer management; and, [4] content protection.

But the primary beneficiaries of these features are the publisher and its owners. Only in the case of for–profit business units within not–for–profit associations are the owners closely associated with an academic community. Academic communities have little incentive to contribute to the funding of sophisticated technical features that are designed to support organistions’ strategic and marketing objectives rather than community service. In short, the ‘value–add’ that for–profit publishers offer appears to be of little or no benefit to academic communities....