Open Access – Danger at the Bottom Line

Author: Jo McShea

Date: November 2, 2018


Open access (OA) has long been considered an existential threat to the traditional business model of subscription journal publishers, especially in the Scientific, Technical, and Medical (STM) sector. Now firmly entrenched across STM, both its ability to ultimately overturn and replace the traditional subscription model and the likelihood of this happening remain topics of heated debate in the sector. We see a number of market factors with the potential to significantly impact the direction of the OA market in the next five years. These include the actions of funders in this sector with regard to current and future OA mandates and centralized funding of Article Processing Charges (APCs), the number of high-profile Big Deal negotiations placing OA at their centers, and the increasing maturity of infrastructure in place at publishers, institutions, and funders to deal with OA challenges. At the same time, this is a nuanced, regional marketplace without significant researcher-driven momentum, and our model considers these and other potential inhibitors of the future growth of the OA market as well as the drivers for its growth.

With this report, our latest on OA, Outsell models the potential revenue implications of OA on the STM journal publishing sector, presenting our forecast for 2020. We then highlight a range of potential scenarios for the market in 2023, depending on different growth levels for OA articles as a proportion of the overall total of new STM journal articles.


Outsell held a series of targeted interviews with a range of market-leading commercial publishers, OA publishers, and industry commentators to gather data for our model and test our view of key variables, drivers, and inhibitors likely to impact the OA marketplace over the next 3–5 years. We also fielded an online survey targeted at a global range of STM journal publishers to gather data to input into our model. Additionally, we drew on the existing base of data and literature focused on the OA marketplace, including a number of recent influential research articles and reports, to develop our OA estimates, model, and market analysis.

Representatives from organizations — including AIPP, De Gruyter, Digital Science, eLife, Elsevier, Emerald Group Publishing, Hindawi, IEEE, Informa, MDPI, PLOS, SAGE Publications, and Springer Nature — participated in our research interviews.

A deep understanding of information-centric disruptive forces, daily interaction with executives in the information industry, and analysis of products and services that Outsell conducts as part of its advisory services further support this research.

Additional details about the report’s definitions and parameters can be found in the Appendix.

Table of Contents

Why This Topic 3

Methodology 3

Open Access Today 4

Market Forces Influencing Open Access 7

Open Access in 2020 12

Open Access in 2023 14

In Outsell’s Opinion 20

Essential Actions 23

Related Research 25

Appendix 26

About the Author 27

About Outsell 27


List of Figures

Figure 1: Open Access Market Size, 2017 ($m) 6

Figure 2: Number of New STM Articles Published by Revenue Model, 2017 7

Figure 3: Open Access Market Size, 2020 ($ million) 13

Figure 4: Number of New STM Articles Published by Revenue Model, 2020 14


List of Tables

Table 1: Key Market Growth Factors and Their Ability to Influence the OA Landscape by 2023 8

Table 2: STM Journal Market Landscape by OA Growth Scenario, 2023 17

Table 3: Impact of 2023 Growth Scenarios on Bottom Line 19

Table 4: Impact of 2023 Scenarios on Organizational Bottom Line, Reduced Margins 20


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