The influence of journal publisher characteristics on open access policy trends
The influence of journal publisher characteristics
on open access policy trends
Elizabeth Gadd 0
Jenny Fry 0
Claire Creaser 0
0 Loughborough University , Loughborough, Leicestershire , UK
Examines SHERPA/RoMEO publisher open access (OA) policy information for 100 publishers over a 13 year period (2004-2016) to consider whether their size, type or country (UK or US) affected the development of their OA policy over time. A publisher's RoMEO colour code, whether they offered a Gold OA option, and the mean number of restrictions as to when, how and where papers may be self-archived, were all mapped. Kruskal-Wallis tests were run to assess whether the differences between their 2004 and 2016 positions were statistically significant. Finds that the growth of Green and Gold OA policy approaches has not been evenly distributed amongst publishers with some significant differences amongst publishers of different size, types and country (UK and US). Large commercial publishers are more likely to be allocated a RoMEO colour code, but at the same time place a high volume of restrictions as to where and how authors might selfarchive. Small publishers are less likely to have a RoMEO green colour code, but the volume of restrictions they place on self-archiving are minimal. University presses appear not to be engaging with either OA agenda to any considerable degree. UK and US publishers' OA policies appear to be influenced by the national OA policy environment which, considering the global nature of the scholarly journals market, was more pronounced than might have been anticipated.
The provision of open access (OA) to the research literature is an important part of the
modern scholarly communication landscape, although stakeholders disagree as to the best
way of achieving this. Most proponents argue for either Green OA whereby an author
‘selfarchives’ their research outputs on the open web subject to their publisher’s policy which
may or may not impose an embargo period, or Gold open access whereby the author
publishes in a Gold OA journal either with or without paying an Article Processing Charge
(APC). Recently, however, other variants of OA have emerged. These include Diamond
(Fuchs and Sandoval 2013)
which describes Gold OA journals that do not charge
APCs, and Black OA which describes self-archiving a paper in (deliberate or accidental)
contravention of a publisher’s agreement
(Bjo¨ rk 2017)
. Previous research has shown that
Gold OA is growing at a greater rate than Green OA
(Archambault et al. 2014)
recent investigations suggest that Black OA is common and may be on the rise
One thing is clear: whilst publishers continue to insist on copyright assignment, and
authors comply, it is the publisher who dictates all legal forms of OA. With this in mind, a
prior investigation sought to understand how publisher’s OA policies had developed over a
twelve year period (2004–2015). It found that whilst more publishers were meeting the
technical requirements for Green OA, the volume of restrictions on what could be
selfarchived, how, where and when had grown 119, 190 and 1000% respectively, and the
proportion of publishers offering a Gold OA option increased 1670% over the same
(Gadd and Troll Covey 2016)
. However, the previous study included a range of
different publishers of varying sizes, types and geographic locations, and we hypothesize
that such demographics have a considerable influence on OA approaches. This study
therefore seeks to delve further into the original dataset resulting from the Gadd and Troll
Covey (ibid) study, expanded to include data from 2016, to investigate whether a
publisher’s size, type or country affected the development of its OA policy over time. The
specific research questions addressed by this paper are:
Does a publisher’s size, type or country affect their Green OA policy as to what,
when, how and where papers may be self-archived and the likelihood that they will
offer a Gold OA option?
Morris observed in 2007 that ‘‘[t]here is surprisingly little hard information about the
landscape of peer-reviewed journal publishing’’ particularly when broken down by
demographics. One decade on the situation has changed little, as recently observed by
Johnson et al. (2017)
with particular regard to the influence of publisher demographics on
their OA policies. In the absence of a systematic and comprehensive overview the current
state of play has to be gleaned from a variety of different and often dated sources, rather
than any comprehensive overview.
Ware and Mabe (2015)
have noted, journals are not evenly distributed across
publishers. They write, ‘‘at one end of the scale, 95% or more publish only one or two journals,
while at the other end, the top 100 publish 67% of all journals. The top 5 publish nearly
35% of journals, while three publishers (Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley-Blackwell) have
well over 2000 journals each’’. The EU OpenAIRE report
(Johnson et al. 2017)
50% of all articles were published by five large publishers (Reed-Elsevier, Springer Nature,
Wiley-Blackwell, Taylor & Francis, and Sage). Other studies
(Morris 2007; Crow 2005)
report similarly skewed distributions although with slightly different proportions.
In terms of the impact of publisher size on OA policy, the series of Association of
Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP)-commissioned studies of society
publishers’ approaches to online publishing provide some insight. The most recent ALPSP
study divided responding publishers into small (0–10 titles), medium (11–99) or large
(100 ?) groupings for analysis
(Inger and Gardner 2013)
. Although they only had a small
number of large publisher respondents (15 out of 261) they found that smaller publishers
were less likely than medium sized publishers, who in turn were less likely than large
publishers, to allow authors to submit either their pre-print or post-print (defined as the
author’s version of the corrected, accepted manuscript) to an institutional repository.
However, small publishers were actually more likely to allow the self-archiving of the
publisher PDF than either medium or large publishers. Inger and Gardner (2013:42)
speculate that larger publishers may have more to lose in allowing publisher PDFs to be
mounted on open access repositories whilst ‘‘[s]mall and medium-sized publishers may be
happier to take a risk in favour of increased exposure and possible citations.’’
Inger and Gardner (2013)
also perform an interesting trend analysis relating to
publishers’ changing positions on allowing posting to repositories over time. This shows that
as of 2012, smaller publishers had become increasingly permissive with regards to posting
to both institutional and subject repositories (see Table 1) whereas larger publishers had
become increasingly restrictive. Medium-sized publishers appear less consistent, but were
less permissive about posting to institutional repositories and more permissive about
subject repositories in 2012 than in 2005.
In terms of Gold OA, a JISC report into Article Processing Charges (APCs) tells us that
‘‘a few large publishers capture most of the market share’’
. Pinfield et al’s
study into the total cost of ownership of scholarly journals concurs that ‘‘most APCs were
paid to large ‘traditional’ commercial publishers who also received considerable
(Pinfield et al. 2015)
. A blog post by
Changing scale of scholarly publication suggests that Gold OA publishing tends to suit
large commercial publishers because they have the scale to support the production of a
high volume of OA journals at varying levels of quality and the mechanisms to support
institutional APC payments. A further influence is the recent growth in so-called
megajournals, publishing large volumes of articles on a Gold OA model
(Wakeling et al. 2016)
There are two main ways of considering publisher type in the literature. Some studies focus
on whether a publisher is profit-making (commercial) or not-for-profit (NFP), whilst others
categorise them according to whether they are commercial, a university press or a learned
society. More recent studies point out the emergence of a new category of professional
non-commercial publishers such as Public Library of Science
(Laakso and Bjo¨ rk 2012)
2009, Ware and Mabe estimated that 64% of all publishers were commercial, whilst 30%
were society publishers, 4% university presses, and 2% were other types.
The distinctions, however, are muddied as a result of some learned societies choosing to
publish their journals with commercial publishers. Analysis by Crow (2005) and
estimated that 38% of active refereed journal titles were non-profit, with 45% being
commercial, however a further 17% were commercially published and society-owned
titles. Morris surmised that this showed that approximately 27.5% of all commercially
published journals were society owned and about 30% of all society-owned titles were
published by commercial publishers. An analysis by
, found that over half
of society-owned titles were published by third-parties. Having said this, the most recent
edition of the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers
(Ware and Mabe 2015)
observed that ‘‘some learned societies now shy away
from working with the largest commercial publishers’’ as a result of mistrust stemming
from some of the rhetoric around OA publishing. Indeed the recent Untangling academic
publishing report recommended that ‘‘[s]ocieties that co-publish journals or book series
with third-parties should reflect on whether the mission and business strategy of the
copublisher is a good fit for the society’s scholarly mission’’
(Fyfe et al. 2017)
There is a tendency in such rhetoric to refer to the ‘‘large commercial publishers’’ as
those with the most restrictive Green OA policies and a propensity opportunistically to take
advantage of new income streams offered by Gold OA publishing. Analysis by
, however, found that there was ‘‘no real difference’’ between the mean number of
journals published by all publishers (2.39) and NFP publishers (2.32). The main differences
lay in the fact that the ‘‘largest commercial publishers are very much larger than the largest
non-profits’’ with the top four being responsible for almost 25% of all journals.
A publisher’s type can lead to very different ways of engaging with the scholarly
journals market, the main way being the prices charged for their products.
calculated that commercial journals cost 3–9 times more than non-profit
journals and that the cost per citation was higher for commercial journals too. They
observe that in the field of economics ‘‘the average inflation-adjusted price per page
charged by commercial publishers has increased by 300% since 1985, whereas that of
nonprofit economics journals has increased by ‘only’ 50%.’’
(Bergstrom and Bergstrom
. In a more recent study,
Liu and Gee (2017)
found that commercial publishers
charged, on average, over 102% more than non-commercial publishers, although again,
there were disciplinary differences. Beyond profit margins,
non-profits publish fewer new titles and close fewer titles than their commercial
counterparts. She also found that 69% of the top 500 most cited science journals in the ISI
indices were published by non-profit publishers. This suggests that non-commercial
publishers are more cautious in the development of new titles, but the ones they publish have a
significant impact on the scholarly community.
In terms of approaches to Green OA, Laakso’s 2014 study of 100 large publishers
(2014) found that 64% of titles published by commercial publishers would allow the
selfarchiving of the authors’ accepted manuscript (AAM), compared to 71.1% of society
publishers and 28.4% of university presses. Only six university presses (publishing 469
journals) were included in the sample so these figures should be treated with caution. He
also found that society publishers were far more likely to allow authors to self-archive the
published final version (36%), than were commercial publishers (1.3%) or university
presses (0). Assuming society publishers tend to be the smaller publishers, this triangulates
with Inger and Gardner’s findings reported above
(Inger and Gardner 2013)
. Covey (2009)
found that the Green OA policies of for-profit publishers changed more frequently than
non-profit publishers often causing a greater impact due to the number of journal titles
under their control.
Laakso and Bj o¨rk (2012:6) have also studied the growth of pure Gold OA journals over
time by taking random stratified samples from the Directory of OA Journals (DOAJ) in
2000, 2005 and 2011. They find that ‘‘the early years of OA publishing were largely driven
by scientific societies, professional associations, universities and their departments’’.
However, since 2005 there has been a considerable leap in the number of pure OA journal
titles offered by commercial publishers, resulting in an increase from 13,400 articles in
2005 to 119,900 in 2011. Using the same publisher categories
Laakso and Bjo¨ rk (2013
went on to study journal publishers’ approaches to delayed OA (defined as ‘‘scholarly
articles in subscription journals made available openly on the web directly through the
publisher at the expiry of a set embargo period’’). They found that 98% of all delayed OA
content stemmed from three publisher types: 52% by society publishers, 33% by
commercial publishers and 13% by university presses. They note the difference between these
proportions and the proportion of publishers overall in these categories, observing that
society publishers were far more likely to make content available on a delayed OA basis
than other types of publisher.
Whilst such analyses might suggest that learned societies are the most ready to engage
with OA by offering liberal Green OA policies and delayed OA, it is interesting to note that
in Pinfield et al’s study on the total cost of publication (2016), nine of the top ten highest
APCs are charged by society publishers—even though it is the large commercial publishers
who dominate in terms of percentage share of the Gold and hybrid journals market.
noted that over half of the journals listed in Ulrichs were published either in
the USA or the UK with 34% being US-based and 19% being UK-based. As of May 2017,
the SHERPA RoMEO database of 2375 journal publisher copyright policies included 558
(23%) from the USA and 280 (12%) from the UK. Whilst these proportions are slightly
smaller, it is clear that the UK and the US are still the dominant players in the scholarly
journal publishing market and no other country is home to so many.
It has often been observed how the US and the UK have differed in their approach to
OA. In the US from the earliest beginnings of the NIH public access mandate in 2005, the
preferred route was Green open access to the accepted manuscript, and this did not change
when the Office for Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) instituted their public access
to federally funded
research memo in 2013
. The policy required that all research
(publications and data) funded by US federal agencies should be made available on OA with an
allowable 12-month embargo period.
In the UK, the Finch report (2012:7) entitled Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence:
How to Expand Access to Research Publications concluded that ‘‘a clear policy direction
should be set towards support for publication in open access or hybrid journals, funded by
APCs, as the main vehicle for the publication of research, especially when it is publicly
funded’’. The UK Research Councils (RCUK) then instituted an OA policy (2013) which
stated that such Gold OA publishing was their preference (although Green OA would be
acceptable within certain embargo periods) and they provided additional monies to UK
HEIs with large tranches of RCUK funding to pay APCs. It is perhaps not surprising
therefore that Laakso and Bj o¨rk (2012) study of OA publishing showed that Europe had a
far higher proportion of pure Gold OA articles than North America at all census points
(2000, 2005 and 2011). Johnson et al. (2017:6) also observed that within Europe,
‘‘countries [such as the UK] with a significant academic publishing industry are more
likely to favour Gold OA’’.
Despite this propensity towards Gold in the UK by the core Government funding
Archambault et al. (2014)
found that there was more variety in funder OA
policies in the UK than the US, with the UK having the largest volume of funder OA
mandates (34) followed by Canada (14), the US (9), Denmark (6), Ireland (5), and France
(5). Of course, funding agencies do not exclusively fund research performed within the
national base, and researchers world-wide may find their work subject to an OA policy that
was devised elsewhere.
In order to better understand publisher approaches to open access over time, publisher OA
policy information was extracted from the SHERPA/RoMEO database (SHERPA, [n.d.])
using the Internet Archive ‘‘Wayback Machine’’1. The SHERPA/RoMEO database arose
out of the Jisc-funded RoMEO Project
(Gadd et al. 2003)
. At its inception in 2004, 107
journal publishers were listed although by May 2017 this had grown to 2375 publishers.
The database’s updating procedures are not publicly documented, but correspondence with
the service provider reassured the authors that ‘‘Romeo is updated on a regular basis, with
the processing of updates to records, taking priority over the addition of new records.
[They] also work with…international partners to carry out routine audits of [their] data, to
ensure that… records are regularly refreshed’’ [Personal correspondence with RoMEO
The database colour codes both publishers and individual journal titles as ‘yellow’,
‘blue’, ‘green’ or ‘white’ according to whether their OA policy allows authors to
selfarchive (respectively) the pre-print, post-print, both or neither. Some publishers issue a
range of journals under a variety of different policies, particularly where titles are owned
by learned societies. Approximately 15% of the original 107 publishers on the RoMEO
database offered journals under a variety of policies
(Gadd and Troll Covey 2016: 12)
However, the RoMEO database also allocates publishers a ‘default’ policy position. As the
study sought to understand publisher-level approaches to OA, it used the default policy
position for analysis rather than individual journal titles. This was also a pragmatic choice
as the study involved manually coding of 100 publisher policies over 13 years on five
different policy aspects—a total of 6500 data points.
In addition to the colour-coding, RoMEO also provides policy summaries for each
publisher, listing the restrictions and conditions under which self-archiving may take place,
and whether they offer a paid open access option. Until 2010, all of this data appeared on a
single page A–Z listing. However, from 2010 onward, the single page A–Z listing only
1 Further details about the ‘‘Wayback Machine’’ can be found at: https://archive.org/web/.
provided the colour codes and a link to a policy summary page for each individual
publisher. The Internet Archive was searched for archived full A–Z listings from the http://
www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo website. At least one full list was available for each year from
2004 to 2016 giving the overall RoMEO colour codes. However, the changes in 2010
meant that no policy summary data were available for that year and was very patchy during
2011 and 2012. Where no summary was available for a particular publisher in a particular
year, the last known policy summary for that publisher was carried forward. As a result, the
findings presented here slightly under-report the volume of policy changes rather than
During the period studied, seven of the original 107 publishers changed their
characteristics regarding the units of analysis used in this study (e.g. size, type, or even country)
through mergers and acquisitions. As the research questions sought to understand whether
a publisher’s characteristics affected their OA policy over time, it was necessary to remove
these publishers and focus on the remaining 100 whose characteristics remained the same
over the 13 years under study. Each of the 100 publishers was allocated a type according to
their status: commercial, university press, learned or professional society (from here on in,
‘learned society’) or ‘other’. Then, using a combination of the Ulrich’s Global Serials
Directory, the RoMEO database and publisher websites, the publisher’s country along with
the number of current active titles they published was determined. Clearly a publisher’s
journal portfolio does not remain static, however their current journal list served as an
indication of size for the purposes of analysis. Using
Inger and Gardner’s (2013)
classification, a publisher was denoted as small if it had 1–10 titles, medium if it owned 11–99,
and large if it owned 100 or more titles. A list of the publishers and their demographics is
given in ‘‘Appendix’’.
By studying 100 of the original 107 publishers on the RoMEO database, rather than
taking a sample of publishers from each year, we were able to capture 13 years-worth of
data for the participating group, enabling us to trace changes to their policies over a
significant period of time. An additional benefit of this method was that, unlike other
Miguel et al. (2011)
) which only examined the policies of
larger publishers (i.e., mainly commercial publishers based in the UK or USA), this group
represented a greater range of publisher types, sizes and nationalities. However, due to the
small sample size the findings may only be viewed as indicative rather than predictive of
the wider journal publisher population. Due to the small number of non-UK or US
publishers in the sample, only UK and US publishers were included in the country-based
For each publisher, the number of restrictions relating to the ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’
of self-archiving were counted and coded, as was the availability of a paid OA option and
the RoMEO colour code. A ‘where’ restriction referred to the various locations of deposit
allowed by the publisher, such as a personal webpage, a non-commercial site, or an
institutional repository. A ‘when’ restriction mainly referred to a publisher’s embargo
period, but could also include a restriction on self-archiving prior to publication. A ‘how’
restriction referred to the range of other stipulations made by the publisher such as
acknowledging the publisher using a set form of wording and linking to the published
version. As was explored in the earlier study
(Gadd and Troll Covey 2016)
, just because a
publisher was allocated a ‘white’ colour code, it did not mean that they did not allow any
self-archiving, only that they did not permit it immediately. Thus a ‘white’ publisher may
still have a series of ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ restrictions relating to the embargoed
selfarchiving they allowed.
Again, as noted in the previous study, the volume of restrictions around where an item
might be self-archived grew significantly over time, principally due to the increase in
‘linked embargos’ (where an embargo period varied according to another factor). Thus a
single or group of allowed deposit locations was counted as one ‘where’ restriction, but if
additional ‘where’ restrictions related to particular location types, they were counted
separately. For example, if it was permissible to make a post-print available on a personal
or institutional web page, that counted as a single ‘where’ restriction. However, if it was
permissible to make a post-print available on a personal web page immediately, and on an
institutional repository after 12 months, this would be counted as two ‘where’ restrictions.
It should be noted that due to reasons of space this study does not explore the content of the
‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ restrictions, just the number. Where a publisher has a higher
volume of restrictions, it makes is increasingly complicated for authors and Institutional
Repository managers to comply with their policy.
To test the significance of the policy changes by each demographic group between 2004
and 2016, the non-parametric Kruskal–Wallis test was applied to the resulting
non-normally distributed data to assess the significance of the variance of the means over time.
Demographic analysis of the publishers studied
Table 2 shows the distribution of the 100 publishers by size and type. It can be seen that of
the 17 commercial publishers, the majority, 15, were large. Two of the university presses
(Oxford and Cambridge) were large, whilst the remainder were equally split across the
medium and small groups. Not surprisingly, no learned society publisher was classified as
large, and the majority were small (40), although a good proportion were medium-sized
(24). This may be an artefact of the origin of the RoMEO database as an attempt to
document the policies of the most prolific and presitigious journals
(Gadd et al. 2003)
Those publishers classified as ‘other’ were either government or other non-profit
Table 3 shows the countries in which the 100 publishers were based. Three were
multinational, but of the remaining 97, 87 (89%) were either based in the UK (27) or the
Table 3 Distribution of
publishers by country
Publisher size and self-archiving restrictions
Figure 2 shows the growth in the mean number of restrictions regarding when, where and
how an item might be self-archived according to publisher size.
The data show that on restrictions relating to when an item might be self-archived (solid
line), all publishers started from a similarly low base. However, whilst medium and large
publishers grew to mean of just under one ‘when’ restriction each, smaller publishers
placed far fewer restrictions on when items might be self-archived with a mean of 0.23. A
similar disparity between small and either medium or large publishers could be seen in
terms of ‘where’ restrictions with smaller publishers issuing far fewer restrictions as to
where an item might be self-archived relative to their larger counterparts. For larger
publishers this grew from a mean of less than one to more than two over the period. The
greatest disparity between the three groups was on the mean number of ‘how’ restrictions
placed on self-archiving. Smaller publishers have remained relatively stable with about 0.5
‘how’ restrictions per publisher, however, despite medium and large publishers both
starting from the same base (1.4), medium publishers grew to an average of 2.5 over the
timeframe, whilst larger publishers grew to 3.3. A Kruskal–Wallis test on the differences
between the 2004 and 2016 data showed a significant difference (p \ 0.05 at the 95%
confidence level) between the groups on ‘where’ and ‘how’ restrictions over time, but not
on the ‘when’ restrictions.
Publisher size and paid OA options
publishers. Not surprisingly, a Kruskal–Wallis Test showed a significant difference
between the three groups in 2004 and 2016 with p \ 0.005.
Findings relating to publisher type
Publisher type and colour code
Figure 4 shows the starting profile (2004) and ending profile (2016) of the colour codes
allocated to publishers broken down by publisher type. The ‘Other’ publishers were
excluded from these analyses as the group size was too small.
Once again there are visible differences between the colour codes of the three
categories. The commercial publishers’ position remains fairly static over the timeframe.
However, university presses increased in their proportion of both green and white
publishers almost to the exclusion of blue and yellow. Learned society publishers also
increased their proportion of green and yellow, but reduced their volume of white.
Publisher type and self-archiving restrictions
Figure 5 shows the growth in the mean number of restrictions regarding when, where and
how an item might be self-archived according to publisher type.
Looking at the data for the growth of ‘when’ restrictions (solid line), we see that all the
groups went from almost zero to just under one restriction per publisher over the period.
The growth of ‘where’ restrictions (dashed line) also follow a very similar pattern, with
commercial publishers having slightly more restrictions than university presses who in turn
have more than learned societies. The most visible differences were to be found in the
growth rate of ‘how’ restrictions. In 2016 learned societies had an average of two
restrictions, whereas university presses had 2.3 and commercial publishers had 3.5. Despite
the apparent differences on ‘how’ restrictions, a Kruskal–Wallis test determined that none
of these differences were statistically significant.
Publisher type and paid OA options
Findings relating to UK and US publishers
Publisher country and colour code
Figure 7 shows the changes in the UK and US publishers’ RoMEO colour code profile
between 2004 (starting profile) and 2016 (ending profile). Interestingly, the proportion of
UK publishers with a green colour code remains static although the proportion of yellow
increases significantly, with white reducing to less than 10%. In the US the number of
green publishers grows from 24 in 2004 to 32 in 2016, displacing the volume of white.
A Chi Square test showed that the ending profiles were not statistically significantly
different however. Around 80% of both sets of publishers allow some form of OA in 2016.
UK and US publishers and restrictions
Figure 8 shows the average number of restrictions on self-archiving by country (UK and
US) over the timeframe. It can be seen that UK publishers have grown to impose a higher
level of ‘when’ (e.g. embargo) restrictions than their US counterparts. However, the
volume of ‘where’ restrictions has followed a similar path. Interestingly, the growth rate of
‘how’ restrictions was much steeper in the UK in the latter half of the last decade (2005-8)
whereupon it seemed to plateau. Growth in the US was steadier but is still above a mean of
two per publisher. The change in starting and ending profiles was only significantly
different for ‘how’ restrictions.
UK and US publishers and paid OA options
Figure 9 shows the growth in paid OA options amongst UK and US publishers over the
timeframe. It is clear that the growth rate in the UK has been considerably greater than in
the US. By 2016 two-thirds (67%) of the UK publishers had a paid OA option according to
the RoMEO database, whereas less than half of US publishers did so (45%). These were
not found to be significant differences.
As observed in an earlier study, the volume of restrictions in journal publishers’ OA
policies as to ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ authors might self-archive, and the existence of
paid OA options, has grown exponentially over time
(Gadd and Troll Covey 2016)
However this study shows that this growth has not been evenly distributed across
publishers. Our findings reveal some significant differences between journal publisher OA
policies according to the publisher’s size, type and the country in which they are based.
It should be noted that the spread of publishers across the categories is not even. The
smaller publisher category is dominated by learned society publishers (40/48) and the
larger publisher category is dominated by commercial publishers (15/17). Unfortunately,
there was not enough data to try to understand which of the two characteristics (publisher
size or type) were the most important in the development of a publisher’s OA policy. The
findings are discussed through each of the three lenses (size, type and country) below.
It is interesting to observe that despite large publishers, and to an increasing extent
medium-sized publishers, developing permissive OA policies that allocate them a RoMEO
‘green’, ‘blue’ or ‘yellow’ colour code, when it comes to the detail of those policies the
picture is quite different. The findings reveal that smaller publishers are significantly less
restrictive than their medium and large counterparts in terms of ‘where’, ‘where’ and ‘how’
their authors might self-archive. By 2016, large publishers had approximately one-third
more ‘how’ restrictions than medium publishers and about six times as many as small
publishers. Interestingly, medium-sized publishers have a 10% higher mean number of
restrictions around ‘where’ a paper might be self-archived than larger publishers, and seven
times as many ‘where’ restrictions as small publishers. All of this is against a backdrop of
very high levels of paid OA growth amongst large publishers, with medium-sized
publishers following closely behind. It was very unusual for the smaller publishers in this study
to have a paid OA option, however, we should note that none of the smaller publishers
included were designated as commercial.
observes that smaller, usually learned society, publishers lack the
‘horizontal scale’ to fully engage with the Gold open access market. However, they do possess
‘vertical scale’ which he describes as an in-depth relationship with a particular sector to
which they are able to sell a range of different services. It is perhaps a combination of this
connection with their community and their lack of ability to develop large paid OA
programmes that has resulted in a subset of smaller learned society publishers with
relatively permissive Green OA policies and no Gold option. However, it should be noted that
of the 35 medium-sized publishers included in this study, 24 (69%) were learned society
publishers. It would be wrong therefore to categorise all learned society publishers in the
same way. What we are observing here is a markedly different approach to OA amongst
smaller publishers than medium or large-sized ones.
The findings relating to publisher type once again show significant differences between the
OA approaches of commercial, university press and learned society publishers. The RoMEO
colour code analysis corroborates Laakso’s 2014 study which found that university presses
were less likely (28.4%) than commercial (64%) or learned society (71%) publishers to allow
the self-archiving of the AAM. Laakso’s study only included six university presses so it is
useful to be able to triangulate his finding with a larger sample size. Indeed, in this study, the
university presses were the only group to actually reduce the proportion of publishers with
either a ‘green’, ‘blue’ or ‘yellow’ colour code over the time period.
Once again the commercial publishers had a far higher proportion with a colour code at
all (93%) but they also had considerably higher rates of ‘how’ restrictions (75% higher
than university presses and learned societies) and ‘where’ restrictions (20–30% higher). An
interesting finding in this particular analysis was the very similar growth patterns amongst
publishers of all types with regards to the volume of ‘when’ restrictions. This may be as a
result of all publishers working in the same external policy environment regarding funder
embargo period requirements. Of course, if the content of those restrictions underwent
analysis (i.e. the length of permitted embargo periods) it might be that marked differences
would be found.
The paid OA analysis, not surprisingly, showed that commercial publishers were
significantly more likely to offer a Gold OA option than learned societies or university
presses. This correlates with the findings of Johnson et al (2017) that the open access
publishing market is dominated by ‘‘a few large commercial companies’’ who ‘‘have
gained market share largely at the expense of smaller non-profit publishers, such as learned
society publishers’’. However, our study suggests that learned societies are showing steady
growth in the development of paid OA options with almost 50% of those studied having
such an option by 2016. The university presses were the least likely to have a paid OA
option; indeed there was no growth at all in this category between 2006 and 2015.
It is interesting to consider the future of university presses in an open access world in
the light of these findings. It would appear that they are currently neither pursuing Green
nor Gold open access strategies. Of course our sample was small (16) and diverse (from the
large Oxford University Press through to the single-title Michigan Law Review). However,
concern about the university press sector has also been expressed by
suggests they are ‘Neither fish nor fowl’. He fears that they are not well-placed to follow
the ‘‘Leviathan’’ strategies of large commercial enterprises, nor the ‘‘Community’’
strategies of small learned societies. However, if more Universities start to develop their
own presses in response to discontent about the world of commercial scholarly publishing
it will be interesting to watch how this category of publishers changes over
time, perhaps with more distinctive (and liberal) approaches to OA.
Publisher country (UK & US)
The influence of national OA policy environments could be observed amongst the findings
relating to UK and US publishers. The growth in ‘green’ RoMEO colour codes amongst
US publishers over the study period may be in direct response to the US OSTP policy
(OSTP 2013) which mandates the self-archiving of accepted government-funded research.
By contrast, UK publishers offered a considerably higher proportion of paid OA options
than US publishers. Indeed, the two growth spurts in the proportion of UK publishers
offering paid OA
(in 2006 and 2013)
map directly on to the introduction of the first
Research Councils UK (RCUK) OA mandate in 2006 where they approved the use of
RCUK grants to pay APCs
and the updated post-Finch policy in 2013 which
stated a preference for Gold OA and offered separate tranches of funding to pay for this
(RCUK 2013). In fact, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the reduction in ‘blue’
and increase in ‘yellow’ colour codes amongst UK publishers over the timeframe might be
in an effort to discourage the Green self-archiving of the AAM in an effort to encourage
authors to pursue paid Gold OA instead.
Further evidence of the impact of national policy environments can be seen in the
growth of ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ restrictions. Both UK and US publishers see an
increase in ‘when’ and ‘where’ restrictions in 2006, probably as a result of the first RCUK
OA mandate, a new
Wellcome Trust (2005
) OA mandate and the first US National
Institutes for Health OA policy
which requested the submission of the author’s
final manuscript upon acceptance for publication (or within 12 months) to the NIH
National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) PubMed Central (PMC). As discussed in the earlier
paper, the growth in mentions of the PubMed Central Repository, and the increase in
12 month embargo periods during this period is notable
(Gadd and Troll Covey 2016)
Conclusions and recommendations for further study
The original research questions asked whether a publisher’s size, type or country affected
their Green OA policy as to what, when, how and where papers may be self-archived and
the likelihood that they will offer a Gold OA option. The findings clearly indicate that a
journal publisher’s demographics do have an influence on their OA policy. Large
commercial publishers are more likely to be allocated a RoMEO colour code, but at the same
time place a high volume of restrictions as to when, where and how the author’s
manuscript might be self-archived, perhaps in an effort to steer authors towards engaging with
their growing paid OA services. Small publishers may look less supportive of Green open
access according to their RoMEO colour codes, but the volume of restrictions they place
on self-archiving are minimal. University presses appear not to be engaging with either OA
agenda to any considerable degree and a study of the development of new university
presses would be interesting in this regard. Whilst the data is not conclusive, UK and US
publishers’ OA policies appear to be very much influenced by the national OA policy
environment which, considering the global nature of the scholarly journals market, was
more pronounced than might have been anticipated. Further study is required to determine
whether this result is particular to the UK/US environments, or has wider applicability.
Of course, a study that looks only at the volume of ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’
restrictions rather than looking at the content of those restrictions can only draw limited
conclusions. A further study is recommended in which publishers are viewed through a
single demographic lens (publisher type would perhaps be the most interesting) in which
the content of their policies (e.g., the length of embargo periods and allowable deposit
locations) are analysed in some detail. The other natural limitation of this study was the
small volume of publishers (100) for whom we had a full 13-years-worth of data. Taking a
random stratified sample of publishers of different types from the current year would
provide a much larger sample size from which predictive rather than indicative results
could be drawn. Having access to such data would make it possible to revisit the final
analysis in the Gadd and Troll Covey study (2016) in which the number of publishers
adhering to the RoMEO definition of ‘green’ were compared to the number of those
adhering to a revised definition of green whereby the AAM could be made available in an
Institutional Repository immediately upon acceptance. Overall, publishers meeting the
revised definition of green were in decline, however, it would be informative to understand
whether this was true of all publishers, or only those in certain demographic groups. Such
evidence might be a useful tool in guiding authors as to where the most liberal OA policies
might be found, and further support the progress of the open access agenda.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution,
and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the
source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
See Table 4.
Clinical Laboratory Science (Later American Society for Clinical
Institute of Electrical (Later Electronics), Information and
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
Institute of Mathematical Statistics
Institute of Physics later IOP Publishing
Institution of Chemical Engineers
Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) Later IET
International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
Internet Journal of Chemistry
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Johns Hopkins University Press
Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins
Mary Ann Liebert
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press
Massachusetts Medical Society
Materials Research Society
Michigan Law Review
National Academy of Science
National Research Council Canada (Now NRC Press)
Professional Engineering Publishing (Institutional of Mechanical
Society for General Microbiology (later Microbiology Society)
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society for In-Vitro Biology
Society of Dyers and Colourists
Springer Verlag (Germany)
Stanford University Law School
Taylor & Francis
Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers
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