The Gold OA Landscape and Outsell’s Open Access 2015

I thought it might be interesting to look at Outsell’s Open Access 2015: Market Size, Share, Forecast and Trends (which the CCC seems to have made openly available, or at least it was for a while—if it’s back to $2,500, my apologies)in light of The Gold OA Landscape 2011-2014. Is there anything useful or mildly controversial to say?

Definitional Differences

Outsell estimates OA as “about 1.1% of the total 2014 STM market and 4.3% of the STM journals market”—but remember that this is a dollar share, not magnitude. Also, it’s STM, while a sizable chunk of the OA universe as I measured it is humanities and social sciences.

The methodology is entirely different, of course: Outsell develops estimates where I tried to do a universal count. Outsell also has industry contacts, which I entirely lack.

A third key definitional difference, especially given Outsell’s finding: I explicitly exclude “hybrid” publishing—not only because I think it’s a trap but because it’s essentially impossible to count.

Also, Outsell seems to define “megajournals” based on crossing subject boundaries, which strikes me as odd; I’d define them as journals with very large numbers of articles. There are hundreds of interdisciplinary journals; there are only a few very large OA journals.

Questionable Statements

Outsell says (p. 5) “Hybrid currently prevails as the Gold model.” If “prevails” means there are more hybrid journals than there are Gold OA journals (by my definition and that of DOAJ, a hybrid journal cannot be gold OA; otherwise it wouldn’t be hybrid), then that may be true, as so many big publishers will happily take big bucks to make an article OA (sort of) in any of their journals. If “prevails” means that there are more OA articles published in hybrid journals than in Gold OA journals, that would be astonishing: it would mean there were close to a million OA articles published in 2014 (not including green OA). I find that hard to believe, and I don’t know how Outsell could determine this number, so I’ll have to assume “prevails” has to do with number of journals.

On pages 5-6, Outsell offers a proliferation of terms and models including “Platinum” OA, “Gold for Gold” and more. As you read this section, it’s ever more clear that the point of Outsell’s report is to inform publishers how they can best maintain and increase revenues—so, for example, institutionally-sponsored OA is not included in the list of Gold models because “it does not produce revenues.” If it doesn’t generate $Gold, it isn’t worth discussing.

Market Size and Forecast

Outsell estimates the 2014 total STM market at a breathtaking $26.2 billion but the serials market at “only” $6.8 billion. Given other estimates of $10 billion, I can only wonder whether this means that the non-STM journals market is $3.2 billion (which seems unlikely) or whether something else is going on.

Outsell’s numbers for APCs are $290.4 million in 2014, $252.3 million in 2013, and $171.9 million in 2012. But those numbers include articles in “hybrid” journals, which Outsell says are the more prevalent model.

My own figures—not allowing for discounts and waivers, but also not including hybrid publications—are $305.4 million in 2014, $241.9 million in 2013, and $195.5 million in 2012. Those numbers do include the humanities and social sciences, but HSS only accounts for $9.5 million in 2014, $7.7 million in2013 and $6.6 million in 2012.

What’s interesting (to me) is that, if you subtract HSS from my figures, they’re not wildly different from Outsell’s numbers (Outsell’s numbers are about 2% lower in 2014, 8% higher in 2013, and 9% lower in 2013). I could conclude that hybrid APCs don’t really amount to much, or that Outsell defines STM more narrowly than my STEM+Biomed, or…


Outsell says that there are approximately 20 megajournals—but also that they published fewer articles in 2014 than in 2013. Looking at the graph, it appears that Outsell is saying that all megajournals put together published about 40,000 articles in 2014, as compared to 43,000 or so in 2013 and 25,000 or so (?) in 2012.

But it’s hard to tell what Outsell considers to be a megajournal. Let’s look at some subsets within the DOAJ landscape (among the 9,512 I report on fully):

  • Journals with at least 1,000 articles in some year 2011-2014: There are 40 of these. I count the article totals as 38,830 in 2011; 56,827 in 2012; 70,986 in 2013; and 88,315 in 2014. That’s a much smaller percentage increase from 2012 to 2013 than Outsell’s graph seems to show—but my figures show between 24% and 25% increase in articles from 2012 to 2013 and again from 2013 to 2014. So: I’m showing a healthy increase from 2013 to 2014, not a decrease.
  • Cut that down to journals with at least 1,500 articles in one of those years (14 of them), and you still get a healthy increase each year: 27,052 in 2011; 39,683 in 2012; 49,131 in 2013; and 61,844 in 2014.
  • Trim it to the eight journals with at least 2,000 articles in one year, and there’s still an increase in each year:23,461 in 2011; 35,145 in 2012; 43,667 in 2013; and 51,646 in 2014.
  • Include only “other sciences” (my term for interdisciplinary STM journals) and PLOS One, and use 1,000 as the cutoff, and I get 17,167 articles in 2011; 28,168 in 2012; 38,604 in 2013; and 43,443 in 2014.
  • If I include PLOS One and all “Other Sciences” journals (171 journals in all), I get 23,041 articles in 2011; 35,502 in 2012; 47,607 in 2013; and 54,210 in 2014.

I have no doubt that Outsell is able to define some set of “megajournals” that declined in article count from 2013 to 2014. Since PLOS One alone increased (very slightly, from 31,509 to 31,882), that presumably means that all the other megajournals combined went from around 11,500 articles in 2013 to around 8,000 in 2014. That’s a surprisingly large drop (although one very big and very badly run “megajournal” could account for all of it). Certainly possible—again, depending on how you define megajournals.

Competitive Landscape

Table 4 in the Outsell report is interesting if only because of the numbers: the 14 publishers listed publish a total of 11,740 journals in 2014 (which would appear to be about half of the total) but only 1,505 Gold OA journals (and that includes Hindawi’s 438 and the whole set of BioMed Central journals), fewer than one-sixth of the Gold OA total. (Take away Hindawi, which only publishes Gold OA journals, and you’re down to less than one-eighth of the gold OA total). But note that those 14 publishers claim to have 8,404 hybrid journals.

Ah, but Outsell’s only looking at STM. That does make a difference, because there are so many HSS gold OA journals (more than 4,000 in my study): If you remove those from my count, I’m left with just under5,500 journals. The 14 biggies still account for less than one-third of the STM Gold OA total (around one-fifth without Hindawi), but that’s an improvement.


I question the supposed decline in megajournal publishing activity, but that’s a matter of definition.

I don’t particularly question the estimated APC totals—unless Outsell is seriously claiming that hybrid publications account for most APCs, in which case I’d question them a lot: I’d believe that waivers and discounts might reduce my numbers by, say, 15%-20%, but that would still leave a huge gap.

Since Outsell doesn’t estimate overall article counts at all, my primary focus, I have no comments.

In general, given differences in definition, the only fault I might find with Outsell (I can’t fault them for a laser focus on $$$) is the decline in megajournal publishing from 2013 to 2014–and, again, I’m sure they managed to define a group of journals that comes out that way.

2 Responses to “The Gold OA Landscape and Outsell’s Open Access 2015”

  1. Thomas Munro says:

    The CCC link you give currently gives a press release rather than the report itself. Was that where you found the report? It’s a shame if they’ve taken it down.

  2. Walt Crawford says:

    Yes, that was where I found the report–and while it is a shame, it’s not a great surprise: Outsell charges high prices for their reports. Too bad; I don’t have an alternative source.