Recent Findings Indicate that Country-Level Open Access Frameworks Are Likely to Increase Concentration in the Publishing Market

By sampling data in the field of chemistry, the working paper by Haucap et al. (2021) suggests that the Project DEAL agreement between German universities and institutes and large international publishers, e.g., Springer Nature, is likely to contribute to their market power.
Recent Findings Indicate that Country-Level Open Access Frameworks Are Likely to Increase Concentration in the Publishing Market

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In their working paper on the Germany-based Project DEAL and its implications for the scholarly journal publishing market, Justus Haucap, Nima Moshgbar and Wolfgang Benedikt Schmal (2021, p. 2) have come to the conclusion that agreements with market-leading publishers signed in the framework of this project can be expected to bolster the competitive advantage of the latter, while creating market barriers for smaller publishers. Yet, in their analyses, Haucap et al. (2021, pp. 20-21) do not necessarily account sufficiently for the interaction effects between market forces.

On the one hand, this paper corroborates the expectations that article-publishing researchers are likely to demonstrate responsiveness to the level or presence of author-facing fees over and above the theoretical effect of journal-level impact factors on their publisher selection, as a growing number of journals adopt Open Access models. Thus, driven by general utility considerations, such as vis-à-vis unfettered access to knowledge worldwide, transitions to Open Access risk creating market barriers for publishing-side agents unable to maintain or improve their competitive positions in terms of lower price or higher reputation levels. Overcoming price-related barriers, such as via arrangements offsetting author-facing article processing charges, can, therefore, be expected to contribute to the creation of a more level playing field for medium-to-small agents in the publishing market.

On the other hand, in recent decades closed-access, non-transparent models have already been taxing scholarly library budgets, while imposing growing capacity constraints. Moreover, closed-access agreements have also covered not only the publication but also reading costs, the optimization of which the digitization of journal contents has made increasingly possible. Thus, transitioning to Open Access can be expected to reduce the transaction costs of libraries, especially in comparison to closed-access models based on content usage rates, such as for ebooks. Likewise, by primarily accounting for author-facing fees, rather than also for reading access costs that closed-access models entail, the adoption of Open Access models may be associated with decreases in library-level spending on accessing book or journal collections, e.g., in the long term.

Given that large publishers also tend to produce a lion’s share of scientific content, especially in applied science fields, e.g., chemistry, combining subscription and Open Access arrangements is, thus, likely to assist libraries to manage the exacerbating mismatch between growing costs and limited budgets by shaping resource allocating decisions in accordance with the author-level usage levels of journal publishing services. Whereas these frameworks also put smaller publishers at a disadvantage and demand alternative or complementary subscription and Open Access arrangements, library-level and author-level budgetary constraint management strategies are likely to be dissimilar.

While university libraries as market agents weigh economies of scale and costs efficiencies as their decision-making factors vis-à-vis budget limitations, for authors these limits continue to be present in the form of time-, bureaucracy- or financing-related transaction costs. In other words, Haucap et al. (2021, pp. 21-22) likely have a valid point in suggesting that country-level transition agreements are significantly associated with changes in author-level publication preferences. Yet, stated external macro-level effects of increasing publishing market concentration and putting smaller publishers at a disadvantage also likely derive from pre-existing library-facing budget limitations that the competitiveness of the latter can only partly address.   

By Pablo Markin


Haucap, Justus and Moshgbar, Nima and Schmal, Wolfgang Benedikt (2021). The Impact of the German 'DEAL' on Competition in the Academic Publishing Market CESifo Working Paper No. 8963, Available at SSRN:

Featured Image Credits: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany, March 6, 2014 | © Courtesy of camera_obscura [busy]/Flickr.

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Go to the profile of Sven Fund
about 3 years ago

Will be interesting to see, how negotiators react to these findings. I am pretty sure there will be a need for mitigation of this effect...

Go to the profile of Pablo Markin
about 3 years ago

For Open Access, one it its key issues is that it signifies a transition from stimulating an, always growing, supply of scholarly output, with costs increasing in step and limitations on demand in the form of paywalls, to the facilitation of demand by removing access barriers, which comes at the expense of the need to re-equilibrate the supply and demand forces in the article publishing market across its multiple players.   

Go to the profile of Bernhard Mittermaier
about 3 years ago

I have made some critical remarks with respect to this study, cf. (in German), as well. The main points are:

  1. The study reports an increase from German authors (= DEAL)  by 5.29 percentage points in the journals under investigation as compared to 3.40 percentage points for authors from other countries. However, the starting points where different (Germany 29.32% share vs. 18.69% share in the control group). The actual, relative increase in both groups is the same: the respective shares grew by 18%.
  2. The study compares only DEAL publishers vs. all other publishers and detects an increase for the DEAL publishers. Yet, other publishers (APS, IEEE, Sage) have similar growth rates, whereas two Gold Open Access publishers (MDPI and Frontiers) have growth rates one order of magnitude larger.
  3. The “large vs. small publishers” game isn’t working out as expected at all: The combined share of Elsevier, Springer Nature and Wiley for German corresponding authors was 50.7% in 2017 and is at 48.6% in 2020.