The Product Lifecycle Dynamics of Mega-Journal Performance Indicators in the Context of Supply and Demand Forces

A recent blog post by Christos Petrous has presented the performance dynamics of several mega-journals in terms of product lifecycles and the interplay of supply and demand. However, a closer look at the empirical data this post presents reveals a more complicated picture.
The Product Lifecycle Dynamics of Mega-Journal Performance Indicators in the Context of Supply and Demand Forces

On the first glance, for three out of five journals analyzed, which are PLOS ONE, Scientific Reports and IEEE Access, as the sample also includes Nature Communications and eLife, their output dynamics, upon launch, have followed the four-stage course of moderately growing build-up, rapid growth, turbulent indicators and slow, continuous decline. On the face of it, journal-level revenue performance and article output are closely interrelated. However, this interrelationship can be expected to be mediated positively by journal impact factor (JIF) and negatively by article processing charges (APCs). As Petrou suggests, post journal launch, these factors, through their interplay, produce the first two stages of the product lifecycle, not least due to the expected growth in JIF and likely lower than market-average APCs. However, these factors also apparently produce the second two phases of this cycle.

On the one hand, macro-level market conditions could be independently reducing the demand for the services of these journals. As importantly, the stage in the product lifecycle can also be significantly impacting the revenue performance of scientific journals. Yet, as the post by Petrou also indirectly indicates, scholarly mega-journals are not necessarily substitutable goods, due to their dissimilar presence in various scholarly domains and the stronger revenue performance of the sampled journals with higher levels of papers published in physical and chemical sciences, engineering, medical and health sciences and psychological and cognitive sciences.

At the same time, in terms of the preconditions for the yearly article output, the year in which they were launched apparently represents a precedent factor of minor importance only, as far as the movements of this indicator are concerned. In other words, precisely why factors that lead to the first two stages of the product lifecycle also lead to its turbulence and decline stages demands additional explanation, especially since journal revenues appear to be driving very strongly journal output performance, which could be due to marketing campaigns, editorial quality and additional services that stand for high-revenue journals in helpful stead.

The complexity of this is further amplified by very close interrelations between JIF performance and the length of time these journals are on the market, the level of the APCs journals eventually charge and, to a lesser extent, the revenue levels that journals demonstrate. Additionally, the JIF levels appear to be highly important for the fields of physical and chemical sciences, moderately important for biological sciences engineering, and medical and health sciences and marginally important for psychological and cognitive sciences.

Likewise, given that the JIF levels seem to have an overwhelming influence on the amount of APCs journals charge and that bidirectional interrelations between the latter and revenue levels apparently exist too, it cannot be ruled out that these interrelations are ultimately underlying not only the positive link between the length of time the journal is present on the market and its APC levels but also the product cycle dynamics, also given that Open Access has stronger acceptance in some scholarly fields, such as  physical and chemical sciences, than in others, and likely stronger negative impact of high APCs on demand for some fields but not in other domains.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Alien communications, Germany, January 16, 2011 | © Courtesy of Samuel John/Flickr.

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