Communicating the results of scholarly research: What it really costs

Added by Sarah on 19 May 2008 16:06

The global cost of publishing, distributing and accessing journal articles is estimated at ?25bn each year, according to a new report by the RIN.

This considerable sum constitutes some 14% of the overall costs of undertaking, communicating and reading the results of the research reported in journal articles. Within these figures, ?1.9bn is accounted for by the unpaid non-cash cost of peer review, some ?2.1bn in access provision at libraries and ?16.4 billion in user time in searching and accessing. The estimated global incurred cash cost for publishing and distribution is ?4.5 billion of this total.

Activities, costs and income flows in the scholarly communications system in the UK was commissioned with the support of the Publishing Research Consortium (PRC), the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) and Research Libraries UK (RLUK ? formerly CURL).


The findings are part of a detailed economic analysis produced by Cambridge Economic Policy Associates (CEPA). The report provides for the first time an overall picture of the costs of the scholarly communications system as a whole, from the production of research outputs to the reading of those outputs, focusing on the publication, distribution, and provision of access to articles in English-language scholarly journals. It also shows the sources, nature and scale of the funding and other resources made available to meet those costs; and it models the impact of possible changes. It thus provides a base of evidence to underpin the development of policy for research funders and publishers alike.


The report also shows the scale of the UK contribution to the scholarly communications system:

  • UK researchers constitute 3.3% of the global research base, and that they produce 6.6% of the global supply of journal articles.
  • On average, 7.1% of all published articles are peer-reviewed in the UK. The UK is thus a net contributor to the global provision of peer review, a contribution estimated to be worth ?165m a year in non-cash costs, which is 8.7% of the global costs of peer review.
  • The total UK contribution to all stages of the scholarly communications process amounts to ?408m. Its contribution to meeting global costs is less than the proportion of articles it produces, but significantly greater than its proportion of all the researchers in the global research base.
  • UK libraries spend ?163m on journal subscriptions, and a further ?72m on the provision of access facilities, making a total of ?235m. Academic libraries account for ?173m (74%) of that expenditure.

In modelling the impact of four possible changes to the scholarly communications system, the study shows that:

  • A move to electronic-only publishing could bring a fall of approximately ?1bn (12%) in the global costs of publishing, distribution and access. By far the largest part of that reduction would result from a fall of ?758m in libraries? costs in providing access to journal articles.
  • A move towards author-pays open access publishing, where publishing costs are met by publication fees, rather than subscriptions for access to journals could bring global savings of ?556m, on top of the savings arising from a move to electronic-only publishing. But the costs and benefits would be distributed unequally across research institutions, depending on the volume of articles produced by their researchers; and the financial benefits to UK libraries would be more than offset by an increase in the national share of funding to meet the costs of publication. The savings here would be less if the cost of administering author-side payments are higher than modelled in the study.
  • The introduction of cash payments to meet the costs of peer review. This would imply a transfer of ?1.9bn to researchers and perhaps to the institutions that employ them. But it would also bring increases in the costs of subscriptions to journals, estimated at 43% for major discipline journals.
  • Continued increases in research funding over the next ten years and as a result of the current trends for increases in the number of journals and journal articles.  This would bring a rise of 11% by 2018 in the number of journals, and of 28% in the number of articles. As a result, we estimate that global publication and distribution costs would rise by 26% in real terms.

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