Communicating the results of scholarly research: What it really costs

Added by Sarah on 22 May 2008 19:08

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

News release - 22 May 2008 

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.

The report, which was commissioned also 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).

These 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.

The report is available at…


Michael Jubb ? Director, Research Information Network

email: ? telephone: 020 7412 7285

Notes to editors:

The Research Information Network was set up in 2005 and is funded by a consortium made up of the four UK Funding Councils, the seven Research Councils and the three National Libraries.  Its fundamental role is to undertake evidence-based research into information and data issues that relate to professional researchers ? and particularly academic researchers ? and to develop policy, guidance and advocacy on that basis.

The domain across which the RIN operates covers all disciplines and subjects, from the physical and life sciences to the social sciences, the arts and humanities. The RIN?s remit covers a similarly wide range of information sources, providers and types.  It includes published books and serials; manuscripts; museum collections; grey literature; sounds and images; and datasets produced and held in a wide range of formats.

The Publishing Research Consortium is a group of associations and publishers, which supports global research into scholarly communication in order to enable evidence-based discussion. Its objective is to support work that is scientific and pro-scholarship. Overall, it aims to promote an understanding of the role of publishing and its impact on research and teaching.

The Society of College, National and University Libraries is a body representing all university libraries in the UK and Ireland, and also those of many of the UK?s colleges of higher education. Its aims are to promote the sharing and development of good practice, influence policy makers and encourage debate, and raise the profile of higher education and national libraries.

Research Libraries UK comprises 29 University, National and other research libraries. Its mission is to increase the ability of research libraries to share resources for the benefit of the local, national and international research community.

Cambridge Economic Policy Associates
is an economics and finance policy consultancy which has a particular focus on areas where government intervention either impacts on the private sector or where the private sector is involved in the delivery of public services.

© Research Information Network 2005–2009