Zenodo.org will be unavailable for 2 hours on September 29th from 06:00-08:00 UTC. See announcement.
There is a newer version of this record available.

Preprint Open Access

The Oligopoly's Shift to Open Access. How For-Profit Publishers Benefit from Article Processing Charges

Butler, Leigh-Ann; Matthias, Lisa; Simard, Marc-André; Mongeon, Philippe; Haustein, Stefanie

This study aims to estimate the total amount of article processing charges (APCs) paid to publish open access (OA) in journals controlled by the large commercial publishers Elsevier, Sage, Springer-Nature, Taylor & Francis and Wiley, the so-called oligopoly of academic publishing. Since the early 2010s, these five academic publishers control more than half of peer-reviewed journal articles indexed in the Web of Science (WoS), expanding their market power through acquisitions and mergers. While traditionally their business model focused on charging subscriptions to read articles, they have now shifted to OA, charging authors fees for publishing. These APCs often amount to several thousand dollars, excluding many from publishing on economic grounds. This study computes an estimate of the total amounts of APCs paid to oligopoly publishers between 2015 and 2018, using publication data from WoS, OA status from Unpaywall and annual APC prices from open datasets and historical fees retrieved via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. We estimate that globally authors paid the oligopoly of academic publishers $1.06 billion in publication fees in the 4-year period analyzed. Of the 505,903 OA articles analyzed, 60.9% were published in gold OA journals, 8.6% in diamond (gold with APC=$0) and 30.5% in hybrid journals. Revenue from gold OA amounted to $612.5 million, while $448.3 million was obtained for publishing OA in hybrid journals, for which publishers already charge subscription fees. Among the five publishers, Springer-Nature made the largest revenue from OA ($589.7 million), followed by Elsevier ($221.4 million), Wiley ($114.3 million), Taylor & Francis ($76.8 million) and Sage ($31.6 million). With Elsevier and Wiley making the majority of APC revenue from hybrid fees and others focusing on gold, different OA strategies could be observed between publishers.

Files (1.0 MB)
Name Size
1.0 MB Download
All versions This version
Views 12,5868,902
Downloads 6,2045,032
Data volume 6.4 GB5.2 GB
Unique views 10,7197,476
Unique downloads 5,4824,610


Cite as