If things were tough already for small, not-for-profit, and university press publishers, they are going to get worse during the downturn. Higher education is predicted to be badly hit by the crisis and this will have a knock-on effect on purchasing decisions, university press subsidies and overall budget availability.
[University of Michigan Press director Charles Watkinson] is absolutely correct that larger commercial publishers – the oligopoly – will be well positioned to take advantage of new economic conditions and will probably even further consolidate their market power. In controlling the majority of academic journals, these companies will be able to price journal packages in a way that makes them attractive to cash-strapped institutions, giving them a competitive advantage over the smaller publishers, not-for-profits, monograph publishers, and so on. Where open access is concerned, this will mean banging to the beat of the oligopoly’s drum, likely through increased transformative agreements, APC publishing and infrastructures that track researchers and monetise their data.
It is also worth remembering that open access is now key to the business strategies of large commercial publishers who have figured out how to monetise subscription content, open access content and data analytics.
So, Covid-19 does not ‘kill’ the for-profit business model [and] in fact might strengthen profiteering through the ability of the publishing oligopoly to weather the financial downturn and dictate the future of open access according to their conditions. While this might increase the amount of open access research available, it will be at the expense of the loss of control by the research community and the continued dominance of a handful of players. Such is the problem of a move to open access that is not emancipatory from capital, or at least antagonistic towards it.