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While the majority of the academic publishing market is still based on the subscription business model, open access publishing is growing. With providing a high-level overview on the demographics and distribution of scholarly publishing, the visualisations below aim to inform the broader community about the current trends in scholarly communications, open access publishing, as well as the impact that transformative agreements achieved in the last couple of years.

By providing high-level data on the share of articles, the adoption of transformative agreements and their impact on local (country-level) and global (publisher-level) output, as well as an overview of article processing charges, this collection of facts and figures aims to provide relevant information to help library consortia and individual institutions to better understand the current demographics in scholarly communications, and aid them in the assessment of their own publishing trends.

Market shares

There is significant market concentration in academic publishing, with just a handful of publishers accounting for the majority of the articles published annually. Consequently, the majority of scholarly publishing and expenditure of any given institution tends to be concentrated in journals or portfolios of a relatively small number of publishers.

The following graphs show the distribution of articles on the country and publisher level, taking into account the share of corresponding authors. While the order and specific ratio can vary significantly, we can observe that about 20 publishers tend to constitute more than 75% of a nation’s scientific output, with the majority of the articles likely to be concentrated to 3-4 publishers.
In terms of publishers, the distribution can vary based on their profile, but the above trend is also evident: the top 20 countries tend to make up more than 75% of the articles per publisher.

Change the tabs to switch the country-based or publisher-based views.

Transformative agreements

Transformative Agreements are one of the key strategies of the research performing organizations united in the global Open Access 2020 Initiative (OA2020), validated and embraced at the 14th Berlin Open Access Conference. While continuing to support new and improved forms of open access publishing, participants in OA2020 aim to transform the bulk of today’s subscription journals to OA publishing by converting resources currently spent on journal subscriptions into funds to support sustainable OA business models in accordance with community-specific publication preferences.

The ESAC Registry of Transformative Agreements now counts more than 200 such agreements, negotiated in more than 25 different countries with more than 40 publishers large and small, leading to the publication of over 100,000 articles immediately open access in 2020.

The graph below shows the exponential growth of articles covered by transformative agreements in the last few years, as well as the proliferation of the countries worldwide that adopted this model to repurposing subscription funds to support open access publishing. Note that negotiations and the registration of agreements can drag on well into the year, and the charts below are updated regularly.


The following charts provide a detailed view on the countries and publishers represented in the ESAC Registry by year, country and institution, publisher, and the number of articles covered by the agreements. Change the tabs to switch the country-based or publisher-based views.


Country shares

Transformative agreements mark a clear departure from the status quo and move scholarly journals, as well as countries and institutions forward on a realistic pathway toward a fully open access landscape, one agreement at a time. They are iterative in nature, reflecting the specific challenges, context, and leverage of each negotiating entity. Their success is evident in the growing uptake, proliferation and continuous evolution of transformative agreements, as new benchmarks are achieved.

Already a number of national and regional licensing consortia, as well as individual institutions, through their libraries, have succeeded in negotiating cost-neutral transformative agreements with publishers that enable the vast majority of their outputs to be published open access. As other research-intensive organizations and national consortia follow suit, the impact becomes immediately apparent: based on the current trends, several countries are approaching 75-80% OA ratio for their corresponding authored papers, largely because of the successful negotiations and implementation of transformative agreements, as the following chart shows:


The following graph focuses on individual countries (limited to the ones represented in the ESAC registry), and provides a detailed view on the shares of corresponding-authored papers per the top-20 publishers, as well as the coverage of fully OA journals and transformative agreements.

Publisher portfolios

Even as fully open access journals and alternative publishing venues have taken root over the past decades, subscription journals have continued to thrive, in parallel, behind paywalls. It is with this realization that national and institutional strategies have been broadened to foster multiple pathways to open access, including approaches aimed at delivering the scholarly journals now behind paywalls from the subscription system.

The early offset agreements may have succeeded in counterbalancing the costs of open access publishing in hybrid journals against subscription fees, but it is their evolution—the many varieties of transformative agreements initiated by libraries and consortia—that hold the potential to dismantle the subscription business model from within, triggering the developments required for transformation in scholarly publishing.

A number of pure open access publishers figure among the largest academic publishers, and most of the largest traditional subscription publishers have established open access brands and journals. The following chart shows their gold and hybrid open access shares, as well as the impact of transformative agreements on the publishers’ portfolios. The graph is limited to the largest publishers, but the analysis will include more in the future.


The following graph focuses on individual publishers, and provides a detailed view on the shares of fully OA journals, hybrid OA articles, as well as the estimated coverage of transformative agreements from the ESAC registry. These results are evidence of the viability and importance of transformative agreements in driving the open access transition, and how each of the individual agreements reduce the ratio of articles published behind a paywall.

Article processing charges

Although the majority of fully OA journals indexed in DOAJ operate without Article Processing Charges (APCs), the primary open access business model adopted by the publishers represented in this analysis is based on payment of APCs. Therefore, efforts to monitor, assess and exert critical market pressure on their APC price points are vital.

While the Open APC Initiative constitutes an essential tool for monitoring APCs based on reports from numerous institutions worldwide, ESAC aggregates data and relevant facts for a number of major publishers in order to illustrate their market position and better assess the development of the scholarly publishing market as it transitions to open access.

The figures below show the distribution of APCs, per publisher and business model, over time. By switching the tabs, you can change between two data sources, DeltaThink and OpenAPC. By evaluating the data, bear in mind that while DeltaThink aggregates list price APCs from publishers of hybrid and fully OA journals, OpenAPC relies on institutions to report the actual payments for publishing articles, which can cause differences between the data points.


Pricing and Impact

Another method for evaluating market function is to review competitive positioning within the APC landscape. If we compare the average impact of publishers’ journals with their average prices, we derive a loose definition of “positioning.” This demonstrates how publishers sit relative to one another by looking at their average impact per journal against average APC illustrated.

The chart below compares average impact per journal (source normalized impact per paper – SNIP) with average APCs, grouped by publisher. The size of the bubbles is proportional to the number of titles in the publisher’s pricelist which have non-zero impact and non-zero APCs.

In the case of fully OA journals, there seems to be stronger relationship between price and impact, with most publishers clustering around lower APCs and lower prices than hybrid journals. This phenomenon has also been analysed and confirmed by Schönfelder (2020), who found that “APCs paid to open-access journals were found to be strongly increasing in conjunction with higher journal citation impact, whereas this relationship was observed to be much looser for articles in hybrid journals.

This chart and information were provided with the friendly support of Delta Think



The analysis utilises the bibliographic information from the Open Access 2020 dataset (including corresponding-author data up until 2018), and builds on the insights from the previous ESAC Market Watch pages. The original dataset is largely based on Web of Science data provided by the German Competence Center for Bibliometrics for research purposes, and thus has its own limitations, which are discussed in detail in the original Data Descriptor.

While hybrid open access shares are still hard to quantify due to missing article based license information in the publishers’ metadata, Unpaywall is the most reliable source to measure these. Thus, the analysis is based on the oa2020 dataset, while the later growth and the hybrid and fully OA shares are derived from Unpaywall data.

The data on the number of articles from transformative agreements are based on the ESAC Registry.

The graphs in this analysis are only a high-level overview of a complex and rapidly changing ecosystem, and the overall number of articles can be influenced by various factors that drive the number and the composition of published articles. For example, some have observed an above-average growth of articles in 2020, mainly in the biomedical sciences, most likely because of the papers on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, while the visualisations above can provide you with a high-level overview based on freely accessible data, they have their own limitations and won’t substitute a carefully carried out analysis that takes into account your local context, special publishing preferences, as well as the your local costs. Therefore, it is important to carry out your own analysis before entering into negotiations with publishers.

For more information on starting with your own analysis, look at how to uncover the publishing profile of your institution prepared by the ESAC Data Working Group.


Last updated: 2021-02-19