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03.04.2020 | SSP News & Releases

LP Spotlight | The journal publishing services agreement: A guide for societies

Now available in the newly published Volume 33, Issue 1 of Learned Publishing. Access to Learned Publishing is a benefit of membership in SSP.  You can read the full-text online.

The journal publishing services agreement: A guide for societies

Michael T. Clarke | Learned Publishing | Volume 33, Issue 1

Key Points:

  • Scholarly publishing is unusual because of the substantial involvement of non‐profit organizations and the way in which they work with commercial publishers.

  • Publishing services agreements (PSAs) may provide predictable revenues, access to transformative agreements, and wider distribution.

  • The largest disadvantage of PSAs is publisher lock‐in, where revenues derived from publisher packages are not portable.

  • Deciding to enter a publisher services agreement should not be taken lightly and must be carefully aligned with the society’s value and strategy.

Author Michael Clarke, managing partner at Clarke & Esposito, told us a bit about how he came to focus on this topic.

What drew you to this topic?

For a lot of societies, the publishing services agreement (PSA) is the most important agreement that they enter into. Journal revenues are a substantial revenue stream for many societies – in some cases accounting for over half of a society’s revenues. Beyond the finances, journals are also a strategic asset for societies – they are often the most valued member benefit and provide an important vehicle for interacting with members, advancing the field, and fostering a community of research or practice. Choosing the right publishing partner is therefore among the most important set of decisions a society will make, and negotiating favorable terms can have an outsized impact on the society for years to come. And yet, there is very little written about PSAs. I wanted to write about these agreements as societies face a significant information asymmetry. Publishers negotiate and sign many such deals every year whereas a society may only negotiate one every 5 – 10 years. And independent societies considering a PSA, they have no experience with such agreements. The aim of this article was to provide some information that can help societies rebalance this information asymmetry.

Did anything surprise you as you were researching and writing this article?

I was surprised by how little has been written about PSAs. In conducting a literature search, I found that there were very few papers or other resources that I could cite. Most of the information in my article comes from direct experience in negotiating PSAs on behalf of society clients.

Do you anticipate any future changes in the way PSAs work, particularly related to the “cons” that you discuss in the article?

For societies that work with publishers, it remains to be seen exactly how society journals will fare in transformative agreements. At present, revenues from article processing charges (APC) are portable. Meaning, if a society moves from Publisher A to Publisher B, the revenue associated with APCs is additive to Publisher B and hence is a factor in determining the value of a financial offer. If caps become common in transformative deals, APC revenue will no longer be portable. That is because, once a publisher reaches the cap, publishing more papers is simply an extra cost for the publisher. Much as with Big Deals, the danger is that transformative agreements become a mechanism to shift value from individual journals to a package – and the package is owned by the publisher. Caps on transformative deals would therefore contribute to publisher lock-in and depress valuations for society journals.

The January issue of Learned Publishing is now available! The entire issue, including Michael’s article, is available as part of your SSP membership!

News contribution by SSP member, Stephanie Orphan. Stephanie is Director of Publisher Relations for ITHAKA.

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