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Press releases 2002 -

Can the scientific journals market work better?

PN 55/02     9 September 2002

The market for scientific, technical and medical journals may not be working well, says a statement published today by the OFT. The statement follows an informal consultation carried out by the OFT on the market.

Download the statement The market for scientific technical and medical journals in pdf format (156 kb)

John Vickers, Director General of Fair Trading said: 'Journals are the principal means by which scientific knowledge is disseminated. The market, which operates worldwide, has a number of features that suggest that competition may not be working effectively. However, market forces harnessing new technology may change this without the need for intervention.'

The statement notes that three main groups publish the journals: commercial publishers, university presses and learned societies. Overall the market is fragmented, but the commercial publishers have control of many of the most prestigious publications.

The main concerns noted by the OFT are:

  • price increases above inflation
  • substantial price disparity between commercial journals and non-commercial journals
  • high levels of profitability for commercial STM publishing (around 10-15 per cent above other forms of commercial journal publishing)
  • bundling of a large selection of their journals by commercial publishers possibly hindering others from entering the market.

The OFT identifies a number of possible ways that emerging market forces may in practice address the problems, without the need for regulatory intervention:

  • signs of price restraint by commercial publishers
  • increased buyer power stemming from the emergence of electronic journals and articles on the internet, which is increasingly allowing the academic community to bypass expensive commercial publishers
  • the power of academics – academics as authors have an incentive to publish in the most prestigious journals, but they also are motivated to ensure that their articles are available to a wide audience through low priced journals with liberal distribution rights.

The report concludes that if competition fails to improve the OFT may consider further action and consider, due to the global nature of the market, whether such action could be conducted internationally.


1. The OFT looked at the market following the 2001 Competition Commission report, Cm5184 Reed Elsevier plc and Harcourt General, Inc: A report on the proposed merger, published 5 July 2001, available at The CC cleared the merger of Reed Elsevier and Harcourt, but noted that the 'inquiry brought to light a number of features of the market for STM journals that are unusual and may benefit from further examination. Although they lie beyond the CC's terms of reference on the present occasion, if the Director General of Fair Trading believes that there are matters giving rise to wider concerns and are not being resolved, then he may wish to consider whether a wider review is necessary.'

2. The statement is published in accordance with section 125(4), Fair Trading Act 1973.

3. In this press release the functions of the Director General of Fair Trading (DGFT) are for simplicity described as the functions of 'the OFT'. The Enterprise Bill proposes to replace the office of the DGFT with the OFT, to which would be transferred the DGFT's functions.

4. The Market for Scientific Technical and Medical Journals – A Statement by the OFT available on the publications page under Reports/Media, or from our mailing house at  OFT, PO Box 366, Hayes UB3 1XB,  0870 60 60 321,

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