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From the 2021 update report

Emerging Challenges: Continued Consolidation of the Publishing Industry

A steady stream of consolidations continued apace, with academic publishing vendors announcing several significant deals.

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4. Continued Consolidation of the Publishing Industry

Consolidation of the publishing landscape continues to be a concern. In a rare win for activists in 2020, the merger of McGraw Hill and Cengage was halted, both in response to challenges by advocates and because of the subsequent conditions that regulators were likely to impose. Aside from this, however, a steady stream of consolidations continued apace, with academic publishing vendors announcing several significant deals.

In December 2020, Elsevier acquired Shadow Health, a developer of virtual simulation in healthcare and nursing education. In January 2021, Wiley disclosed it had reached an agreement to acquire Hindawi, once the largest Open Access (OA)-only publisher. In March 2021, Springer Nature Group announced the acquisition of Atlantis Press, an OA publisher. And finally, in May 2021, Clarivate announced it would acquire ProQuest.

One side effect of consolidation is the increased fragility of services made available to the academic community by third parties. In just a few months, the academic community learned it would lose two highly popular and prized services: PLOS’s Article Level Metrics (ALM) platform and Microsoft’s Academic Graph. In both cases there are alternatives, but as options decline, users should not assume that the owners will provide or maintain free access to their tools going forward. These two decisions show it is vital for the academic community to take control of its own destiny, because dependency on the goodwill of others is not a viable strategy. Leading higher education courseware publishers, hobbled by a declining market and in some cases high levels of debt, have been less active. The only notable acquisition was by Pearson in February 2021, when it announced it would buy Spotlight Education, a company that uses unique, proprietary technology to turn education data into personalized video reports.

About the authors

Portrait of Claudio Aspesi

Claudio Aspesi

A respected market analyst with over a decade of experience covering the academic publishing market, and leadership roles at Sanford C. Bernstein, and McKinsey.

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition

SPARC is a coalition of academic and research libraries that work to enable the open sharing of research outputs and educational materials in order to democratize access to knowledge, accelerate discovery, and increase the return on our investment in research and education.