The “oligopoly of academic publishers” and anime/manga studies

When I am asked to describe my own “academic interests”, anime and manga are actually not the first thing that I bring up. Rather, what I am interested in first and foremost is knowledge sharing – the theory behind drives (or prevents) people from sharing their knowledge with others, the actual tools and techniques that facilitate knowledge sharing, and the specific ways that individuals share knowledge – such as by publishing books or journal articles. And so, I am also generally aware of the major trends and issues that come up in this context, such as the development of the “open access” model of scholarly publishing, and the general controversy over the spiraling costs that publishers charge for access to journals. A related issue is the supposed extreme and excessive influence of a small number academic publishers that control an overwhelming majority of academic journals that scholars across many different fields need to have access to.

This issue has been mentioned plenty of times anecdotally, and recently, a group of scholars at the Universite de Montreal led by Vincent Lariviere (…whose work I consider to be the epitome of excellent library/information science scholarship) has explored it empirically. Their new paper, The oligopoly of academic publishers in the digital era, PLoS One, 10(6), confirms it, by finding that over the years from 1973 to 2013, the share of both journals and individual articles published by a small group of academic publishers has increased significantly.

Percentage of PapersIn 2013, the authors demonstrate, five publishers accounted for 51% of academic journals – and 54% of academic articles – published in the social sciences and humanities broadly defined, and 66% of academic articles in the social sciences (such as “sociology, economics, anthropology, political sciences and urban studies”). However, in the same year, only about 20% of papers published in the humanities were from the five “major publishers”.

These numbers, and their implication that large academic publishers do indeed exert a large measure of “control…on the scientific community” are important – but, for the purposes of this blog, and for the purposes of anime and manga studies as an academic field – they have to lead to a follow-up question.

What percentage of the academic output of anime/manga studies is concentrated in journals published by major for-profit/commercial publishers?

The methodology that Larieviere, et al. use in their study is an analysis of over 44 million records in the Thomson Reuters Web of Science database for individual articles published between 1973 and 2013 . They do acknowledge right away that Web of Science covers only a subset of the entire available universe of academic publishing, but, because the journals and articles that they do analyze are the ones that are “most cited and most visible internationally”, this is a limitation that they are willing to accept.

I do not have access to Web of Science, and so, cannot replicate either the process or the scale of their study. But, I don’t think I really need to – the total “universe” of English-language academic articles on anime/manga, from the very first one that I’m aware of (that was published in 1977) and to the most recent, consists of only a few hundred individual items. And, moreover, I am fairly confident that the individual annual bibliographies of such articles that I compile provide virtually comprehensive coverage of this universe. So, while, to generate the figures for the percentage of journals and individual journal articles published in a given year, the authors extracted results from Web of Science, I am able to draw on my annual bibliographies.

In 2014, 55 different English-language academic journals published a total of 78 articles on anime/manga. 22 journals (40%) were published by for-profit commercial publishers, broken down by publisher as follows:

Taylor & Francis: 6 journals

Intellect, Sage, Wiley: 3 each

De Gruyter, Springer: 2 each

Common Ground, Emerald, Elsevier: 1 each

The 22 journals published by commercial publishers contained a total of 24 (31%) of articles on anime/manga published in 2014.

The remaining 33 journals (60%), containing 54 articles (69%) were published by university presses, college/university departments directly, or non-profit organizations.

No. of Journals % No. of Articles %
Taylor & Francis 6 7
Intellect 3 3
Sage 3 4
Wiley 3 3
De Gruyter 2 2
Springer 2 2
Common Ground 1 1
Emerald 1 1
Elsevier 1 1
“Top 5” 15 27% 17 22%
All Commercial 22 40% 24 31%
Independent 33 60% 54 69%
Total 55 100% 78 100%

One particularly interesting thing about these results is that while all five of the publishers that Lariviere, et al. identify in as dominant in the “social sciences and humanities” field (Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Wiley, Springer, Sage) publish journals with individual papers on anime/manga, these five publishers account for only 27% of journals, and 22% of articles. This result is actually very close to what they find for the humanities in general, where these publishers account for approximately 20% of all articles. They note that “papers in arts and humanities are still largely dispersed amongst many smaller publishers” – and my data seems to support that. In addition, as you can see above, there are several other commercial publishers active in the anime/manga studies field. These include, for example, Intellect – the publisher of Animation Practice, Process and Production, the new East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, and Studies in Comics, and Emerald – a major publisher of journals on librarianship and library management.

Obviously, the original paper is a comprehensive study that provides both annual figures, and trends over a 40-year period, while all I able to present at this point is the situation in a single year. Nonetheless, even this limited result can be used to support certain conclusions and recommendations. Scholars who are studying anime/manga, or who are interested in publishing on anime/manga have to be aware – and be able to access – a wide range of journals, published by a number of different publishers. These include the “top 5”, other publishing companies, university presses, and independent non-profit organizations. And while the “oligopoly” of academic publishers is certainly present in some fields/disciplines/subject areas, it is largely not an issue for the field of anime/manga studies.

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