Scientific publishing: Dramatic change to come.

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Scientific publishing has been a highly profitable business. Authors often provide the product free and universities and research institutions provide a well paying customer base. "The Economist" predicts that this business paradise is going to change dramatically.
Since the early 20th century scientific journal publishers have advanced the sciences. In the 21st century they are businesses with profit levels most other sectors can only envy. Last year one of the scientific journal market leaders, Dutch publisher Elsevier, made a profit of over 35% on revenues of US$ 2.4 bn. Such a margin is possible because the scientific papers, the "raw material", are provided free by the authors; being published in premier journals is the way to enhance scientists' academic and R&D profiles thus accelerating their career prospects. As can be imagined there is no lack of manuscripts. Also many journal editors and reviewers work for the kudos rather than the money. Academic institutions form a secure and captive audience with their demand for research based journals. So nowadays the main task of the publishers is the organization and marketing of their journals. However, there are two recent developments to challenge and change this business model. Firstly, all elements forming the circle of a journal rest on the shoulders of the taxpayer. Publicly financed universities buy back what is written by their own research staff who often worked with publicly funded grants. Secondly, the open access approach of online journals is faster and cheaper. The US National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust, a major British grant provider, have required freely accessible publications from their grant takers for some years. Now they are being followed by the British Government and the European Union when from 2014 the results of research funded by them will be freely available.
The decision of the European Union especially, which between 2014 and 2020 will provide grants of about US$ 100 bn, is a tipping stone and its member states will most likely follow. The decision however affects not only commercial publishers but also many scientific associations which finance their activities by the sales of their journals. It will be a challenge to the management of many publishers to redefine their business.