Sizing the academic journals market

The term ‘market’ is often used in relation to academic journals (“what’s our market share?” and so on), but it’s not always entirely clear what that means, or how big ‘the market’ actually is.

It’s an important point: every publisher is trying to understand their current position and estimate new sales potential, and that requires a clear understanding of what we mean by ‘market’.

Obviously there isn’t going to be a single right answer, but at DataSalon we work with over 20 different publishers, so we’re able to put forward some ideas for discussion.

Defining “the market”

Let’s start by trying to define what we mean by ‘the market’ worldwide. There are two broad approaches you can take:

(1) every organization actually purchasing journal content in some form at present;

(2) every organization which might potentially purchase academic content in future.

Effectively (1) focuses on current reality, and (2) adds future potential into the mix. We’re going to take the easy route and focus on (1) – it’s more concrete and measurable.

What is a customer?

There’s a second important clarification to make regarding: (a) organizations which buy; (b) organizations with access.

Here, (b) is a wider group which might include departments and libraries which don’t buy independently, but which do still get access to journal content via a parent organization.

Let’s use (a) as our main focus – if you sell to the buyers, you’ll get the access points too (and if you can’t sell to the access points alone, they’re not potential customers in their own right).

So how big IS the market?

Having carefully refined our definition of the worldwide market for academic journals to “organizations actually buying journals content in some form at present” – how big is that market?

The answer is… not as big (or daunting) as you might think. Our information puts the actual size of that core market at less than 20,000. That’s a figure derived from real subscriber data from several large multi-disciplinary journal publishers: they all have under 20,000 active paying organizations (after de-duplication).

Clearly not every publisher is selling to exactly the same group of organizations, and there will always be a long tail of niche customers. Still, in terms of the core market common to most journal publishers, the figure of 20,000 seems to be about right.

So what?

As a publisher, that’s intriguing: your market penetration might be bigger than you thought it was, and the challenge of mapping the market and identifying potential new customers might not be as daunting as it seemed.

There are, of course, many different ways of approaching this topic, and different reasons for doing so. We’d love to hear if others out there have other definitions and/or methods of estimating the size of the academic journals market?