Scholarly publishers and their high profits

I recently published the below chart to document the outrageous profit margins of scholarly publishers in the sciences.

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.35.26 PM

This post is to provide the sources for the numbers in the chart.

The Woolworths number comes from their website, where they write “As a group, Woolworths Limited makes less than seven cents in the dollar before we then pay interest and tax”.

The Rio Tinto figure of 23% is based on the operating profit they report divided by the consolidated sales revenue in their 2011 financial summary.

Apple’s profit of 35% is based on these numbers, dividing their operating income for the year ending September 2012 of 55.2 billion by the revenue for the same period of 156.5 billion.

The 34% number for Springer comes from Heather Morrison’s PhD thesis, in which she writes that “Springer’s Science + Business Media (2010) reported a return on sales (operating profit) of 33.9% or € 294 million on revenue of € 866 million, an increase of 4% over the profit of the previous year.”

For Elsevier, I used the figure reported by investment analyst Claudio Aspesi.

For Wiley, I again used Heather Morrison’s analysis in her thesis, based on $99 million in profit on $245 million in revenue.

Thanks to Nick Scott-Samuel and Mike Taylor.


11 thoughts on “Scholarly publishers and their high profits

  1. The link to the PhD thesis of Heather Morrison does not work 😦

  2. Thanks, couldn’t find where it is now to her explanatory comment (if it still exists), so I replaced the link with one to her thesis excerpt.

  3. Big presses like Elsevier–whose name has been mud since I first heard it–but small scholarly presses struggle; they provide a good service and frankly I do worry about their ability to survive.

  4. […] who owns this course? Of course, one group still seems to find academia a profitable enterprise—the corporate publishers. And with the writing and editing processes taken care of, what’s left to outsource to free […]

  5. Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    Lest we forget the Great Academic Publishing Ripoff…

  6. Heather Morrison’s thesis is available via and the reference is on page 2.

  7. […] digital research repository co-ordinator, and a TEU member, says scholarly publishers make huge profits from the voluntary labour of academic staff, who write articles, edit journals and contribute to […]

  8. Apple has horded cash, dodged taxes, purchased rare earth materials from conflict areas — it has been a terrible corporate citizen and academics (at least looking around VSS in the past) have been funding this behavior.

    I’m curious, what do the scholarly publishers typically do with their profits? Are they innovating, archiving, and researching better ways to disseminate knowledge?

  9. […] for the big academic publishers? Yeah, not so much. Sheesh. Alex Holcombe on how any worries may be […]

  10. David Marjanović

    Where’s Informa (which owns Taylor & Francis)?

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