Academic publishers range in size from societies publishing a single journal specific to their scholarly niche to large, multinational publishing companies with thousands of journals within their portfolio. We looked at a 2022 study that attempted to gather the top 100 journal publishers by size using a webscraping approach as the industry does not currently have a central database of publishers or even active journals.1
Taylor & Francis
Oxford University Press
Who was the largest academic publisher in 2022?
According to this study, the largest academic publisher in 2022 was Springer with 3763 active journals. Even within the top 10 publishers, the portfolio scale ranges from over 3700 to just over 450 journals. In the number 10 spot is Brill, an academic publisher in the Netherlands with journals specializing in the humanities and social sciences.2 (It is worth noting that as of October 2023, Brill has announced it has joined with De Gruyter to form De Gruyter Brill.)3
Just as portfolio size was drastically different between the biggest publisher and the publisher in the tenth spot, so was their revenue for the fiscal year of 2022. Springer reported a revenue of €1,800 million4 – in comparison, Brill reported a revenue of €48 million in the same fiscal year.5 Within the same audit, Brill did note that it had a challenging year within 2022; perhaps this was one of the main reasons behind the merger with De Gruyter in 2023?
How does the largest publisher compare to the largest journal?
It is interesting to note that not only was Springer the largest academic publisher in 2022, they also homed the largest journal of 2022: Scientific Reports. However, this is the only journal on the top 10 largest list that belongs to one of the top 10 publishers; the other journals were published by MPDI, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Public Library of Science. When you reflect on the largest journals in the past three years instead of 2022 alone, one of Elsevier’s journals, Science of the Total Environment, joins the list, but the other top 10 largest publishers are not represented here.
Of the top 10 largest academic publishers producing journals, all of them are in Europe or the United States. To find a publisher in the Global South, one must scroll down to the 31st publisher on the list: Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia. There’s only one university publisher on the top 10 list (Oxford University Press, #8); the other nine are commercial scholarly publishers. In fact, only 17 of the top 100 journals reported were university publishers.1
Is a big publisher a better publisher?
Unfortunately, some larger publishers have been targeted by bad actors (such as paper mills or peer review rings) in the past several years. As publishers adopt different strategies to deal with potential academic misconduct, authors may feel like they may need to choose between names with more brand recognition and publishers who are unlikely to be targeted by this potential fraud, though this is not the case. Improving the peer review system and educating those within it, as well as supporting publishers (big or small) who promote transparency and academic integrity, will continue to steer the academic publishing sphere in a positive direction.