The worst kept secret in scholarly publishing has finally been revealed. Wiley has officially announced their new division called Wiley Partner Solutions.

Wiley has been building to this moment for many years and now has a full cadre of acquisitions to support the roll out. Covering almost the entire enterprise, here is what it looks like:

With the exception of typesetting and printing, Wiley has built an end-to-end solution for societies looking for a full suite of services. Clarke and Esposito wrote about this earlier this year in answering the question of why Wiley is acquiring publishing services companies: “The answer, we imagine, is in part to benefit from economies of scale, in part risk mitigation, and in part more flexible society customer management.”

But wait, don’t societies get all this and more through a traditional publishing agreement with a commercial publisher like Wiley?

Close up of business woman hands tearing contract document sitting on a desk at the office

Yes, many of these services would be provided in a typical publishing agreement. The agreement, however, is a profit-sharing model. In exchange for these services (more or less), the publisher will sell subscriptions, licensing, permissions, reprints, and maybe advertising and pay the society a royalty (or portion based on certain minimums) on the earnings minus expenses.

This can be a pretty good deal for the society. Societies offload the vendor management (as well as a significant number of staff) for what will likely (in this market) be about equal in overall annual returns. What’s more, these contracts will run from 3-7 years making it easier for the society to know exactly what the expenses and revenue will be during the term.

Another piece to these agreements is that the publisher may/will pay out a “guarantee.” This is the minimum royalty that a society can expect in any given year. The guarantee is a risk to the publisher. The publisher is stating that projected revenue on a contract will exceed a certain threshold and that the society will receive that minimum no matter what.

For example, if the guarantee is $1 million with a 50% royalty, the publisher must net at least $2 million to make the guarantee. If the publisher only nets $1.5 million, they will still owe the society $1 million, even though 50% of net is $750,000. If the publisher nets $3 million, the society will receive $1.5 million (the $1 million guarantee plus $500,000 royalty above guarantee).

You see where the problem is here — guarantees are a bad deal for the publisher when there is so much uncertainty in revenue generation. In this march to open access, which many believe is a slog to article processing charge (APC)-based open access (OA), the general consensus seems to be that publishers (society and otherwise) stand to make less money. The question is how much less.

Under traditional contracts, publishers often include page budget restrictions on journals to cap the expenses. In an open access model, volume is how the money is made. An open access portfolio under a traditional contract with guarantees and royalties may feel pressure to accept and publish more papers, which is not a scenario anyone wants to be in.

There are a few reasons why a society would partner with a publisher:

  • Managing vendors is resource intensive and sometimes very frustrating and expensive
  • Staff is the highest rising cost
  • Societies that aren’t huge are largely left out of consortia or transformative agreements (again, this has expensive staffing or vendor needs)
  • Uncertainty in future revenues introduced in large part to Plan S and now US Federal Agency requirements
  • Other society finances and shortfalls outside of publishing divisions
  • And many more…

Some societies have been partnered so long, that there is no going back to being self-published. Some change publishers once a decade, which is an enormous pain and time suck (think changing your phone company but 1000 times more complicated).

In a world of “well, journals will just need to get used to not making as much money,” society journals in a commercial partnership are vulnerable in renewal negotiations. They may find new financial terms that greatly reduce their revenue, or possibly a lack of interest in renewal from their current partner.

Enter Wiley Partner Solutions. This turns the publisher-partner model on its head. Instead of a full partnership, the publisher now becomes a paid supplier of services and technology to the society. Those services might include sales support and inclusion in Transformative Agreements, of which the publisher will take a cut, but the financial risk once assumed by the publisher now shifts entirely onto the society. Performance of the journals no longer matters to the publisher, as they’ll be getting paid regardless of actual revenues. Journals may get a referral fee for some services purchased by their authors (infographics, videos, plain language summaries, etc.) or rejected manuscript transferred into the Wiley pool of journals.

For services rendered, the society will pay. It may cost more. It may cost less. There are still holes, such as typesetting and tagging (which may ultimately be replaced by the above-mentioned Wiley owned conversion tools and templates).

David Crotty wrote about publisher as service provider and noted “For the publishers, you earn revenue from the expensive process of producing the material without having to cover any of the costs incurred. Then, once the paper is published, it will be CC BY-licensed, and you can still reap all the benefits as if you had published it yourself. You can plug it right into your workflow system and still sell the analytics and all the other pieces you’re selling for your own journals.”

There is nothing cynical about this analysis. Wiley has been driving and enabling OA in an aggressive manner and did so knowing that the finances don’t work out for all their deals. Not all journals will make it in an all-OA world and shrinking your customer pool comes with a need for diversifying revenue.

Atypon began making purchases prior to being bought by Wiley that hinted at an end-to-end-ish solution. There were some holes — namely a peer review system. The acquisition by Wiley enabled additional capital to build or purchase the missing parts. The J&J Editorial purchase is a strategic add, in that societies without the internal resources for managing all the parts of this model can find that support in J&J Editorial. In fact, staff at J&J have been training on use of the Inera editing tools and on loading content into the Atypon platform.

This consolidation over the years also means that other commercial publishers are contracting for Wiley services — Elsevier journals on Atypon, publishers using Madgex, Nature Publishing Group on eJournal Press. I don’t see a lot left to acquire if another commercial publisher or entity wants to build a similar suite of offerings.

Back to the original premise… the traditional publishing contract with royalties and guarantees may not work if current funder mandates push the industry to APC-funded open access, which seems to be the trend these days. Many have commented that APCs will continue to go up to preserve as much revenue as possible (particularly if highly selective journals that benefit from exclusive licensing arrangements flip to OA), but we may also lose papers overall from underfunded fields or institutions. Smaller society publishing programs have already been deemed “collateral damage” in the quest to make content free to read with zero embargo.

Offering Publisher Partner Solutions is a smart way to keep society journals in the portfolio without having to take the risk with guarantees. Whether the math works for societies remains to be seen.


Disclosures:  ASCO, at which I am the Vice President of Publishing, is a customer of Atypon and J&J Editorial. ASCO’s Career Center is hosted by Madgex. I have been an invited speaker at Atypon user meetings and at the Wiley Executive Seminars. I have not been financially compensated for those speaking roles. 

Angela Cochran

Angela Cochran

Angela Cochran is Vice President of Publishing at the American Society of Clinical Oncology. She is past president of the Society for Scholarly Publishing and of the Council of Science Editors. Views on TSK are her own.


6 Thoughts on "The Beginning of the End of Publisher-Society Partner Contracts"

Thanks Angela, a thought provoking post, as our industry and ecosystem keeps evolving – I suspect there are still a few companies and tools that may fit into the Wiley Partner Services, or other service provider offerings – think Publons and Clarivate for example.

Excellent summary. The other aspect of this is Wiley taking a more active role in managing these divisions. i.e. With the new structure the division has a direct report to senior management. In the past the reporting structure was less clear. This will also have implications in how new products and services will be rolled out (or what is picked as the roadmap going forward).

When I negotiated Journal contracts with a commercial publisher, if the journal was a member benefit, then the publisher received a given amount of dollars from the society i,e. the guarantee. If not, the contract was a simple royalty agreement of some plus or minus 15% of cash received from the subscription base and any other sales.
It seems to me that what Wiley is doing is offering greater incentive to sign with them. The problem Wiley faces is generating the number of papers needed to sustain OA publishing. Thus, the offering of the suite.
Also, it seems to me the problem with OA publishing is that it needs an ever increasing number of papers to sustain the organization – be that society/association or commercial. Also, it seems to me that the solution to this need is either raising prices or increasing the number of articles published regardless of quality!
Springer is creating an ever expanding searchable data base of subject articles that it is selling. The data base is fed by the articles published in various journals and books.
In short, what Wiley is doing is attempting to secure its future by capturing authorship which is tied to a society sponsored journal(s).
The question to me is when will ACS, IEEE or some other major society publisher say lets just give in and sign a contract with a commercial publisher because we just can’t afford to do what we are doing!

I thought this letter was very interesting –
The 2013 Memorandum was informed by work of the House Committee on Science, Space, and
Technology, including the 2009 Scholarly Publishing Roundtable hosted by then Chairman
Gordon, that for the first time brought stakeholders with conflicting positions together to produce
a consensus white paper.3 The Committee followed up on the work of the roundtable with a
requirement in Section 123 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 requiring
the establishment of an interagency public access committee to coordinate Federal public access
policies. 4
In the years following the 2013 Memorandum, Federal research agencies developed,
implemented, and updated new policies consistent with the guidance in the Memo. They
collaborated effectively with publishers and other stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition. The
twelve-month embargo effectively became a ceiling with many publishers opting for shorter
embargoes or developing new or hybrid business models to support immediate public access.
Under this policy, the subscription business model for scholarly journals continues to flourish,
supporting the very important activities of non-profit scholarly societies, including conferences,
workshops, professional development opportunities for students and early career researchers, and
other activities in support of a thriving scientific enterprise. The subscription model also ensures
that anyone can submit their research for publication free of charge and supports a peer-review
process to help ensure the quality of research publications.
The August 2022 Memorandum eliminates the 12-month embargo, requiring immediate public
access to publications resulting from federally funded research, and creates new requirements for
access to digital data. It also, for the first time, applies public access requirements to all Federal
agencies with research programs of any size, not just those with expenditures greater than $100
million. We support the goals of the Memorandum of improving access to taxpayer-funded
research and greater transparency of research data, but are concerned about the details of how
policies will be developed and implemented to maximize their intended value and avoid
unintended consequences.
On the one hand, the new guidance represents a natural progression for scholarly publishing in
this information age, not an entirely new paradigm. If implemented successfully, it will further
the goal of enabling transformative scientific discovery across disciplines. We also share the
Administration’s goal of ensuring greater access to research results, especially for small
businesses and for students and researchers at small, under-resourced institutions, including
community colleges, minority serving institutions, and rural institutions.
On the other hand, the Memorandum is short on details of how the new requirements will be
implemented, including how agencies will update their own policies and collaborate with
stakeholders to ensure smooth implementation and address new challenges with who can afford to submit their research for publication, or how to ensure the quality of research publications. We
are further concerned about the lack of detail with respect to the requirements for digital data.
And then this
Ensure that the costs of publishing are not shifted entirely to research grants,
cutting into funding intended for cutting-edge research and development?
d. Ensure continued equity in access for researchers seeking to submit their research
results for publication, particularly in journals that may shift from subscription
access to page charges?
e. Prevent the proliferation of multiple versions of peer-reviewed manuscripts, and
support the public archiving of a single version of record, independent of home
institution of the author(s)?

Some good questions. They need answers.

Thanks Angela, a very interesting read. In many of the discussions with societies we’ve had at PeerJ – which ultimately led to us launching PeerJ Hubs in September ( – the main concern we’ve heard has been that the transition to OA has resulted in unaffordable APCs for many partners’ members, resulting in inequity across their global membership. Decreasing member numbers, especially for smaller societies, means organizations we’re working with are looking for a straightforward, zero-cost, turnkey solution that provides tangible benefits/incentives to grow their society, and models that can help their entire community transition to OA.

Yes, membership societies are not very keen on charging members to publish in their journals. For the membership, they typically get access to the subscription journal content via their membership and they don’t have to pay to publish. Flipping to a different model that doesn’t offer these benefits is a tough sell.

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