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Reputable academic journals have independent editorial boards, but who owns the journal? Are they owned by academic societies, universities, academic publishers? Are there several different ownership models, and are some more common than others?

This question is distinct from the question of who owns copyright on the articles, since journals can publish some or all of their work with copyright retained by the author, or with a Creative Commons license, etc.

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    The answer seems to be, yes, all of the above...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 20:55
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    Not only are all of these models used, but the owner, publisher, and brand can all be different from each other. Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 21:02
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    The answer seems to be "yes all of the above," true, but I also think it's an interesting question for deeper elaboration. Is one kind of ownership more common in some countries, fields? + 1 (but fyi "disciplinary societies" to me sounds like punishment societies, not professional ones") Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 21:24

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Most journals are now owned by one of the big three for-profits (Springer, Wiley, and Elsevier).

There are other journals that are owned by non-profits like the American association for the advancement of science (AAAS owns Science) or specific scientific societies. The American Physical Society publishes all the Physical Review journals. The American Institute of Physics does Applied Physics Letters, Journal of Applied Physics, Review of Scientific Instruments, and many others.

A few are owned by large funding bodies that are pushing some desired change to publishing (like HHMI which owns eLife). Things like arXiv are generally managed by academic institutes and funded by private money (the Simons Foundation and CZI are both big funders).

The high profitability of academic journals means that the for-profits are really squeezing the society journals, but AAAS and eLife are still doing fine.

There are some differences by field, but this applies to most STEM fields.

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    "Most..." is probably too strong. Lots, anyway. But not every journal is run for a profit. Various academic societies only need to give good service and break even.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 21:37
  • Most is probably true today. A lot of former non-profits and independents have sold to the big three in the last twenty years.
    – user133933
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 21:42
  • The American Physical Society publishes all the Physical Review journals. The American Institute of Physics does Applied Physics Letters, Journal of Applied Physics, Review of Scientific Instruments, and many others. Neither APS or AIP is for profit.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 21:42
  • Note that if an academic society owns a well-performing journal, it can become a source of revenue for the society (and the funds can then be used in accordance with the society's stated purpose, which is usually non-profit, e.g., grants or lower conference fees for students). Case in point: the International Journal of Forecasting, which is owned by the International Institute of Forecasters (I used to serve on the board). Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 8:06
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    To put things into numerical perspective: the big three mentioned in this answer publish in the vicinity of 7,000 journals... Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 20:51

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