How much profit did the Philosophical Transactions make?

Throughout its history, profit has not been a relevant question for the Transactions (and many other scientific journals, especially those connected to learned institutions). In fact, the journal resulted in losses for the Royal Society for centuries, only balanced out by help of grants and a ideology based on the need for knowledge to be circulated freely.

In the twentieth century commercial publishers such as Maxwell saw a profit opportunity in academic publishing generally, and in journal publishing specifically. Learned journals published by scientific institutions are sometimes thought to have avoided this commercialisation, but our research shows that the Philosophical Transactions was very much part of this trend too. From the 1950s, conversations about profit and finances became more and more normal within the publishing committees (these also increased in numbers in this period) at the Royal Society. By 1980 profit became an outright goal, with the creation of the ‘twin goals’ of Royal Society publishing: profit and dissemination of knowledge (previously only the latter point had been a clear goal). By the 2000s publishing made the Royal Society consistent income year on year. In 2016 the surplus (the Royal Society is a charity and does thus not really deal in profit as such) from the publication department was about 6 million. This money is not ear-market and is therefore valuable for the institution, because it can use it freely (for example for grants for women, we have been informed by the Royal Society).

The last four chapters in our book traces this commercial history, so read it for more information about this specific part of the Transactions financial history!

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