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Open Access: How to get into the business?

In the previous blog, we examined the concept of Open Access and its application in the academic research. Open Access (OA) business models for universities and institutions are gaining traction due to the benefits it provides for the enthusiasts, students of the research domain and those who apply research in practical contexts.

Are article processing charges the only way to OA?

The journals using article processing charges as a means to cover costs have been increasing over time. 

One of the preferred models for most of the organisations has been ‘green’ open access where the researchers make the journal article available for public use through repositories (eg: Social Science Research Network). The rights of the researcher is negotiated with the publisher to keep the research work archived in a repository for public use. This is often mandated by the policy of the institute or research organisation that grants research funding. In contrast, ‘gold’ open access means the research article is available for public from the journal’s own domain. This, though not required by the policy, has seen many takers recently.

The journals publishing research have used article processing charge (APC) to keep the research open. Through the APC model, the researcher (in practice, the funding agency or the organisation from their research budgets) spends the amount after the article is accepted by the journal, as the charges for publishing. The editing, layout and hosting charges are covered in this model which makes the researcher aware of the charges involved in publishing an article. From the publisher’s point of view this amount also covers for the dip in the revenue by foregoing subscription charges in gold open access model.

Open Access research - diagram1

Source: ROAR Growth Curve and Open Access by Numbers

Many business models of Open Access

Along with the journals that charge APC, journals that do not charge have increased in numbers and they have dominated the OA publishing industry.

A glance at various journals that offer OA demonstrate that APC accounts for only a negligible proportion. Of the journals that are listed in Directory of Open Access Journals in 2012 (about 7000 journals), only 26% charged publication fees from the authors. The source of funding for Open Access becomes a critical issue, as the traditional journal industry has been thriving on subscription charges from the readers. Since this being the major source of revenue, how can open access be a sustainable business model for those that don’t charge APC?

Methods other than charging APC are possible and many journals are able to recoup the amount that is required for publishing. One such list identifies many business models that have led to the growth of OA. But this article focuses on the following five as some of the options practiced by publishers that could see wider impact in the future. The key objective for the OA journal industry — to sustain in terms of cash inflow — seems to have become easier with the advent of Internet, the very idea that led to the growth of open access journals.

1. Funding from universities/organisations that engage in research

Institutional support has been important in conventional publishing and it will continue to hold the same position in open access publishing. In addition to providing funds by means of APC, various societies and organisations have also started hosting their own open access journals. This has resulted in the dissemination of the research among a group of people that are interested in the activities of the organisation. Also, it has helped in building a brand for the organisation.

2. Consortium or community publishing

Community publishing looks at a wider group of organisations and volunteer work for minimising costs. The resource for editing and hosting can be obtained from different organisations or from academies that specialise on specific subjects. Open source alternatives are used for hosting journals online. Sharing of costs by consortium formed by a group of organisations (eg: SCOAP3) is another viable business model for converting research into OA.

3. Funding from external sponsorship or advertising

Advertisements of research organisations and agencies are carried in the journal website as they could bring additional revenue to the journals and at the same time, potential researchers to these organisations. The widespread use of Google AdSense has improved avenues for journals to get the advertising revenue which can pay for the expenses of the journals. Despite having very little uptakes for advertising, the increasing publisher size and journal numbers have created a higher awareness about advertising revenue, according to a study.

4. Crowdfunding or E-Commerce

Crowdfunding is the business model where one finds the capital of development from the general public. Publishing has had some success through crowdsourcing and journal publishing can take up this route for expenses. For example, International Policy Digest, an open access independent news website that started with funding from Kickstarter. The e-commerce mode of functioning is to make available certain products like books, compilation of articles and merchandise (eg: Journal of Virtual Worlds Research) through online vendors to gather revenue for running the journal.

5. Subscriptions for print copies

Open Access journals have an option of adopting subscription model for printed copies of the journals. Though the content is made available over the Internet for free, the hard copies of the journals would still be in demand for the libraries around the world. Indian publishing house, MedKnow has had remarkable success in going open access in the early days of the phenomenon as seen from the subscription and viewership numbers of Journal of Postgraduate Medicine given in the figure below. Not only did the subscriptions to hard copies increase, the visibility of the journal also grew rapidly.

Open Access research - diagram2

Source: OASIS Case Study on MedKnow

Open Access Business Models are plenty but…

Proliferation of journals have shown how OA can be successful business model but distinguishing oneself from the “noise” holds the key in sustainability of a journal.

Open access business models have enabled journals to be sustainable. To convert an existing journal to open access or to begin anew has become easier with a variety of options. However, the proliferation of journals is not a benchmark of value of the research and its industry applications. The opportunities of open access and the pressures on the researchers to publish have spun many fake journals a list of which is updated and kept in public domain.

Open Access Research - diagram3

Source: Texas Digital Library

The publishing industry must be cautious, as there are now several revenue sources for open access journal. The problem is not unique to open access and it does not imply that open access publishing is always bad or of inferior quality. The penetration of technology and wider reach of articles would definitely improve the quality of research. But the choice of journals and the agency that operates journals in the open access domain should undergo rigorous scrutiny to avoid researchers being misguided.

Similarly, the community of researchers or the publishing houses that venture into open access publishing have to distinguish themselves from the numerous journals that operate in the space. They have to stay away from the publishers that have promoted fraudulent journals. With increasing transparency around the journal policy and increased reach within the academic community, newer entrepreneurship in open access publishing can maintain the required standards.


This blog is written by Deepak Johnson, Analytics Consultant at BRIDGEi2i

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of BRIDGEi2i.