Library support in the transition to open access: membership cancellations

The purpose of this post is to shed some light on a specific issue in the transition to open access that particularly affects small and low-cost publishers and to suggest one strategy to address this issue.

In the words of one Resource Requirements interviewee:

So the other set of members that we used to have about forty library members , but when we went to open access online, we lost the whole bunch of libraries. Yeah, so basically we sent everybody ,you know, a letter saying we are going to open access online, the annual membership is only $30, we hope you will continue to support us even though there are no longer print journals, and then a whole flu of cancellations came in from a whole bunch of libraries, which we had kind of thought might happen but given how cheap we are, I have to say I was really disappointed when it indeed did happen especially from whole bunch of [deleted] libraries [for which our journal is extremely relevant]. I was going, seriously $30?

Comments: for a university library, a society membership fee, when not required for journal subscriptions, may be difficult to justify from an accounting perspective. $30 is a small cost; however, for a university the administrative work of tracking such memberships and cutting a check every year likely exceeds the $30 cost. With 40 library members at a cost of $30, the total revenue for this journal from this source was $1,200. A university or university library could sponsor this amount at less than the cost of many an article processing charge. The university and library where the faculty member is located have a support program for open access journals; clearly the will, and some funding, is there.

One of the challenges is transitioning subscription dollars to support for open access, as I address in my 2013 First Monday article. Following is one suggestion for libraries, or for faculty to suggest to their libraries: why not engage your faculty who are independent or society publishers to gain support for cancellations or tough negotiations and lower prices for the big deals of large, highly profitable commercial publishers that I argue are critical to redirect funding to our own publishing activities?

Here is one scenario that may help to explain the potential. If a library current spends $1 million a year on Elsevier’s big deal (not uncommon for a large university libraries; some pay more) at the current rate of profit of 37%, your library’s contribution to Elsevier profit is $370,000 per year. If your library could convince Elsevier to “make do” with a mere 36% contribution to profit from your library, that’s still a $360,000 contribution to Elsevier profit. The $10,000 difference would be enough to fund a $1,200 a year subsidy for 8 journals like this one to make up for loss of library membership / subscription revenue.

Here is how to calculate the potential for savings for your library and support:

  • The Elsevier 37% profit rate can be found in the 2014 Reed Elsevier Annual Report.The actual numbers (in millions) are 2,048 GBP revenue, 762 GBP adjusted operating profit.
  • Adjust as necessary using a currency conversion tool such as the Bank of Canada currency conversion service (daily and 10-year available). The actual numbers are substantial and hence important to this type of argument. 762 million GBP in profit is $1.17 million USD in profit as of today.
  • Take your library’s annual payment to Reed Elsevier.
  • Multiply by .37 to calculate your library’s contribution to Elsevier profit.
  • Use one or more other multipliers to calculate the savings possible through lower Elsevier profits, e.g.:
  • .36 to illustrate a drop in your library’s contribution to Elsevier profit of 1%
  • .20 to illustrate a drop in your library’s contribution to Elsevier profit to a “mere” 20% profit level
  • and so forth.

Similar calculations can be made with other publishers. I use Elsevier as an example partially because they are the largest scholarly publisher and partially because, as a publicly traded corporate, Reed Elsevier is required to publish this information. Fully private businesses (e.g. Springer, Sage) are under no such legal obligation.


Morrison, H. (2013). Economics of scholarly communication in transition. First Monday 18:6

Reed Elsevier (2014). Annual Report, page. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2015 from

This post is part of the Resource Requirements for Small Scholar-Led Open Access Publishing


Results for SCIEDU Press:

  • 2015 APCs for journals sampled in 2014 show no change
  • average APC in 2015 ($272 USD) is the same as 2014 ($275 USD)
  • average APC from Solomon & Björk 2010: $200 USD (all sampled this price)
  • increase in average APC 2010 – 2015: 38% or $75 USD (note it is important to consider amount and not just percentage in understanding increases)
  • 12 Sciedu journals are listed in DOAJ. Of these, 11 are listed on the publisher website
  • 18 OA journals listed on the Sciedu website with APCs are not listed in DOAJ (title list follows)
  • Sciedu is one of the few publishers that does not mention any variations in APCs (e.g. discounts, extra charges, differential fees based on article type)
  • Data will be released with the main spreadsheet (in progress)
  • Thanks to Lisa Desautels for assistance with data gathering
  • Please note that our investigation is limited to article processing charges
  • This post is part of the OA article processing charges project

Sciedu APC journals not listed in DOAJ

Artificial Intelligence Research
Business and Management Research
Case Reports in Clinical Pathology
Case Reports in Internal Medicine
Case Studies in Surgery
English Linguistics Research
International Journal of Diagnostic Imaging
International Journal of English Language Teaching
International Journal of Healthcare
Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Informatics
Journal of Biomedical Graphics and Computing
Journal of Business Administration Research
Journal of Curriculum and Teaching
Journal of Epidemiological Research
Management and Organizational Studies
Studies in Asian Social Science
World Journal of English Language
World Journal of Social Science

Small scholar-led open access publishing

This post provides some background and a status update on one the Resource Requirements for small scholar-led not-for-profit open access publishing project, flowing from the second objective of  Sustaining the Knowledge Commons:

2. an examination of the resources needed by small not-for-profit scholar-led publishers (e.g. needs for editorial or technical support)

Background and rationale

Up until the end of the Second World War, virtually all scholarly journals were published by scholarly societies. In the latter half of the previous century there was a tendency for increasing commercial involvement in scholarly publishing, and within the commercial sector a tendency towards concentration. Today, a very large proportion of scholarly journals are published by a small number of highly profitable large commercial publishers, particularly in the sciences, technology and medicine (STM) areas, while other areas of scholarly publishing, particularly social sciences and humanities publishing and monograph publishing, suffer from a lack of financial support.

In recent decades, one factor in the trend towards commercial publishing and outsourcing of the technical work of publishing by scholarly societies was the difficulty and expense of creating online journals in the relatively early days of the computer and the internet, up until the end of the last century.

The not-for-profit scholar-led sector of scholarly publishing is still very large and active in scholarly publishing; even many of the journals published by commercial publishers are actually partnerships with scholarly societies, or in effect scholarly society publishers that have outsourced some of the work to commercial companies.

It should come as no surprise that at about the turn of this century – about the time of the official start of the open access movement – the underlying conditions pushing scholars to outsource the work of publishing change, thanks to the internet. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, there were free online journals, but not that many; it wasn’t easy to publish online, for many people this required equipment, software and expertise that they didn’t have. Today, this is no longer the case. Anyone with a computer and internet connection can publish a blog, using free software.

This has led to what Edgar & Willinsky, reporting on a survey of over 900 journals using the open source Open Journal Systems, describe as a renaissance of scholar-led publishing. As I discuss in my 2013 First Monday article, the figures reported by the journals in this survey suggest the potential for a fully open access scholarly publishing system that costs a small fraction of what academic libraries (the major source of support for scholarly journals) currently spend, on average, for scholarly journals on a per-article basis.

The First Monday article reflects early stage research that the SKC project is intended to pursue to the next level by more fully articulating the needs and potential costs of a scholar-led open access publishing system. The next phase of research involves two separate paths: articulating the needs of scholarly journals (through interviews, possibly focus groups and/or surveys, followed by economic modeling) and university (usually) library-based journal hosting services.

Resource Requirements is the first phase of this research and involves conducting brief interviews with people involved with scholar-led journals that either are open access, or would like to become open access if the means can be found. These interviews focus on the needs of these journals expressed in qualitative terms, such as what work is done, who does the work (e.g. volunteers or paid staff, academic, professional publishing staff, support staff etc.), the technical work of journal hosting and support.

OA APCs: beware introductory pricing

Kudos to BioMedCentral for this explanation of why there is no APC (yet) for some of their journals: “† No article processing charge is payable for this newly-launched journal, for a promotional period.” from: How much is BioMedCentral charging? (viewed Aug. 1, 2014).

This is a straightforward explanation of a very common business model (for many kinds of businesses, not just OA journals) of free or low cost introductory pricing, the purpose of which is to attract customers with a view to eventually instating different and quite possibly substantially higher pricing. This is most important to keep in mind when projecting potential future costs, as the low costs of commercial for-profit open access publishers today may be substantially less than what some intent to charge after their journals become successful.

This is not meant to suggest that this is the practice for all open access journals and publishers using the APC method, or even most, rather it is one approach to be aware of that the second-largest publisher using this method is rather helpfully telling us it is a method they consciously employ.

Fee complexity – an example

It is often assumed that article processing charges (APCs) are a single fee, a straightforward approach to providing revenue to publishers to offset the costs of publication. However APCs can be a very complex affair. Take the Frontiers fee grid as an example. They publish peer-reviewed Gold OA journals in medicine, neuroscience, health, and related fields. A researcher wishing to submit a manuscript needs to navigate the fee grid to figure out what the APCs would be.  There are two tiers of articles (specialty-level and field-level). Within Tier 1, there are four types of articles, ranging in cost from free (e.g. book reviews, commentaries); to mini-review articles ( 575 euros); to original research articles as a research topic submission (960 euros, unless the corresponding author is a Frontiers Media associate or chief editor- 770 euros); a regular submission (1,600 euros unless the corresponding author is a Frontiers Media associate or chief editor – 1,280 euros); and lastly, clinical trial articles (2000 euros). In Tier 2, ie focused reviews or commentary, there are no fees. There are additional page charges in some categories.

This complexity speaks to the challenges of developing business models in an OA knowledge economy. As OA publishers experiment with new business models, it is interesting to observe the numerous levels, options, and discounts for scientific publishing fees  that are  emerging, such as in this example. We are living in a period of healthy and robust experimentation in publishing, and we can expect to see much more variety and nuance in fee models in the journal industry in the coming years. Researchers will need to carefully compare APC options and publishing venues- and what they are getting for their money.            

About Frontiers – As described on their website:

“Frontiers was launched as a grassroots initiative in 2007 by scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, out of the collective desire to improve the publishing options and provide better tools and services to researchers in the Internet age. Since then, Frontiers has become one of the largest and fastest-growing open-access scholarly publishers: over 20,000 high-quality, peer-reviewed articles have been published in 45 community-driven journals across more than 300 specialty niches in science, medicine and technology, and more than 40,000 high-impact researchers serve on the editorial boards and over 6 million monthly page views”

Articles are published with a fast turnaround time- three months after submission, on average.

Hybrids: print plus OA okay with DOAJ, print plus online subscriptions no. Is this fair?

The Directory of Open Access Journals only lists fully open access journals. Hybrids that offer subscriptions as well as an optional OA publication fee are not welcome. However, there are a number of journals listed in DOAJ that offer print subscriptions. Is this fair? Following is language on APCs for Scientia Agricola that make it very clear that this is a hybrid journal. This pricing model suggests a way to retain individual subscriptions, a model that has some similarities and overlap with membership models.

If the first author or corresponding author subscribes to Scientia Agricola:

  • US$ 35.00 per printed page, up to 6th page
  • US$ 70.00 each additional page
  • US$ 85.00 per color page

If neither the first author nor the corresponding author subscribe to Scientia Agricola:

  • US$ 70.00 per printed page, up to 6th page
  • US$ 140.00 each additional page
  • US$ 85.00 per color page