Subscriptions to OA flip

This page is for news and research on projects involving existing subscription services partially or fully transitioning to open access and/or research related to a systematic flip from subscriptions to OA.

Carr, David. (2017). Sustaining open research resources: a funder perspective. Unlocking research. Retrieved July 31, 2017 from

Highlights: perspective of the Wellcome Trust’s David Carr on the broader question of sustainable funding for open research (includes data repositories).

Himmelstein DS, Romero AR, McLaughlin SR, Greshake Tzovaras B, Greene CS. (2017) Sci-Hub provides access to nearly all scholarly literature. PeerJ Preprints 5:e3100v1


The website Sci-Hub provides access to scholarly literature via full text PDF downloads. The site enables users to access articles that would otherwise be paywalled. Since its creation in 2011, Sci-Hub has grown rapidly in popularity. However, until now, the extent of Sci-Hub’s coverage was unclear. As of March 2017, we find that Sci-Hub’s database contains 68.9% of all 81.6 million scholarly articles, which rises to 85.2% for those published in closed access journals. Furthermore, Sci-Hub contains 77.0% of the 5.2 million articles published by inactive journals. Coverage varies by discipline, with 92.8% coverage of articles in chemistry journals compared to 76.3% for computer science. Coverage also varies by publisher, with the coverage of the largest publisher, Elsevier, at 97.3%. Our interactive browser at allows users to explore these findings in more detail. Finally, we estimate that over a six-month period in 2015–2016, Sci-Hub provided access for 99.3% of valid incoming requests. Hence, the scope of this resource suggests the subscription publishing model is becoming unsustainable. For the first time, the overwhelming majority of scholarly literature is available gratis to anyone with an Internet connection.

Comment: from my perspective the most important point is not the existence of SciHub per se, rather the fact that a grad student can replicate virtually the entire services provided by the traditional subscriptions industry with a little bit of support, but without having to charge readers anything at all. This is an industry that in a capitalist system is ripe for disruption, that is, a fundamental shift to a new technological approach at a far lower cost. The disappearance of most video rental stores with the rise of the superior service and lower cost of Netflix is a good example of disruption. It’s a far more radical change than simply updating technology within an existing system.

Schimmer, R. (2016). The transformation of scientific journal publishing: open access after the Berlin 12 conference. Information Services & Use, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 7-11, 2017. DOI: 10.3233/ISU-160808


In the last 10–15 years, Open Access has become a shared vision of many if not most of the world’s national and international research councils. Open Access as a principle is very well established in the international discourse on research policies; however, Open Access as a practice has yet to transform the traditional subscription-based publishing system, which is as vigorous and prosperous as ever, despite its inherent restrictions on access and usage and its remarkable detachment from the potentials of a 21st century web-based publishing system. OA2020 is a transformative initiative trying to bring a new approach to the transactional side of the publishing system and the ways in which its cash flow is organized. Publishing and financial data are brought together in a way to demonstrate that such a switch would indeed be feasible. OA2020 lays out the path for how this transformation could happen so that Open Access to research results would finally be a reality from the moment of their publication.

Since 2003, the Berlin Conferences have been nodes in a journey whose rationale is to achieve Open Access (OA) in journal publishing by transforming outdated commercial practices into a post-subscription business model. Until very recently, the principal focus of this initiative has been on generating awareness, creating mandates and devising various practical measures, all predicated on an effort to move the researcher towards OA. At this point, only about 15% of scholarly articles per year are available through OA. This proportion, which currently increases by about one percentage point each year, does not of itself exert any transformative pressure on the subscription system. It therefore seems to be time to change gear and address the challenge from the opposite direction, moving OA towards the researcher.

Smith, M. (2016). The cost of open access journals: the pay it forward project findings on vimeo. Presentation to Coalition for Networked Information (CNI)  Fall Meeting

Surveying the scalability of OA monographs in the humanities and social sciences – survey in progress as of January 2017, results to be presented May 2017, Dr. Christopher Barnes. Retrieved Jan. 10, 2017 from:

German academic institutions and Elsevier

Kwon, Diana (2017). Major German universities cancel Elsevier contracts. The Scientist Magazine July 17, 2017. Retrieved July 31, 2017 from

Highlights: “At the end of last month (June 30), four major academic institutions in Berlin announced that they would not renew their subscriptions with the Dutch publishing giant Elsevier once they end this December. Then on July 7, nine universities in Baden-Württemberg, another large German state, also declared their intention to cancel their contracts with the publisher at the end of 2017.”

Elsevier (2016).  Elsevier and German Hochschulrektorenkonferenz in Ongoing Conversations. Elsevier Press Releases Dec. 2, 2016. Retrieved Jan. 2016 from

English text:

Elsevier was asked by the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK) to enter into confidential conversations to develop for the first time in Germany’s history nation-wide agreements for academic literature. We accommodated this request and made suggestions for both subscription access and, separately, for open access publishing for German researchers.

Since such negotiations for 600+ institutions are complex, both sides have met regularly during the second half of this year and it was a mutual agreement to pause talks until early in the new year.

Elsevier was asked to make a nation-wide proposal covering more content and significantly more institutions than are currently covered under individual contracts, adding to the volume and complexity of the contract to be negotiated.

As the world’s third largest open access publisher, Elsevier also supports the open access ambitions of the German government and we therefore have made suggestions to HRK for a path towards open access publishing in Germany.

We note with surprise allegations Elsevier is threatening to cut access for some institutions. In fact, it was those institutions themselves that informed us of their intention not to auto-renew their expiring individual access agreements based on the assumption that a national deal would be reached by the end of 2016. It goes without saying that all institutions, even if they cancelled their contracts, will be serviced beyond 2016 should they so choose.

We look forward to continuing our conversation with HRK in 2017.

Elsevier invitation to share this text:


Moody, G. (2016). Seeking open access deal, 60 German academic institutions ditch all subscriptions with Elsevier. Techdirt Dec. 20, 2016. Retrieved Jan. 2016 from

Göttingen University (2016). No full-text access to Elsevier journals to be expected from January 2017 on 12-13-2016

This page is part of the open access economics on-the-fly webliography.

Last updated July 31, 2017

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