Annual Meeting Reports

Open-Access Business Models and Implementation Challenges

Open-access (OA) publishing has come to the fore once again because of the recent mandate set out by Research Councils UK based on the 2012 Finch report. This session addressed various models of OA publishing.

Cameron Neylon, advocacy director of the Public Library of Science, expressed how OA models should be viewed as sustainability models. For OA publishers to survive, they must serve their authors. OA is a fee-based service, so publishers need to give valuable service to justify the cost to authors.

Neylon pointed out that a distinction is often made between traditional subscription-based services and OA services as though the distinction is a simple matter of switching revenue streams. The shift to OA is more complex than a shift from one revenue stream to another. Scholarly communication services can be funded by “push” revenue streams made up of funders and authors and “pull” streams funded by subscribers and third parties, such as advertisers and reprint purchasers. Subscription-based services are funded by readers and subscribing institutions, but additional revenue comes from page charges, color charges, and reprints. OA services are funded through authors (generally by institutions and funders), but additional revenue can come from multiple sources, including reprint sales, subsidies, and advertising.

According to Neylon, managing—and managing well—the challenge that comes with billing for services is crucial. Changing and diversifying revenue are critical elements in reducing costs associated with providing OA services. The “take-home” points are these: complex billing will kill you (keep it simple!), volume matters (as margins decrease, volume is the only way to generate revenue), and selectivity also matters.

Heather Goodell, director of scientific publishing of the American Heart Association (AHA), discussed how AHA recently made the transition to OA publishing for its newest journal. AHA developed a task force and set a goal for determining how open data, open source, and OA might help it to meet its mission. AHA has aggressively launched new journals; the newest one is OA and is just over a year old. Despite lack of demand for this service from its authors, AHA knew that there was a need to experiment.

AHA had little experience in the realm of OA publishing and decided to do a feasibility study, looking at branding issues, strategic risks and benefits, competition, self-competition, and financial issues. Goodell related several concerns about whether there was enough research in the field to sustain OA and whether there was room for growth. Competition from within was also a concern, as was finding the right publisher to partner with. The association needed support from the other AHA journal editors because the vision was for the OA journal to have the broadest range of all the AHA journals. The AHA Membership Councils were tapped to assist in obtaining content, but AHA needed to name an editor-in-chief, determine a title, and secure a publisher. The process was arduous, but it resulted in a successful OA journal.

Those perspectives provoked some thoughtful discussion among the attendees. Although OA is not a new concept, it is being more aggressively marketed, and more journals are offering OA options. Serving authors by disseminating their important research is a must.

Winter 2014 Open checklist