Income models for Open Access: Contextual E-commerce

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Open-access journal publishers with goods and services to sell directly—their own and/or those of other parties—may choose to launch an electronic commerce operation. Online ordering using a credit card via a secure system and server enables the customer to purchase the goods, which are then physically shipped to the customer, or which, when a digital publication is the product, can be made immediately available to the purchaser. The critical issue for this type of contextual e-commerce will be the relevance of the goods and services offered to the journal’s audience.

There need be little financial risk inherent in a properly-designed e-commerce program. Physical goods need not be inventoried; rather, they can be drop-shipped to customers as ordered, particularly for products for which the site acts as intermediary but not the actual producer. The costs of mounting an e-commerce capability are relatively low and mostly variable; that is, after generally modest fixed costs, incremental expenses will increase only in proportion to sales. While supporting e-commerce increases the complexity of a site’s operation, the technical infrastructure, including secure processing of credit card payments, can be outsourced. Many full-service vendors can perform all or part of the e-commerce solution, often at competitive rates.

The e-commerce in which a journal might engage to generate income may be substantial, such as an online bookstore, or relatively slight, such as T-shirts and coffee mugs. A number of open-access journals use Café Press to offer merchandise, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, etc., imprinted with the journal’s logo.

Whether an e-commerce program can be a viable component of a journal’s business model will depend on a number of key factors involving the range of products and services that could be offered profitably and the willingness of the organization to undertake obligations and potential liabilities as a purveyor of goods and services (some or all of which may be produced by others). It is difficult to predict the financial contribution of e-commerce as a component to a journal’s business model, and it will typically be prudent to be conservative in projecting both income and expenses.

3.6.1 Contextual E-Commerce Examples

Examples of journals using the Café Press service include:

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