Income models for Open Access: Internal Subsidies

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In addition to, or in lieu of, the revenue-generating models described above, a publisher may rely on external and/or internal subsidies—either as cash or in-kind contributions—to sustain a journal. A journal’s business plan may prudently incorporate subsidies as along as the subsidies are formally recognized, fully accounted for, and carefully managed to ensure their continuity.

2.4.1 Dues Surcharge

Subsidies may be available from within the publishing organization itself. Especially in nonprofit and membership organizations, subventions to support open-access distribution may take the form of cross-subsidies from other programs or from member dues. Many societies already allocate a portion of member dues income to support their publishing programs. A dues surcharge—or a reallocation of member dues to cover a larger proportion of total publication costs—rests on the logic that open-access distribution supports a society’s core mission.

Many learned societies began as voluntary associations to support publishing and research-related activities. In some cases, the publishing programs of these organizations were originally intended to serve individual members, with supplemental income streams in the form of institutional subscriptions coming later. For many organizations, therefore, extending member support to subsidize the entire journal may represent a return to the organization’s original publishing mission.

A dues surcharge raises membership cancellation and free-rider issues: that is, members could drop out of an organization and take advantage of a publication’s Open Access availability. The success of open-access proposals in membership organizations rests largely on the assumption that membership in the society provides other benefits—both tangible (such as conference participation) and intangible (such as a desire to belong to a discipline’s guild)—beyond the publication itself. A society with a relatively weak member benefit proposition might have to effect collateral policy changes—for example, requiring membership for conference participation or raising various participation fees for non-members—to overcome free-rider behavior.

If imposing a dues surcharge on all members is untenable, a society might solicit voluntary contributions from individual, institutional, and corporate members. This approach is described in greater detail in the sections on Sponsorships (see above) and Gifts and Fundraising (see below).

2.4.2 Dues Surcharge Examples

  • BioMed Central’s membership program allows societies to offer the right to publish without article processing fees as a member benefit. In this case, the society pays the publisher’s charge, in full or in part, out of membership dues. (http://www.biomedcentral.com/independent/societies).

2.4.3 Cross Subsidies

Some society publishers subsidize the operation of one or more open-access journals from the surplus generated by the society’s subscription-based journals. Although this approach would not support migrating all of an organization’s journals to Open Access—that would require cross-subsidies from other types of society programs—it would increase the society’s open-access content overall.

Several aggregators of peer-reviewed journal content—including BioOne in biology and Euclid in mathematics—have provisions for hosting open-access content alongside gated content. In these cases, the aggregators provide online hosting services as part of their mission and as a quid pro quo for the journal’s open-access content. Integrating relevant open-access content increases the convenience and overall value of the aggregation, thus providing a benefit to the gated journals in the collection by enhancing its appeal to subscribers. As the value added by the open-access content—for example, in attracting subscribers—may not fully offset the associated costs, the viability of this approach will sometimes rely on the mission of the organization(s) offering the aggregation.

When commenting on this page, please detail your experience with the model in question. The comment area is moderated and reserved for evidence- or experience-based discussion and requests for support in experimenting with different approaches.