Income models for Open Access: Use-Triggered Fees

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As noted above, free-rider tendencies can be more easily overcome in intermediate- and small-sized groups, where the actions of group members are subject to coordination. Identifying libraries and other organizations that have demonstrated use of a given publication makes it easier to overcome free ridership by introducing the social dynamics of a smaller group.

A use-triggered fee model supports open-access publication by imposing usage fees on a voluntary basis. Under the model, individual users, and users from less-developed countries, would have access to an online publication without charge. Additionally, occasional users at an educational institution would be able to use the service, on a limited basis, without charge. However, once use from an institution reaches a specified threshold, the publisher would request the institution to pay an access fee for the service.

As Open Access, by definition, would prevent a publisher from blocking access to institutions that cross the use threshold yet fail to pay, a mechanism is required to encourage compliance. Further, this mechanism needs to apply to institutions that operate under purchasing policies that prevent them from paying voluntary fees.

As described above, two of the principal approaches to overcoming the freerider obstacle are the provision of selective benefits and an appeal to a social network. We describe two such approaches below in the context of a use-triggered fee.

3.3.1 Selective Benefit

As one technique to increase compliance with a voluntary license, a publisher could present users from institutions that decline to pay with a pop-up message asking them to urge their institution to comply with the license terms. The absence of such a nuisance notice would represent a selective benefit to a contributing library, thus encouraging participation.

The principal shortcoming of this approach is that the nuisance message would be delivered to the end user, not to the librarian responsible for licensing online resources. As a result, it would not provide a particularly effective mechanism for encouraging compliance.

3.3.2 Social Network

A publisher could secure provisional consent from an educational institution indicating its willingness to comply with the publisher’s license in the event that the institution crosses a specified use threshold. This authorization would only obligate the institution to pay in the event that its usage triggered an invoice. Although the use threshold would be reset annually, the publisher could provide pro forma invoices that would allow institutions to pay the access fee as part of their routine acquisition process. To leverage the small group dynamic described above, the pre-approval process could be centrally coordinated and target institutions for which prior use of the resource indicates that they would cross or approach the use threshold.

A program to coordinate the pre-authorization process could be sponsored by an organization with an interest in promoting alternative income models to support Open Access, such as a library consortium. The sponsoring organization could seek participation from its membership and from other libraries identified as significant users of a publication. The program could be constructed to make it easy to monitor the participation of others in the group in order to increase the effectiveness of social incentives. For efficiency, the pre-approval program could accommodate multiple publications. If pilot programs proved successful, the solution would be scalable. (For a description of how such a program could be implemented, see Appendix F.)

3.3.3 Use-Triggered Fee Example

The use-triggered, open-access license was pioneered by the Royal Anthropological Institute for the Anthropological Index Online. (

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.