The open access movement involves publishing content so that it is available for anyone with an internet connection, without access barriers. However, as readers are not charged to access and read articles (unlike in the traditional subscription model), journals need to fund their activities through alternative methods.
While article processing charges often dominate discussions around open access business models, there is a wide range of options that do not rely on these. Running a journal without article processing charges can promote equity and global representation in research: the (un)availability of funding to cover article processing charges causes severe imbalances across the world, with authors from low- and middle-income countries in particular often noting that publication budgets strongly affect their choice of publishing venue.
Where article processing charges are deemed to be necessary, journals should consider offering waivers to eligible countries, for example in alignment with the guidance offered by Research4Life. However, it should be noted that article processing charges can cause a barrier for researchers in all countries if they are in a discipline or based at an institution that has limited funding available. In these cases, geography-based waivers will therefore not address imbalances in access to funding.
In the following table, we discuss some potential strategies for funding open access journals which do not impose financial burdens on authors. Please note that examples are provided for illustrative purposes only and are not endorsed or otherwise supported by the Toolkit.
|Source of funding||Description||Examples|
|Institutional support||Universities, research institutions and learned societies can allocate funds to support the publication costs of open access journals. These funds will cover a chosen proportion of journal costs, potentially spanning from infrastructure only to all operations.||Open access journals by the Universidade Federal de Goiás |
Open access journals by Universitas Indonesia
Open access journals in the SIRIO@UniTO platform
|Consortial funding and crowdfunding||Libraries and consortia can allocate a portion of their budgets to financially support open access journals. This approach allows for grassroots funding and promotes community engagement in advancing open access initiatives.||Annual Reviews (Subscribe to Open) |
EMS Press (Subscribe to Open)
arXiv (consortia funding)
Open Library of Humanities (Library Partnership Subsidy model)
|Sponsorship and partnership||Open access journals can seek partnerships and sponsorships with organisations and companies interested in supporting scientific research. Such partnerships can involve financial contributions, in-kind services or even collaborations to promote the journal and its content but care should be taken to ensure this does not compromise editorial independence.||Small Business International Review |
Journal of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine (Вестник рентгенологии и радиологии)
|Freemium model||Under the freemium model, an open access journal or publisher may offer some services for free and others upon payment. For example, the html version of the article may be offered for free while the pdf and ePub version are only available upon payment. Similarly, online versions of the article may be available for free, while a physical copy is printed for a fee.||OpenEdition Freemium programme |
|National or philanthropic grants||Research funding organisations and foundations that prioritise open access and scientific advancement may provide financial support for journals. For example, this support may help cover operational costs or support a flip to open access.||Global justice: Theory, Practice, Rhetoric (funded by the German Research Foundation) |
Access Microbiology (funding from Wellcome to flip to open access)
Finally, we note the potential role of in-kind contributions and shared platforms. While not business models in their own right, these can help reduce the costs associated with publishing open access journals. There are a wide range of non-profit platforms offering hosting services, software development support and other technical resources at low or no cost, and in some cases grants and financial support may also be available (e.g. Project Euclid, Free Journal Network). Such contributions can alleviate the financial burden on journals and enhance their operational efficiency.
A study commissioned by cOAlition S and funded by Science Europe sought to investigate the diamond open access landscape (see Glossary). Through a survey, they found that 60% of respondents (out of over 1,600 diamond open access journals) make use of volunteers; of these, 86% reported having a high or medium reliance on volunteers. The widespread use of voluntary labour means that a part of the total costs incurred by these journals remains invisible and is difficult to gauge. However, the above-mentioned study found that the journals that rely the most on volunteers are those using fewer paid staff (under 1 FTE) and operate on lower budgets (below $/€10,000).
In addition to peer review and editorial board membership, volunteers are used across the whole publishing process with a core focus on editing, proofreading and copy-editing.
There is no sure-fire way to pick among the options described above, and even more may be available in future. Journals should critically assess the local and national landscapes, including public and philanthropic funding opportunities, as they make their first steps, to choose what option or mix of options appears most appropriate to their specific case.
The Toolkit section on the costs of running an online open access journal provides a starting point for journals to assess likely financing required, and we highlight that some reliance on voluntary labour will be necessary in many cases.
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