Flipping a journal to open access

Topic lead: Susan Murray, Rebecca Wojturska, Tom Olijhoek
Last updated: 06/07/2023
Page: https://www.oajournals-toolkit.org/running-a-journal/flipping-a-journal-to-open-access

“Flipping” a journal means changing its publishing model from one which charges readers for access to articles to an open access publishing model that uses open licences. Flipping a journal is typically complex, as it requires change management and a revision of the existing business model.

In the context of today’s global push towards open science, subscription-based journals may contemplate the question: “Should we flip to open access?” The term ‘flipping’ denotes converting one or more paywalled titles to an open access publishing model, which implies a shift in business models and the approach to licensing. Most often, flipping a journal means that all articles published in future will be accessible via the gold or diamond open access routes, using Creative Commons licences (see Glossary).

Planning for a flip

A journal’s ability to flip to open access is contingent on support from all publishing stakeholders. In the process of flipping a journal, the following questions should be considered:

  • What is the goal of transitioning the journal to open access?
  • Who owns the rights to the journal, and are they supportive of such a transition?
  • Who are the key stakeholders that must be consulted about such a transition?
  • How can the current business model be tapered off for authors and subscribers?
  • If an article processing charge model is to be adopted, what is the appropriate price point to sustain journal operations?
  • How can a print program (if one exists) be maintained after the transition?

If working with a publishing partner, should the publisher have no interest in adopting an open access model, options include undertaking the flip independently or partnering with a new organisation, such as a mission-driven university press open to working with or launching open access titles. If the journal is being managed independently, decision-making is likely to be easier.

Note that starting a new open access journal may be the only option available if working with a corporate publishing partner, as these often require journals to transfer ownership rights.

Financial considerations

Naturally, financial concerns tend to dominate discussions about switching subscription titles to open access. Scholarly societies and university presses reliant on subscription revenue may need to assess different open access funding options and potentially explore alternative income sources for a sustainable transition. In some instances, starting a new journal may be a more feasible entry point to open access, particularly if more complex funding mechanisms have to be set up and operationalised. This process may sound daunting, but it is important to acknowledge that several approaches have been devised to make the transition as smooth as possible.

From the point of view of openness and access for both submitting authors and readers, a flip to a diamond model is ideal. This can be pursued in cases where external funding is available, for example via an institution, sector organisation or funder. In other cases, journals may consider the introduction of article processing charges (gold open access model), which can be paid by individual authors, by their institutions or via grants from some research funders. This is less accessible to submitting authors in certain regions of the world, unless waivers are available as appropriate.

Another model that is currently being experimented with is called Subscribe to Open: this allows publishers to convert journals to open access one year at a time, and content published is made available via open access if subscribers continue to renew their subscription.

Finally, we note that mechanisms such as Transformative journals and Transitional agreements have been introduced to support the transition of subscription or hybrid journals towards open access. These mechanisms are however seen as a temporary tool and, in time, will receive less support from research funders.

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