2.4 Hybrid Model

From the past 15 years almost all publishing of scholarly peer reviewed journals has migrated to electronic web publishing as the main dissemination channel. It is only the form that has changed from paper based journal to e-journals. The fundamental revenue model of scholarly publishing, that of charging readers and their intermediaries for access, has largely remained the same in the case of renowned commercial publishers. At the same time new stakeholders, both individual scientists and innovative publishing companies, have launched Open Access (OA) journals, which offer the full content of the journals to read to anybody with Internet access (Björk, 2011). Many society journals have also made the electronic versions of their journals free, either directly or after a delay of typically one year. For example: Journals of the Indian Academy of Sciences. The use of article processing charges (APCs) as the central mechanism for funding Open Access publishing was pioneered by the publishing company BioMedCentral in 2002. As an alternative to the OA availability of articles at the original source (“gold OA”), authors have also started to make manuscript copies of articles published in subscription journals available for free on the web (“green OA”). In this context, a majority of publishers have had to accept green OA in their copyright agreements with the authors, due to pressure from academics and in particular important research funders like the NIH and the Wellcome trust. A recent study estimated the global uptake of Open Access in 2009 to be 20.4 %, split into 8.5 %  directly in journals and 11.9 % as manuscript copies in different types of repositories (Björk et al., 2010). In an attempt to build a gradual transition path between the traditional subscription journals and Open Access ones, several major publishers have started offering so-called hybrid” journals. These are traditional closed access subscription journals, which offer individual authors the possibility to open up their articles for free access from day one, against a payment.

2.4.1 Origin

The section below describes finding of a study on proliferation of hybrid journals by Walker (2004 and 2012) and APS (2007 and 2008). The idea of allowing individual authors the opportunity to pay to make their articles in subscription journals openly available in electronic format on the web was first mentioned by Thomas Walker in 1996, building on the established culture of authors ordering paper off-prints of their articles to send to colleagues (Walker, 1996). When the Entomological Society of America started offering authors this possibility for its four journals in 2000, the initial price was in fact set to be equivalent to 75% of the price of 100 paper reprints, roughly about 100 USD. Currently the charge is 287 USD for a 9-12 page article, in addition to page charges for all articles. The possibility was eagerly taken up by authors, with the uptake increasing rapidly from 25% in 2000 to a level between 62- 67 % in 2003-2008 (Walker, 2012). The journal Limnology and Oceanography also started offering such a possibility in 2001 with a price equal to 100 reprints (126 USD), resulting by 2003 in an uptake of 66 %. The high uptake worried the publishers about the effects on subscription income and the price was increased to 350 USD for 2004 (Walker, 2004). In 2003-2004 three other publishers (American Physiological Society, Company of Biologists and Hindawi publishing Corporation) followed suit, but with much higher fees in the range 800-1,500 USD. Walker found initial uptake percentages of between 7 % and 13 % for these (Walker, 2004). The OA fee of Physiological Genomics, published by the American Physiological Society, was initially 1,500 USD. In 2006 when the journal started imposing page charges on all authors and offered a lowered additional charge of 750 USD for the Open Access, this resulted in an increased uptake of 18 %. When the publisher in 2007 started to offer a hybrid option for all its 10 journals this price level was deemed unsustainable and the price was set at 2,000 USD for research articles in all the journals (APS, 2007). In a press release about the increase in the 2009 subscription prices the publisher indirectly hinted that the uptake in 2007 would have been around 2-3% (APS, 2008). The year 2004 saw the massive launch of the Springer “Open Choice” program covering almost all of the publisher’s journals. The price level was set at 3,000 USD per article, in line with the publisher’s calculation for the average price of publishing an article, which would need to be recovered if the journals would gradually transition into full author pay mode. This was rapidly followed by the launch of similar schemes by other major publishers, however usually for a smaller share of their journals. The price level of Springer seems to have set a precedent for the APCs of the other major publishers, since prices have clustered very narrowly around 3,000 USD. Strong informal signals from some research funders that this price level would be the maximum that they would allow to be paid from their grants, in particular Wellcome Trust, may also have influenced this pricing strategy. After a period of growth when authors became familiar with the concept, and when some publishers offered price reductions for society members and subscribers, the uptake percentage seems for most publishers to have stabilized in 2007-2008. In the last couple of years growth has for most publishers come through the extension of the hybrid possibility to a larger share of their journals, rather than higher uptake levels. At the same time many publishers seem to have turned their attention to starting new full Open Access journals, following the success of start-up OA publishers such as BioMedCentral and Public Library of Science.

Last modified: Tuesday, 13 April 2021, 11:10 AM