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Advertising is a source of income employed by a minority of OA journals. Many of the larger, commercial OA publishers use advertising, but fewer of the smaller publishers or free-standing journals do.

Why not employ advertising?

A survey that is being conducted presently suggests a number of reasons for advertising not being exploited to a larger extent, the most important ones seem to be:

  • Ideological resistance to advertising in scientific journals
  • No or little knowledge of how internet advertising works and could be used in scientific journals

Is there any money in it?

A general impression is that advertising cannot finance an OA journal, but it can generate enough income to be helpful. Probably, the level of income will vary greatly between scientific fields. It will, necessarily, vary by number of readers.

Advertising online is different from paper-based advertising

In paper editions, advertisements are physically tied to content. This means that old content is tied to old advertisements, only fresh content can be used to generate new advertising revenue.

In an online journal, advertising surround content and has no permanent ties to it. That means that old content - your archive - can be used to generate fresh advertising revenue. A good article can draw new readers and new revenue tens of years after its publication.

While a journal with a low publication frequency - quarterly or more seldom - will not lend itself to e.g. advertising vacancies in a print edition, this is no problem in an internet journal, as long as readers come continuously.

What to think of

A number of elements must be looked at if one considers employing advertising:

  • The administrative and technical work needed in order to find and display advertising
    • Will advertising have to be solicited, negotiated and invoiced
    • Does the publishing platform easily allow advertising
  • How advertising could affect the journal's freedom
    • Can one offend a large advertiser? - or could one be suspected of not being free to do so?
    • Can one be suspected of tailoring content to the needs of the advertising income?
  • How will advertising affect the layout and look of the journal
    • Will scientists or the public read a journal that is cluttered with advertising like a modern online newspaper?
  • Could advertising content be in conflict with the editorial content or the basic views of the journal?
  • Who are my readers - can the be identified as a specific group that can be interested in some specific kinds of goods or services, so that advertising can be targeted to their needs?

Advertising possibilities

There are various ways of employing advertising in a journal. Below, a number of possibilities will be explained in broad outline. The various possibilities may be combined in order to exploit your journal's potential for generating income.

In general, there are three different ways of generating income through advertising:

  • Pay-per-view, i.e. you are paid every time an advertisement is presented to a reader
  • Pay-per-click, i.e. you are paid every time a reader clicks on an advertisment and is sent to the advertiser's web-site.
  • Commission on sales, i.e. you are paid a percentage (or a fixed amount) of actual sales or some other event (registration, bid etc.) that clicks from your site results in.

Direct soliciting of advertisements

While affiliating with an advertiser or a network of advertisers leaves the administrative and technical work to the firm you affiliate with, direct soliciting of advertisements leaves these functions with you. Direct soliciting of advertising is therefore only a solution for you if:

  • You have a large portfolio of journals and articles that attracts readers, so you can afford the administrative overhead or
  • You have a large and well-defined readership that is attractive for certain advertisers or
  • You have a long-term relationship with a smaller number of advertisers that generate a steady flow of income without much administrative work

You will need software to administer advertisements in your web site, to track and monitor views and clicks and to generate reports and billing data for your advertisers.

With direct soliciting, you

  • Have full control of which firms and products you are promoting
  • Have full control over information about how users respond to different advertisers and advertisements, enabling you to tailor advertisements to exploit the income potential fully
  • Get the full income from the advertisements, not only a percentage as with advertiser networks or Google AdSense
  • Get to decide how you want to price advertising on your website (as an affiliate you accept a given pricing structure)
  • Make it possible for your advertisers to create advertising directed at your specific readership, increasing its value for the advertisers

A journal that has a sufficiently large readership in an industry or a profession can have a potential for this kind of advertising, especially for advertising vacancies or for information about products and firms.

Examples of journals with this kind of advertising:

Affiliation with a (number of) single advertiser(s)

A number of large companies offer affiliation programs where you can earn money by generating traffic and/or sales at their web sites.

Which advertisers are relevant to you depends on the content of your journal. Is the content in some way connected to some kind of service or product? And do you believe that your potential on-line readership will be likely to purchase any such service or product? If you can answer yes to both questions, you may have a case to explore possible affiliation programs further.

An example of such an affiliation program, is Amazon's affiliate program. By linking to Amazon (in general) or to specific products sold by Amazon, you are paid a percentage of actual sales. The more products your readers buy in a month, the higher the rate of commission for that month.

Amazon advertisements may be general graphic elements, pointing to Amazon in general or categories of products, but you can also in text link to specific books, movies, music CDs etc. Most readers of scientific journals are potential Amazon customers, in some way or other, so a general Amazon advertisement may generate some income. By linking to individual items being under discussion in the journal (book reviews, literary articles, film reviews etc.) or being referenced in an article, you may actually enhance the service to the reader while at the same time generating more income for your journal.

From Amazon you get online reports detailing which items your readers have bought, so that you get a feeling of what kind of products are relevant to your audience. This makes it possible for you to tailor advertisements to your audience.

Other bookstores have similar affiliate programs, so do a number of antiquarian bookstores.

Affiliate marketing is - generally - simple to set up. In your web page design you set aside space for advertisements. Your affiliate service provide you with some small code that has to be inserted in your web page coding, then the company "fills" this space with advertisements. You can choose between different sizes and designs, with or without dynamic elements. If you want to link to specific items, this is usually done by text linking, i.e. the reader sees a clickable text where the link is. Such text links can be embedded in PDFs, dynamic graphic advertisements will only work on web pages.

Affiliation with a network of advertisers

If no single company seems to be the company to affiliate with, you could look for a company that provides affiliation with a large number of providers of goods and services. Some companies only offer affiliation through one or more such affiliaton networks.

There are a number of advantages with affiliation with such a network:

  • You can apply for affiliation with a large number of individual companies through this network
  • You get consolidated reporting and payment for all individual companies through this network
    • A number of small incomes can add up to an interesting total
  • You can experiment, removing and adding advertisements for individual companies/products over time, seeing what works for you without having to set up new accounts with new advertisers all the time

As with single advertiser affiliation, you get to choose between different advertisement sizes and layouts, and get a small piece of code that has to be put into your web pages.

Google AdSense

If you partner with Google AdSense, Google places ads on your web pages, just as if you affiliate with other advertisers. You get a piece of code that has to be inserted in your web pages, enabling Google to display advertisements.

There are a number of differences between Google AdSense and other advertising programs:

  • Google is not the advertiser, but brings you advertisements from other firms - you have no (little) control over which firms and products you market.
  • Google analyses the content of your web page, how the reader came to your site, where your reader is situated and which language your reader prefers, in order to decide which advertisements to show. Different readers will be presented with different advertisements.
  • You get very little information on how your income was generated - users, advertisements, what your are paid for (views, clicks or sales) - and must rely totally on Google's calculations.
  • Google AdSense actually seems to work and generate income without you having to do much thinking.

The major problem with Google AdSense seen from a journal's/publisher's view is that you don't know which advertisements will be displayed. They may be offensive to your readership or in conflict with ideas or ideals that your journal wants to promote, or they may be totally irrelevant to your audiences, despite Google's advanced technologies. Google offers a preview tool, that makes it possible for you to get some impression of what kind of advertisement a given web page might display.

Google also offers some means of protecting you from advertisers you do not want to have on your site.


How should it be done?

There are bad ways of employing advertising in a journal, and there are better ways.

The number one rule is discretion. Not so discrete that you conceal the fact that what your readers see is advertising, that should be made perfectly clear. But so discrete that advertising doesn't conceal or make it difficult to find the content that it is your primary goal to find readers to.

Only a small part of any web page should be dedicated to advertising, the major part should be editorial or scientific content. Some journals are so filled with advertisements that one suspects the content is more an excuse for attracting viewers, than a serious attempt to disseminate scientific knowledge.

Large advertisements should be avoided - fill the same space with more advertisements, instead.

Be sceptical to any advertisements that flashes or moves - it is distracting, and could cost extra bandwith for your readers. For your purpose, text could be better than graphics.

PDFs do not lend themselves well to advertising, to fully exploit advertising you need to offer as much content as possible in html-format.

Nordic status


In a 2008 survey, 2 of 12 Norwegian OA journals reported advertising as a major source of income. These were both society journals (medical and dental) with a large circulation of a paper edition.