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What kind of revenue can an OA journal expect to make? How can revenue be generated, and what considerations are important?

The major sources of revenue available to a journal are (mainly)

  1. Article processing charges (APC)
    1. Publishing fee
    2. Review fee
  2. Institutional support
    1. Direct funding
    2. Indirect funding
      1. Knowingly
      2. Unknowingly
  3. Sales income
    1. Paper copies
    2. Supplementary information
  4. Advertising revenue

In the following we will discuss these sources in detail.

Article processing charges (APC)

Publishing fee

Review fee

Institutional support

Direct funding

Indirect funding



Sales income

While OA journals do not sell access to journal content, some sales income may be generated throug sales.

Paper copies

Some OA journals sell paper copies of articles (just like TA journals do), pricing them so that they will generate a net income. In order to exploit this possibility, you need

  1. A demand for paper copies
  2. Technical solutions for ordering, printing, distribution, and invoicing/payments that need no or little manual labour to work, otherwise your prices need to be very high to offset all direct and indirect costs. The cost of printing is a minor detail, the administrative costs are what counts.

You also need the demand for print copies over time to be so high that it justifies the costs in setting up a service for selling print copies.

Supplementary information

Some publishers sell part of their information. While research articles are published OA, other content are sold, either in the form of books, journals etc. or as an electronic service. This can take many forms, but is either based on content you own, or on your ability to create value-adding services to content, your or other's.

  • BioMed Central (see their Online Shop)sells databases that add value to content
  • BMJ (The British Medical Journal) publishes all research articles OA, but requires a subscription to let you access any other content. It also offers a paper edition.

Advertising revenue

While small and mid-sized journals in their paper versions generally are poor vehicles for advertising, they may in electronic versions generate some income through accepting advertising on their web pages.

Small or mid-size journals often have too small a readership to be able to attract advertising, and they appear to seldom (quarterly or semi-annually) to be able to attract vacancies advertisements. Larger journals, in terms of readership and frequency, will often be able to generate large amounts of income through advertising. Medical and nursing journals affiliated with medical or nursing societies have a large readership and are published frequently. They are often filled with advertising for firms and/or products, and with vacancy announcements. This may be the most important part of their revenue stream.

In paper format, advertising is tied to paper so that when you look at an old article, you will see the old advertising. Electronically, there are no ties between the article and the advertising, however old the article the advertisement will be today's. Thus, backfiles can be used to attract new advertising. Size or publishing pattern will no more be a direct impediment to advertising, it will, however, influence the income potential - the more viewers, the more income.

There are three main paths towards advertising revenue:

  1. Selling individual advertising placement to firms, charging them either per view or per click. This is a process that will take time, and you will need to acquire software to track performance of individual ads and to invoice the firm. This is only an option for large journals/publisher that can attract a large number of viewers to specific target groups.