OA business models

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When the term Business Model is used in connection with Open Access publishing, it is generally the financing of OA journals that is in focus. Here we will also focus on the financing of OA journals, but there will also be more general discussions, for those with a general interest in thinking Open Access publishing business models.

Focus will be on information relevant to small and mid-sized journals and publishers, with a Scandinavian-Baltic angle.


  • Open Access journals may not, by definition, finance their activities by setting a price on access to content. The necessary funding has to come through other sources of revenue.
  • Most journals can be defined as having one major source or kind of income, but this may be supplemented by other sources.

In the following we will try to define some of the major basic income or financing models.

Commercial models

In a commercial business model, the journal will sell some service to someone, at a price.

Article Processing Charge (APC)

This is a model where the journal sells an audience and a quality certification to the author. The author, if the article is accepted, has to find a sum of money to pay to the journal to get his article published. Authors from poorer countries may be exempt from making this payment, the authors from richer countries may pay more to finance these excemptions. See e.g. BioMed Central's waiver fund.

Typical APCs vary between USD 1000 and USD 3000. Typically, the higher the rejection rate, the higher the APC. The APC for accepted articles has to cover all costs associated with all submitted articles, not only the accepted ones.

There is some reason to believe that APC is the only major long-term sustainable business model for commercial OA publishers, as it is the only model where there is a close connection between operating costs and income. Other sources of income are more independent of the actual costs incurred, and cannot be the basic financing of a journal.

Submission charges

Instead of, or as a supplement to, APC, some journals charge submission fees. That means the author has to pay to have his manuscript reviewed, and this fee will not be refunded if the article is rejected.
Submission fees may, in addition to be a part of the journal financing, help keep down the numbers of manuscript of inferior quality submitted to the journal. Only sound manuscripts will be submitted, keeping the amount of work down.

OA options

A variaton on the APC is the OA option (by this or other names) offered by some TA journals. That is a model that makes it possible to make a single article OA in an otherwise TA journal. The theory is that over time the journal will lower its subscription price to reflect the percentage of OA articles. Very little practice has been seen when it comes to lowering of subscription prices, though some less aggressive increases in subscription prices may have been observed.

Sale of hard-copies

An OA journal may offer paper editions of the journal, either as a subscription service or as individual sales of copies. As long as the sales or subscription price covers all costs in producing and distributing the paper copies, this may generate a profit that can help finance the online version.

Partial OA

OA is about Open Access to primary scientific content. A journal that is only partially scientific content may choose to make the scientific content freely available (OA) but to restrict access to other content to subscribers. In this way subscription income may be generated or kept up.

Priced editions

A journal may choose to make all scientific content freely available (OA) in one form, but sell access to the same content in another form.

E.g. a HTML-edition with no or little mark-up may be OA, while access to the same content in a database with massive linking to references, works citing the article, authors, comments etc. may be by subscription.

Value added services

A publisher may establish (information) services based on his own and/or other's content, and sell access to such services as part of the financing of his journals.


An OA journal may, as also a TA journal may, provide space for advertisements for goods and services. See more detailed information here.

Co-operative models

Scientific publishing is, whether OA or TA, basically a co-operative endeavour, as much of the necessary resources is given away for free. Scientific publishing must be seen as a part of the "gift exchange economy" of science. Time, effort and money are spent on editing and peer-reviewing, without any expectance of being paid but with an implicit demand that such services be given for free when the editor/peer-reviewer herself submits a manuscript.

Many OA journals are wholly or partially operated along the same lines, beyond the traditional editing and reviewing parts of the process. Even the work that could have been outsourced to a publisher is being done for free by scientific or administrative employees. This may be an explicit policy of their institution, or being done without any such institutional acceptance - or it may be performed in the employees' free time.

Institutions may see it as necessary or convenient to host a number of such journals, as long as other institutions are doing the same, or in order to promote specific scientific areas that the institution feel a special responsibility towards.

External support models

External, i.e. from neither authors, readers nor publishers, financial support can be of importance to OA journals. Among sources of such support may be

  • Research councils
  • (Public) Programs to support scientific publishing
  • Private funds that (could) support scientific publishing
  • Private donations

See a list of possible Nordic external support sources.

Society models

Many journals are owned or operated by a society, or are used as a means of communications between a society and its members.

Such journals may be a major source of income for the society, or they may be a (necessary) expenditure for the society. Often, it is difficult to sharply define what is the economy of the journal and of the society.

Caroline Sutton and Peter Suber has conducted (in 2007) a survey of OA society journals that might be helpful in gaining insight into how such journals work.