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Recent Findings Indicate Multiple Models for Flipping Scientific Journals into Various Open Access Forms Exist

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Adams House, Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, May 31, 2008 | © Courtesy of Paul Lowry.

Though converting scholarly journals into Open Access continues to involve financial uncertainty, a Harvard-funded report shows that thousands of journals have flipped into Open Access in recent years through a variety of approaches.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


In their study first published on September 19, 2016, Mikael Laakso, David Solomon and Bo-Christer Björk have conducted a multi-method inquiry based on expert interviews, empirical data and secondary sources into various strategies for the conversion of scientific journals into Open Access. Their main conclusion is that toward making a transition to Open Access no single optimal path exists, as subscription-based journals need to decide which of multiple solutions will work for their situation as sustainable Open Access platforms. Laakso, Solomon and Björk’s research has been done with the support of the Harvard Library’s Office for Scholarly Communication that has sought to explore the economic and other implications of transitioning to Open Access models for universities.

Whereas in 2011 circa 2,400 scholarly journals have been flipped into Open Access after zero-cost digital journal distribution has become technically feasible, the funding models behind these transitions to Open Access have, however, remained under-researched. For this reason, Laakso et al.’s 2016 research report, the full version of which is hosted at Harvard’s publication repository, fills an important gap in scholarly literature, as it indicates that in recent decades those journals that have switched to Open Access and have decided not to charge subscription fees have enjoyed the support of national or regional Open Access portal, such as Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO), while broadly utilizing open source software, such as Open Journal Systems (OJS).

While initially Open Access has been championed by dedicated publishers that have partnered with journals switching to Open Access, in recent years large publishers, scholarly societies and university presses have increasingly converted individual journals or their collections into Open Access or offered Open Access publication options to their authors by flipping their journals to hybrid models. At the same time, only in some cases has the adoption of hybrid models has led to transitions to Open Access on the journal level. In recent years, the resurgence of Open Access has, furthermore, been driven by the pressure from scholarly societies to flip their journals into Open Access, such as by outsourcing their journals to large publishers or relaunching existing journals in Open Access, as De Gruyter has done for 8 science, technology and medicine journals in 2015.

This also demonstrates the bargaining power of research universities and institutions that in some cases, such as SCOAP3, have spearheaded the conversion of scientific journals into Open Access. Likewise, research funding bodies and university libraries can subsidize journals that transition to Open Access, as the model of the Open Library of Humanities has demonstrated. Governmental research funders can also encourage the journals they support to make a transition to Open Access by making it mandatory, as Canada and Norway exemplify. At the same time, at the journal level, flipping to Open Access can involve financial and editorial uncertainty, especially since disagreements over the particular funding models ensuring the sustainability of Open Access journals can exist.

Whereas Open Access transition models that involve author-facing charges can include charging or foregoing submission or subscription fees in combination with Gold, Green or hybrid Open Access, journals without article processing charges will be in need of third-party subsidies, outsourced infrastructures, volunteered labor or partnership arrangements to remain in existence after opting for Open Access.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Adams House, Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, May 31, 2008 | © Courtesy of Paul Lowry.

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