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Journals Transitioning to Open Access May Have Limited Sustainability Absent Revenue Streams

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Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Generalverwaltung, Munich, Germany, July 23, 2017 | © Courtesy of Avital Pinnick.

Reliance on foundation or contingency funding does not substitute for viable revenue models that journals switching to Open Access may need to maintain quality.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


As the editors of the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics have announced the termination of their contracts to Springer, the publisher behind the journal, in June 2017, it has been a move coordinated with the journal’s editorial board, to establish a rival Open Access journal Algebraic Combinatorics. The declared impetus for this transition to Open Access has been the importance of fairly priced Open Access options for the scientific community, in accordance with which the prospective journal plans to refrain from high Article Processing Charges (APCs) and profit-driven practices of the fee-based journal publisher, especially given that academic journals rely significantly on the volunteer labor of the scientific community.

This transition to Open Access has been inspired by the successful flipping of several linguistics journals from subscription-based to Open Access models, as part of the LingOA project. A similar initiative has been launched in the field of mathematics, e.g., Mathematics in Open Access (MathOA), that seeks to facilitate the transition of mathematics-related journals to Open Access. This is illustrated by the recent developments at the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics the editorial staff of which has opted for Open Access as Springer has proved not as forthcoming as concerns the integration of Open Access into its business models as the editorial staff of the journal had expected, such as according to the principles of the Fair Open Access Alliance.

While these editors have considered Springer’s APCs of 3,000 USD excessive for articles published in Open Access, the planned Algebraic Combinatorics journal needs to rely on the support of MathOA and other Open Access initiatives, such as the Mersenne Centre. Though the operating costs of digitally produced journals are likely to be relatively low, newly launched journals may struggle to receive recognition in their target scientific community and more widely. Furthermore, maintaining quality can represent a concern, especially after external funding runs out and when a viable business model to support Open Access journal’s operations is lacking.

This is amply demonstrated by eLife, an Open Access scientific journal, that four years after its launch in 2012 has introduced APCs of 2,500 USD for papers accepted for publication starting 2017. This has occurred, since with no APCs most Open Access journals have no financial sustainability beyond grants from external bodies, such as the German Max Planck Society headquartered in Berlin and Munich and the London’s Wellcome Trust.

Though the eLife journal has secured external funding for the period of 10 years, as the volume of the articles it handles has expanded, without adding an APCs-based revenue stream the journal was likely to struggle to ensure its quality, maintain its competitiveness against established journals in its field and remain long-term sustainable.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Generalverwaltung, Munich, Germany, July 23, 2017 | © Courtesy of Avital Pinnick.

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