“The progress of Open Access (OA) is often measured by the proportion of journals that have transitioned to OA publication models. However, a number of journals have made the opposite choice and moved from open to closed access models. In this post Lisa Matthias, Najko Jahn and Mikael Laakso report on findings from the first study of journals that have made this reverse flip and assess what this phenomenon says about the wider ecosystem of research communication….
One key issue here might be that OA journals that do not charge APCs, or have low APCs, are seen to be ‘low quality’, or even ‘predatory’, in comparison to the more prestigious (higher price) journals associated with larger publishers and societies. It is difficult to project an image of higher quality while giving away your services for free, especially within a culture that is addicted to journal brands and prestige. This factor might partially explain why at least 21 currently hybrid journals operated by a learned society flipped from an APC-free ‘diamond OA’ model to one leveraging APCs in excess of $1,500.
Although launching OA journals seems to be relatively easy, consistent and stable publication over several years is not, especially if financial support is lacking and the journal is largely dependent on the voluntary labor of scholars. Developing and strengthening support mechanisms for the sustainability and growth of existing scholar-led OA journals is essential in this regard.
Moreover, we also found that in some cases, research articles originally published as OA were put behind a paywall when the journal reverse-flipped. This was not the main focus of our study, but we do want to raise the issue of proper content licensing and emphasize its importance to increase the likelihood that materials remain in open circulation and decrease uncertainties regarding their reusability.
We suspect, the OA model is not the root cause of these problems, but rather other problematic aspects of the scholarly publishing system; for example, the prestige-driven evaluation system, and the increasing concentration of journals within a few large commercial entities. However, with initiatives such as Plan S, it is clear that for many scholarly publishers it will no longer be business as usual. As new stakeholder groups, including researchers, policymakers, NGOs, and academic and library consortia become increasingly engaged with scholarly communication, it remains critical that we have a sound, evidence-informed view of how the landscape is changing. Reverse-flip journals represent one small but critical part of this and we encourage others to pool their resources, efforts, and data to help to create a more holistic understanding of the global scholarly publishing ecosystem, and ultimately a more sustainable open scholarly infrastructure….”