Exploring subscriptions to support open-access monographs

“MIT Press published its first open-access book in 1995, but leaders of the university press are still trying to figure out the best way to make more scholarly books available to the public for free….

MIT Press is looking at another route: institutional subscriptions. The press started selling its ebooks directly to libraries through a platform called MIT Press Direct earlier this year. Amy Brand, director of MIT Press, plans to find out whether these libraries would be willing to consider supporting open-access publishing as part of their subscription to paywalled content. This model will be explored as part of a new research project. 

“When I joined the press, I made it a priority to come up with an open-access model that honored both the value of print and the need to disseminate scholarship as broadly as possible,” said Brand. She wants to pursue a model that doesn’t compromise the production value or marketing costs of the press’s titles. She also wants to respect the preferences of individual authors — not all of whom want to publish openly….

MIT Press announced earlier this month that it had secured a three-year $850,000 grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund founded by academics and philanthropists Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, to conduct a monograph publishing cost analysis and develop a business plan for publishing open-access monographs.

The research will assess whether libraries would be willing to subsidize open-access monograph publishing at MIT Press and develop a subscription model, said Brand. In communication with authors and libraries, the press then hopes to use a large portion of the grant to facilitate a transition to this model. Though MIT Press will be the guinea pig, Brand hopes to share insights and make recommendations so that the model can be scaled and employed at other university presses. The press has commissioned Raym Crow, a senior consultant at SPARC, to assist with the research….”

Introduction: The ARCDB in the Age of Open Access | Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology

“The articles in the ARCDB [Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology] are not yet open access, but Annual Reviews (AR) is exploring free online access options without passing on fees to authors. Recently, AR received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to make the Annual Review of Public Health open access. Open access to this journal launched in April 2017, and it was followed by a huge increase in usage. For example, there were 23,456 downloads from 56 countries in May 2016, before the content became open access. In May 2019, this had increased to 189,508 downloads from 137 countries. This success encouraged AR to explore sustainable open access publishing models for the entire series through an initiative called “Subscribe to Open,” which relies on the buy-in by libraries to continue to defray the cost of publication and thereby enable open access for all. Thus a benefit for all is accomplished by serving libraries’ and institutions’ interests in providing access to their researchers. As a nonprofit organization, AR operates on a balanced budget where revenues need to closely match expenditure. Thus, for AR to go open access, the Subscribe to Open model requires all libraries that presently purchase access to continue to subscribe to the series. It cannot tolerate free riders, as Subscribe to Open is financially viable only with full participation from all subscribing institutions (possibly with a dynamic price scale dependent on the size of the user pool). Other options have been discussed, but independence of the journal content and a guarantee of high quality of production, while avoiding charges to the authors, remain a priority….”

Subscribe to Open: A practical approach for converting subscription journals to open access – Crow – – Learned Publishing – Wiley Online Library

“Key points


OA business models must be sustainable over the long term, and article processing charge payments do not work for all; Subscribe to Open (S2O) is proposed, and being tested, as an alternative model.
The S2O model motivates subscribers to participate through economic self?interest, without reliance on institutional altruism or collective behaviour.
The S2O offer targets current subscribers, uses existing subscription systems, and recurs annually, allowing publishers to control risk and revert to conventional subscriptions if necessary.
An Annual Reviews pilot is currently testing the S2O model with five journals….”

FAQ on the Berghahn subscribe-to-open model

“As a scholar-led publisher whose mission is to advance scholarship and disseminate knowledge, we are supportive of open access aims and respectful of open access policies. However, given the lack of funding particularly in the social sciences and humanities and the inequities in how those sparse funds are allocated, we advocate for funding models that do not place the financial burden on the author, as APCs do. In addition, we maintain that librarian selection plays an important role in the curation of content for researchers and so we support approaches that preserve their role in the process in addition to those intermediaries, such as subscription agents, who reduce the related (and considerable) administrative burdens. Subscribe-to-open is a compelling model because it seeks to take what is good and working well in the current system and applies it to achieving a sustainable and more universal model of open access across publications and publishers of all sizes….”

Frequently Asked Questions about Subscribe to Open

“Subscribe to Open is a subscription that converts gated access journals to open access (OA) using existing library relationships and payments. Institutions subscribe in the normal fashion and, assuming that sufficient revenue is collected, the journal is published OA. This is a subscription model, not a voluntary donation.

The key features of this pilot of Subscribe to Open program are:

An intention to migrate key scholarly resources to OA;
Financial incentives for institutions to participate;
A sustainable long-term plan for OA journal publication; and
A process consistent with institutional procurement policies….”