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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Let’s assume that we have a Learned Society that fulfills the following conditions:

  1. The society wants to move to an OA model for the good of disciplinary dissemination.
  2. The society has an existing subscription base.
  3. The society can take a hit of 3% on its subscription revenue.
  4. The society can handle a 90% renewal rate alongside the 3% hit.
  5. The society is not concerned about losing individual memberships if the society’s publication is OA (societies that do not fulfill this condition have bigger problems about the value they offer).

Under these circumstances, there is a way that such a society could flip to a gold open-access model using a consortial model (and no author-facing charges) similar to the one that we operate at the Open Library of Humanities. It requires some work, but there is a logic.

The road to implementation is as follows:

  1. The society presents an offer to subscribers (most likely academic libraries): the society will go gold OA and will give subscribers a 3% discount if they continue to pay the subscription anyway.
  2. The offer is only valid if 90% of subscribers agree in advance to this.
  3. The offer is for a three-year period. After this period, the society will revert to a subscription model unless the library/subscriber base agrees to continue the OA offer.
  4. If 90% subscribers do not agree to the OA rate, the alternative is a 3% price increase and a continuation of the subscription model.

This introduces a trivial anti-n-prisoner’s dilemma logic for libraries:

  1. If the library agrees to the OA route, they see a 3% reduction in their annual costs. And they achieve OA. There is a personal and collective advantage that is known to all parties.
  2. If the library disagrees to the OA route, they see a 3% increase in their annual costs. And the journal remains subscription.
  3. The library is disincentivised from cancelling the subscription once the journal is OA as it becomes a subscription publication again if libraries cancel. That is, the model contains a threat of continued rivalry if there are cancellations.

The advantage for the society here is that they can plan, in advance, on knowing that:

  1. They have 90% of their subscribers on board.
  2. The maximum hit on revenue is 3%.
  3. The entire situation is reversible if libraries drop out, since the default mode is to revert to subscriptions.

The primary challenge of implementation is explaining the model. If you, as a society, have 3,000 subscribers, handled through agents etc., then there is a huge amount of effort involved in up-front contact and dissemination of the idea.

The model is appealing, though, since societies that want to continue their publication would see a substantial drop in revenue through a switch to an Article Processing Charge (APC) logic, if they maintain their selectivity.

Obviously, this model is a simplistic outline. If any society wishes to discuss this, please get in touch with me.