Journal revenue options

Running a journal is not costless. That said, there are models for sustaining journal operations that do not place undue burdens on the scholarly communication system. Since the open access movement launched in earnest at the turn of the millenium, editors and publishers have developed a number of promising business frameworks, including the following:

Subscription models

  • Co-publishing agreements. Publishers cover some or all expenses associated with the journal. In return, the publisher keeps a percentage of the revenue it collects (typically in the 50% range). Licensing partnerships are typically multiyear arrangements, and the journal owners are frequently paid an advance against the first year’s royalty.
  • Publishing Services. A journal contracts with a publisher to provide publishing services. The publisher may provide comprehensive services or only a subset. Sometimes, a journal works with multiple vendors to create a publication workflow. Journal owners typically pay a negotiated price to the publisher in exchange for a clearly defined set of services, and the journal owner retains any surplus.
  • Shared Equity. Unlike the Co-Publishing and Services models, in this scenario the publisher owns a piece of the journal. They provide capital to support it, in addition to many or all of the services provided in the other models. This shared ownership spreads the financial commitment, and provides the publisher with more direct oversight of the journal in return.

Open access models

  • Article processing charges. Representative of one type of open access, this model charges authors (or their proxy) an Article Processing Charge (APC) once their manuscripts are accepted. These fees can often be covered by grants or funds that institutions have specifically set aside for this purpose.
  • Sponsorship. A university, learned society, or other organization subsidizes the cost of publishing and disseminating the journal. This model is most plausible when there is close mission alignment between the journal and the sponsor, and/or when there is an overlap in key personnel.
  • Grants/Endowments. Philanthropic organizations with an interest in a specific research area may financially support an open access journal that advances understanding on this topic. This is particularly the case if the organization sees maximizing access to new findings as consistent with its own values and mission statement.

Flipping vs. Launching

Depending on who actually owns the journal title, its backfiles, and other intellectual property associated with the publication, you will need to consider what constraints bound your transition to open access. Ideally, the journal can be “flipped” to open access in a manner that retains its title, publication history, and reputational capital. However, it may be that those with an ownership interest are unwilling to enable this type of move. In that case, the best open access option is to launch a similar journal that is “born open access”. Starting a new journal takes time and deliberate effort. Your reputation, along with the reputations of your editorial and board colleagues, will provide the first marker of the journal’s quality. This will be enhanced by the care and curation put into review and selection of papers.