Hybrid journals and the transition to OA

When colleges and universities first started talking about scholarly communications over a decade ago, the context for those conversations was often the so-called “serials pricing crisis.”  Our notions about the system of scholarly communications is now considerably broader and more inclusive now, but the problem of spiraling costs for traditional material is still with us.  One of the knottiest questions is whether, and how, open access to scholarly publications might address that problem of high costs.

As many publishers develop hybrid models of journal publishing – where much of the journal content, print or digital, is still available only upon subscription but some proportion of that content is freely available online because the authors have paid a special “supply-side” fee to make their work open access – many librarians question how such supply side income will impact traditional subscription rates.  The issue of how we can transition library budgets away from a focus on subscriptions toward a dual focus, where author side fees might be underwritten by the institutions, is a trick and difficult one.  Subvention of such author fees is really a more efficient use of the money we spent to support scholarly communications, providing much greater access than institutional subscriptions can, but it is hard to see how we can move that very limit supply of dollars toward such subventions as long as subscription rates continue to climb.

The recent announcement from Oxford Press that they are adjusting the online-only subscription rates to their Oxford Open journals suggests a step forward toward making this difficult transition.  Oxford is discounting some subscriptions to reflect the income received from its “open choice” option that lets authors pay for open access.  As Heather Morrison notes in her “Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics” blog posting, this announcement illustrates one step in the “potential positive spiral in the transition to open access.”