While the open access (OA) publishing landscape in the scholarly research community is rarely stagnant, a flurry of events and developments over the last few months have ushered in a new collective focus on hybrid open access. How has it grown so significantly? Is it sustainable? What pressures are publishers likely to face from other key stakeholders in the community? What are the alternatives?
A working document dated 7 June 2018 relating to [the Horizon Europe] policy revealed that the EC is taking a significant turn in its OA approach and no longer covering publication fees for articles published in hybrid open access journals (see p. 107).
Below, we’ve assembled a handful of the most recent, definitive, and important perspectives on the current state of hybrid open access to answer these business-critical questions and help you stay informed.
THE LANDSCAPE BY THE NUMBERS
A new report from Simba Information, Open Access Publishing 2018-2022, gives an excellent sense of the state of hybrid OA by the numbers, estimating that as of 2018, nearly all traditional subscription-based scholarly journals now offer a hybrid open access option to authors whereby for a fee, known as an article publication charge (APC), articles can be made freely accessible to non-subscribers after peer review. The global uptake of hybrid OA is thought to account for about 5% of all OA research article publishing, with varying degrees of concentration in different publications. Some journals contain about 2% hybrid content, while others may reach 20-30%. However, overall revenue from hybrid APCs outstrips that from pure OA journals two to one, in part because hybrid APCs are generally higher.
UNDERSTANDING HYBRID’S VALUE TO THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY
Springer Nature, early pioneers of the hybrid OA approach, recently conducted one of the first large-scale analyses of hybrid article data, publishing their findings in a report: Assessing the Open Access Effect for Hybrid Journals. Springer Nature’s sister organization, Digital Science, analyzed a global sample of over 70,000 articles published in Springer Nature hybrid journals to explore the relationship between OA and usage as implied by downloads; citations; and broader impact as implied by Altmetric data. Among key findings were that OA articles were downloaded on average 1.6 times more by users based at academic institutions and four times more by users overall, attracted an average of 1.6 times more citations, and garnered 1.9 times more news mentions than non-OA articles – effects seen even when accounting for Impact Factor and institution ranking. In addition to increased performance, Springer Nature cite the important role of hybrid journals in serving the whole research community by preserving the scope author publication choice and aiding in the cost of the transition to greater access to content.
QUESTIONS AROUND FUNDING FOR HYBRID APCs
Looking past 2020, the European Commission has begun planning their new funding program, Horizon Europe, which will run 2021-2027. A working document dated 7 June 2018 relating to this new policy revealed that the EC is taking a significant turn in its OA approach and no longer covering publication fees for articles published in hybrid open access journals (see p. 107). Additionally, depositing a pre-print will satisfy the open access mandate obligations. Previously, the EC had excluded hybrid APCs when they first introduced Open Access funds during the FP7 (Post-Grant) Open Access Pilot, but later covered hybrid Open Access in the following funding program, Horizon 2020 (2014-2020). While this decision is still subject to approval by European Parliament and national governments, others may be likely to follow in this same path, with UK research funders also undertaking major reviews of their OA policies.
A TRANSITION PHASE OR A FINAL STATE?
Founder and Director of Research Consulting, Rob Johnson, recently shared his thoughts with The Scholarly Kitchen on the future prospects for hybrid OA publishing, arguing that publishers need to get serious about offsetting arrangements. Reframing the success of hybrid OA, Rob wonders whether it’s become established as a successful mixed business model in its own right, rather than encouraging flipping from subscriptions to APC-based business models, as it was first envisioned achieve. Publishers have responded to funder and library demands for transparency, spearheaded primarily by European consortia, by instituting an array of offsetting agreements, which bring with them varying degrees of effectiveness, depending on whether organizations are net producers or net consumers of research.
However, in many instances, offsetting arrangements ultimately add to the OA business burden due to a lack of necessary underlying infrastructure — robust, standards-driven workflows to identify authors, match them to institutions and funders, and apply the appropriate discounts or waivers. All too often, offsetting instead takes the form of a retrospective reconciliation of subscription and APC costs at the financial year end, and laborious checks by institutions to ensure that authors have not paid APCs unnecessarily. Ultimately, for hybrid publishing to become a sustainable OA strategy, there must be both transparency around the cost of publishing for the institution, and a seamless publishing experience for the author.