Frequently asked questions

This FAQ shares ideas with Annual Reviews’ FAQ on subscribe-to-open, much as these publishers are in discussion with each other over the principles of this open access model.

  • WHAT IS SUBSCRIBE-TO-OPEN?

Subscribe-to-open is a model of sustainable open access for scholarly journals in which research libraries continue to “subscribe” to the journals that their communities value at similar prices and with similar quality to the journals under a gated or closed subscription. Subscribe-to-open is a form of subscription makes journal publication possible and is not a donation or gift to the publisher.

  • WHY WOULD LIBRARIES SUBSCRIBE-TO-OPEN?

This model gives libraries a chance to help move journals to open access with no increase in their allocation or support for those journals than they would expect to pay for continuing with gated subscriptions. It is premised on journals providing libraries with stats on the extent of their community’s participation as readers, authors, editors and reviewers on moving to open access. That community will welcome an open access without Article Processing Charges (APC), or embargoes on published work, or restrictions on who can publish, or other limits (such as  being able to share only a final draft). With this model, libraries play their traditional professional role in deciding and curating which open access journals merit support.

  • WHY WOULD PUBLISHERS SUBSCRIBE-TO-OPEN?

Here is Vivian Beghahn’s description of why she is pursuing this model in 2020 with thirteen journals from Berghahn Books:

“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.”

  • WHAT HAPPENS IF LIBRARIES DO NOT SUPPORT SUBSCRIBE-TO-OPEN?

For journals converting to open access through subscribe-to-open, the publisher is expecting a similar level of subscription support in order to maintain the quality of publication. If a significant number of libraries that previously subscribed to a journal do not participate in S2O with a set of journals to which they previously subscribed, then those journals will have to revert to gated subscriptions. A recent study on such open-to-closed reversion is found here.

  • WHAT CAN LIBRARIES EXPECT WITH THE PRICING OF SUBSCRIBE-TO-OPEN JOURNALS?

The starting point for publishers will be to sustain current revenue patterns, which might well involve annual increases for inflation. Going open on this basis will likely increase submissions to these journals, especially among early adopter journals, and this could lead to increased management costs. As well, technical innovations associated, such as those involving improved reporting may be introduced. Libraria is encouraging greater transparency among publishers in explaining any increases. As well, the ability of the model to attract support from libraries that did not previously subscribe – as Annual Reviews reports experiencing – can lead to reduced costs for participating libraries.

  • WHAT DOES THIS MODEL DO ABOUT THE ECONOMICS OF PUBLISHING?

With its singular focus on easing and expediting the transition to open access, this model poses no challenges, in the first instance, to widely shared concerns over publishing’s pricing structure. Yet it avoids introducing a new structure, as the “publish-and-read transformative” agreements do, after weighty and fraught negotiations, while limiting the extent of open access. On the other hand, the growth in open access moves publishers from content owners to service providers, placing the industry on a far more competitive footing price-wise.

  • WHAT IS THE ROLE OF RESEARCH FUNDERS WITH THIS MODEL?

Subscribe-to-open is compliant with Plan S, certainly, and beyond that Libraria is working on  developing a role for funders to become directly involved in paying publishers, following the example of the Gates foundation, for the costs associated with the articles for which they are one of the sponsors. While research funding differs greatly by discipline, the overall effect will be to reduce the library share of publishing costs, while increasing funders’ accountability (in tracking what gets published at what expense) and adding to the stability of the model. cOAlition S has issued a recent statement suggesting that they are encouraging funder to move in this direction by 2024.

  • WHAT ABOUT JOURNALS THAT ARE ALREADY OPEN ACCESS?

With the subscribe-to-open journals providing stats on the extent of a library community’s engagement with the journal as readers, authors, editors, board members, and reviewers, publishers can use this data to expand their S2O support to the new library communities that take advantage of this open access. They can use it, as well, to demonstrate grounds for supporting existing open access journals through S2O, perhaps as part of a bundle of journals in an area with demonstrated value.