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What You Should Know About “Subscribe to Open”

Open access (OA) is the disruptor most likely to change publishing forever. The question most raised by the looming prospect of OA is how best to transition publications to this new normal. Subscribe to open (S2O) is an emerging solution for adapting to an OA model and keeping journals solvent.

What is S2O?

The Scholarly Kitchen describes S2O as “a model whereby a journal shifts from subscription access to OA, but the libraries who were subscribers under the old model continue paying in order to keep the journal financially viable.” S2O models rely on subscription customers to continue doing exactly as they’ve always done. This enhances S2O’s chances for success because it, “minimizes disruption to an already proven process.”

There are no additional budgetary commitments under this model: Subscription customers continue to pay for access, and journal publishers provide public access while maintaining their financial health. Is the S2O model sustainable? Publishers initially viewed it with scorn, but a handful of early adopters are proving this model can work. Of note, Berghahn Books currently has 13 anthropology journals available under this framework.

So, S2O has a track record of experimentation, but the pros and cons should be carefully considered before making a move.

Benefits of S2O

Why would publishers consider S2O? As one senior EDP Sciences publisher says, “The inclusive nature of S2O allows anyone to publish research and access content regardless of their financial situation and therefore encourages diversity.” And EDP Sciences is putting its money where its mouth is by moving five of its mathematics journals onto the S2O model this year. Beyond diversity, there are other benefits for both publishers and subscribers, including:

  • Preserving the subscription revenue stream while still moving to adopt popular open models.
  • Minimizing disruption to current subscribers — and their budgets.
  • Allowing publishers to keep existing infrastructure. Accounting and management processes can remain the same.

The benefits of S2O are worthwhile, but there are drawbacks to consider.

Drawbacks of S2O

The biggest question is whether libraries — and other subscribers — will continue to pay for access others get for free. This requires marketing messages to shift from “Why you should subscribe,” to “Why you should underwrite this free content.” The Scholarly Kitchen outlines some of the fundamental questions libraries — and publishers — will face, including:

  • Is the underwriting organization onboard with allocating existing funds to an S2O model?
  • How much risk does the S2O model pose for participating journals and publishers if it fails?
  • Does a library have the endowment resources available to support the S2O model?

Publishers considering S2O adoption should gather and analyze data, specific to each publication they offer, to comprehensively address these questions, and create a clear vision of the S2O model’s advantages — and disadvantages — for all involved. An honest, balanced, and detailed evaluation will help publishers and subscribers determine if S2O is a viable OA model for their future success.

Contact your Sheridan or KGL representative for a consultation or visit our contact pages ( Sheridan contact page / KGL contact page ) to learn how we can help streamline and simplify your publishing processes.

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