Funding of Open Access Articles

The key takeaways from this article are


There are various business and funding models for open access journals.


Three basic types of funding models can be distinguished: APC-based, institutional, and consortial.


Within the framework of the transition to open access, efficient, transparent, and fair models should preferably be used.

Costs of Journals

Open access means free access to and reuse of scientific information. Because open access journals can be accessed by readers free of charge, the production costs (Grossmann & Brembs, 2021) cannot be recovered through subscriptions, but rather must be financed through alternative business models.

The serials crisis, and the associated large profits earned by scholarly publishers from public funds, were fundamental reasons for the emergence of the open access movement. When discussing business models, it is therefore meaningful to distinguish between covering costs and making a profit, especially in cases where it is a matter of reallocating costs for the purpose of converting journals to open access.

In any case, the operating and personnel costs required to receive, administer, publish, and distribute works must be financed. In addition, there are infrastruc­tural costs, for example for server capacities and websites. Added to this are new cost demands for the publication of data or multimedia.

In the area of gold open access, there are a number of different business models (Keller, 2017; Russell, 2019; Waidlein et al., 2021). Basically, open access journals can be funded through author fees (article processing charges), by institutions, or by consortia.

Practical Tip

Here you can find the slides from the Open Access Talk Open Access Funding: Issues and Problems (in German).

Author-Pays Model

The central feature of the author-pays model is that in the interval bet­ween manuscript acceptance and publication, article processing charges (APCs) are payable by the authors or their institutions. The availability of funds for, and the acceptance of, such payments depends also on the publication culture of the discipline in question. Other factors include access to third-party funding and the authors’ professional status. APCs are therefore often viewed critically. It is feared that they create access barriers, especially for authors from countries in the Global South or for early career researchers. On the other hand, many commercial open access journals offer fee waivers in individual cases (e.g. for authors from low- and medium-income countries; Lawson, 2015) and pass on these costs to APC-paying authors.

A further critical aspect is that the spread of APC models means that research budgets increasingly have to be used to funds publication costs. Many research funding organisations require that publications resulting from the projects they fund must be made open access; in return, they cover the cost of APCs.

Publication funds are one instrument for the institutional support of authors in paying APCs. Many universities and non-university research organisations have such publication funds, from which they pay APCs on their authors’ behalf (Bruch et al., 2014; see the overview in the Open Access Directory). In many cases, funds earmarked for the procurement of literature, and especially for journal subscriptions, also flow into the publication funds. In this way, although the research organisations still pay for the publications, they are now freely accessible worldwide.

In Germany, the establishment of publication funds has long been asso­ciated with institutional funding programmes of the German Research Foundation (DFG). Since 2020, higher education institutions and non-university research organisations can apply for fixed allowances for the open access publication of research results from the realigned DFG fun­ding programme Open Access Publication Funding. With this partial funding of individual publications, the operation of publication funds con­tinues to be supported. Subsidies for open access publication fees are possible inter alia for journal articles, including articles published under transformative agreements such as those concluded by Projekt DEAL.

Some German federal states, for example Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, provide state support for open access by making funding avail­able for publication funds. Moreover, agreements concluded between open access publishers and research organisations can regulate the payment of APCs and possible discounts.

Fee-based open access options for individual articles in subscription journals (which are then known as hybrid journals) are a very controversial business model. In this way, the journal not only earns revenue from subscriptions but also from articles that are made open access against payment of APCs. The costs per article are generally much higher than in the case of gold open access journals, although revenue is obtained from two sources. Often referred to as double dipping, this double financing is practised mainly by commercial journals and applied to existing journals that are not intended for transformation to open access. Other reservations against hybrid models relate to the fact that they do not contribute to the transition of the scholarly publishing market to open access, that cost calculations are not transparent, and that individual open access articles in closed access journals do not achieve adequate visibility. In negotiations with publishers (e.g. in the case of individual subscriptions, but also in the case of national licences and consortial models) public institutions usually urge publishers to take measures to counter double dipping, for example by offsetting APCs for open access articles against subscription fees. In Germany, Projekt DEAL wants to effectively address the problem.

The author-pays model is now widespread, and is often erroneously used as a synonym for all open access business models. However, even before the emergence of the open access movement, journals required their authors to contribute to the financing. Conversely, very many open access journals do not charge their authors any fees. Of the 17,136 journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) as of November 2021, 11,948 did not levy any article processing charges.


Institutional Funding

Business models that rely on direct payments by authors create a large admini­strative burden. Moreover, it is feared that APCs give rise to unequal prerequisi­tes for access to publishing opportunities. Hence the interest in models that rely directly on funding by institutions. Institutions can, for example, offer publica­tion services or fund open access journals completely, so that other authors also benefit.

One traditional variant is the (partial) funding of publications via professional associations or other institutions of a discipline. Some professional associations traditionally fund their publishing activities from membership fees. Thus their members are usually both users and authors of the articles published, so that the costs of publishing open access are shared by both groups.

One example of a community-funded journal is Documenta Mathematica, which was founded by the Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung (German Mathema­tical Society). The digital edition is open access; a print edition is available for a small fee. According to the society, the costs of producing the journal are low and are paid entirely by the society.

Ultimately, many open access journals rely on the commitment of those invol­ved, who either work on the journal within the framework of their employment or on a voluntary basis. Support by staff, and possibly the covering of material costs, can be regarded as an important form of institutional support.

Moreover, nowadays, many scientific institutions invest in their own publication services, for example platforms and services for the production of journals with the help of the open source software Open Journal Systems (OJS). In this case, the institution subsidises the costs of making the content available and may be responsible for parts of the publishing process.

Practical Tip

The Wellcome Trust's Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S toolkit provides tips on implementing Open Access and Plan S compliance.

Consortial Funding and Crowdfunding

Video on Community Open Access Funding for Libraries

In the case of consortial funding, scientific institutions come together in order to jointly finance a publication venue or a publishing infrastructure (Reinsfelder & Pike, 2018). One example of the latter is the preprint server arXiv, which has been operated by a consortium for 30 years now (Ginsparg, 2021).

Crowdfunding is an alternative collective funding model with a large number of funders. The Open Library of Humanities (OLH) offers a crowdfunding model for journals. The non-profit open access publisher currently serves as a plat­form for around 30 open access journal titles in the humanities and social sciences. The platform is funded by a foundation and by library partnership subsidies, true to OLH’s motto: "Our mission is to support and extend open access to scholarship in the humanities – for free, for everyone, for ever." From March 2018 to June 2021, the transition of subscription-based German-language humanities journals to open access was supported by OLH-DE, a collaborative project between the University of Konstanz and the Open Library of Humanities. With KOALA and Scholar-led Plus, there are currently two further projects funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research that are aimed at establishing and developing consortial funding models for periodicals.

Another example is Knowledge Unlatched, a commercial service provider for crowdfunding by libraries. Funding is provided for open access books – and for some years now, also for open access journals – in the humanities and social sciences. Another business model, Subscribe to Open, is used by the non-profit publisher Annual Reviews for the transition of established subscription journals to open access. The model is also being tried out by other journals.

The APCs for open access articles in some high energy physics journals are paid by the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics, SCOAP³, which was formed especially for this purpose. The journals are either converted completely to open access or provide a hybrid open access option. All authors, irrespective of their institutional affiliation, benefit from the payment of the APCs by the consortium. The APCs of the SCOAP³ journals are in part lower than those of comparable journals. In the case of the hybrid journals, they are offset against subscription fees to avoid double dipping. A central feature of the SCOAP³ model is the payment of individual APCs rather than the lump-sum funding of the publication venues. Since its foundation in 2008, the  SCOAP³ model has increasingly led to sustainable funding for open access publications within the narrow confines of high energy physics. 

Further Funding Options

A further way of funding open access publications is the parallel sale of content in separate (print) editions. In the digital area, there have been various attempts to implement the so-called freemium model, whereby the fee-based variant provides more benefits than the cost-free variant. For example, the HTML version of an article is made freely available but the premium version in PDF format is accessible only to subscribers. One example is the OpenEdition Freemium programme for the development of open access publishing in the humanities and social sciences.

Transition and Transparency

In the area of business models, the transition from a subscription-shaped jour­nal publishing landscape to a predominantly open access landscape is a great challenge. In Germany, Projekt DEAL is trying to contribute to a transformation of journals to open access by negotiating consortial agreements with an open access component (so-called transformative publish and read agreements) with the major scholarly publishers. Whereas it appears to be possible to convert journals completely to open access while covering operational costs, the high fees charged under the author-pays model may tend to lead to an increase in research organisations’ costs overall. Particular focus should therefore be placed on funding models and practices where the costs and their development are made transparent, and authors, or the research system as a whole, receive trade-offs. Corresponding funding-related initiatives by the Wellcome Trust and Jisc have been emulated in Germany. With ESAC (Efficiency and Standards for Article Charges), an initiative has been established that aims to ensure that the processing of such costs is as efficient and transparent as possible.


Further Reading