Converting Journals to Open Access

The key takeaways from this article are:


The conversion of subscription-based journals to open access (“journal flipping”) has many advantages, inter alia increased visibility and findability.


Before conversion, the parameters must be clarified and the requirements analysed.


There are various funding models for open access journals.

Journal Flipping

Dreher (2021) conducted a qualitative survey of editors of humanities journals that had converted to open access. One interviewee noted that visibility had increased strongly both for readers and potential authors, and that submissions were much more numerous than before conversion (p. 13). Advantages such as these mean that more and more journals are successfully converting to an open access model (Open Access Directory, 2021). The process of converting traditional subscription-based journals to open access is also known as “journal flipping”.

When converting a scholarly journal to open access, various parameters – for example the journal concept, policy and technical realisation – must be rethought (Solomon et al., 2016). Editorial workflows often have to be changed, too, especially if the journal is leaving its current publisher. In any case, converting to open access requires careful preparation and planning. Several studies have reported that flipping a journal generally takes at least a year (Dreher, 2021; Solomon et al., 2016). To outline this process in more detail, the present article addresses important points that should be considered when converting a journal to open access. Basic recommendations for action have been drawn from Edig and Rücknagel (2022).

There are several reasons to consider flipping a journal to open access. Besides personal affinities to the idea of open access, there is an increasing demand on the part of scientists for open access publishing options (Open Access Monitor, 2022), and there are political demands on the part of research funders such as Horizon Europe and Plan S. Studies on flipped journals show that they have higher visitor numbers (Wenaas, 2021), that their acceptance and impact remain the same (Mallett et al., 2021), and that their publication output increases (Momeni et al., 2021).


There are several reasons to consider flipping a journal to open access. Besides personal affinities to the idea of open access, there is an increasing demand on the part of scientists for open access publishing options (Open Access Monitor, 2022), and there are political demands on the part of research funders such as Horizon Europe and Plan S. Studies on flipped journals show that they have higher visitor numbers (Wenaas, 2021), that their acceptance and impact remain the same (Mallett et al., 2021), and that their publication output increases (Momeni et al., 2021).



If you are considering converting a journal to open access, you should first clarify the parameters (Edig & Rücknagel, 2022). There are two ways to achieve conversion. The first is journal flipping, where an existing journal is converted to an open access model and keeps its name and all its metrics. The second way is to found a new journal. In this case, the persons involved in an existing subscription journal (primarily the editorial board) move to a new journal. A well-known example of the latter approach is the journal Glossa (Gutknecht, 2015). To find out more about the things that must be considered when launching a new journal, and the challenges that this involves, see our Publishing Open Access Journals page.

Whether you can convert a journal to open access depends on the approval of all those involved in the publishing process. If you cooperate with an external publishing partner, you will have to present the idea to them. If the publisher is not interested in converting to an open access model, you can – depending on your publishing agreement – undertake the conversion alone or with the help of a new partner. The following questions can guide you in the process:

  • Who has the rights to the journal?
  • Who receives revenue from the journal, and what activities are currently funded from the revenue?
  • Do the members of the editorial board support flipping the journal, or are there enough supporters to create a new journal?
  • How familiar is the respective scientific community with open access?

When concluding a publishing agreement, many large publishers require organisations to transfer the rights in the journal to them. This also includes the rights to the journal name. Also in the case of journals that were founded by a publisher, the publisher usually reserves all rights. If you are in this situation, and the publisher is not willing to convert the journal to open access, the foundation of a new journal is probably the only conversion option.


Determine the Status Quo

Before you start the process of flipping a journal, you should first check the status quo. Here, it is matter of determining, for example, who holds the rights to the journal name. To find this out, it is worthwhile taking a look at contractual documents or the journal website. In addition, you should familiarise yourself with the process of flipping and, for example, read first-hand reports of the experiences of editors of flipped or newly created journals. These reports are also a source of information about possible conversion strategies, which will make it easier for you to decide on a strategy of your own. In any case, you should draw up as precise a timetable as possible for the individual steps. Moreover, you should calculate all costs exactly. When doing so, you should also take into account the “hidden” costs for technical resources and the working time spent on organising.

From now on Open Access - Quantitative Science Studies



One of the editors of flipped humanities journals interviewed by Dreher (2021) noted: 

You have to make your priorities clear to yourself beforehand. We were a small journal that wanted to be published beautifully on a beautiful platform and to have broad accessibility. How much effort do you want to put into publications? If you want to have less effort, then you can go the university [press] with OJS [Open Journals Systems] or to the repository, but if you want beautiful journals, it’s worth the effort. You’ve got to realise that you will have to say goodbye to some things, in our case, for example, print. (Dreher, 2021, p. 11; our translation from the German)


Set Goals

Set yourself clear goals from the very beginning:

  • What are your aspirations? 
  • What does an ideal price/performance ratio look like?
  • Should the conversion take place with a publisher or independently?

It is also useful to carry out a requirements analysis. In this way, you can determine which processes, tools and solutions are good and indispensable in the case of the current journal, and which can be optimised in the course of the conversion. It is best to obtain several offers in order to determine which provider best suits your wishes. You should also clarify whether a conversion to open access is feasible and desirable at your current publishing venue (e.g. publisher). If a publisher is open to flipping, it is worthwhile examining the conditions against the background of your requirements analysis. If you aim to switch publisher, or to publish independently, you should ensure that all requirements can be met. If you plan to operate the journal yourself, it is advisable to be very aware of your own resources, and to get support from service facilities when it comes to assessing your capacities. In addition, you should consider the following:

  • The same ISSN can be used only if the title remains the same.
  • Identifiers (ISSN, DOI) must be “re-registered” if responsibilities or the publisher changes.
  • It must be ensured that the delivery of metadata to indexing services etc. will continue without interruption.
  • What will happen to submissions that are currently being processed?




One aspect of the flipping process that should not be underestimated is communication with all stakeholders. These comprise both internal participants, such as members of the editorial board, the publisher’s staff, and reviewers, as well as external stakeholders, such as subscribers, authors and the respective scientific community. After the idea of flipping the journal emerges, internal persuasive efforts are called for. Following Dreher (2021), direct personal communication is a promising way of dispelling reservations. You should also prepare for possible negotiations with the current publisher. The support of universities and other advisory services with open access experience can be enlisted in this regard. Transparency throughout the entire process, and communication of the rationale are key to the acceptance and success of the conversion (Dreher, 2021).

Furthermore, it is advisable to develop a marketing strategy for the first year of the conversion. It can be helpful to conduct a survey of authors, readers and other stakeholders about their opinions regarding the conversion. In this way, you can not only identify and address possible reservations, but possibly also identify weaknesses in your planning. Even after the conversion process is completed, a good communication strategy is a worthwhile way of enhancing the reach and the standing of your publications and gaining more readers and submissions.


From now on Open Access - Glossa: a journal of general linguistics.

Source: Rooryck, J. & Brinken, H. (2022). From now on Open Access - Glossa: a journal of general linguistics., Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB).


Funding Models

Above all, journal flipping requires switching to a new business model. There are various models for funding open access journals. Detailed information on these models can be found on our Business Models for Journals web page. Examples include:

  • Institutional funding
  • Consortial funding
  • Subscribe to Open
  • Donations or third-party funding
  • APC-based model

When choosing a funding model, all costs must be recorded, and a small buffer planned for. You should way up the pros and cons of the various models. For example, article processing charges (APCs) may be difficult for some disciplines in which authors lack financial means – and they usually give rise to additional administrative effort for authors, journals and libraries. In addition, you should estimate what impact the conversion might have on the numbers of submissions and readers, as well as on findability. In other words, you should not only know whether you have adequate financial and personnel resources for the current number of articles, but also whether you are capable of coping with a rising or decreasing number of submissions and publications.

If it is a matter of reducing publishing costs, one of the easiest ways of doing so is to dispense with print issues. This can also result in an opportunity to introduce better digital publishing formats. For example, the contributions can be made available in HTML, XML or other machine-readable formats, and the continuous, immediate online publication of the articles can be established.

In Dreher’s study (2021) on the conversion experiences of journal editors, several editors recommended a courageous attitude towards change. Concerns that it would be necessary to keep the journal the way it was (e.g. by retaining the print version) had proved unfounded. In the words of one interviewee:

To be less anxious about what the consequences might be. It may appear to be a tough decision, and we did worry about the lay readers with the print version. But things keep on going, they develop, and everything turned out to be good. (Dreher, 2021, p. 11; our translation from the German)


From now on Open Access - Fossil Record



Revise Processes

Converting a journal to open access offers an opportunity to question and improve current processes. Based on the requirements analysis conducted at the start, you can examine what new solutions, providers and tools may be suitable. When doing so, you can scrutinise all aspects – from the policy of the journal, through the review and publishing processes, to the layout, the website and the metadata. Preparing and making available as extensive metadata as possible can be worthwhile not only for search-engine optimisation. It also improves the findability and indexability of the articles. The most important context information is:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Citation
  • Identifiers for researchers (e.g. ORCID iD), research organisations (e.g. ROR) and research funders (e.g. funding number); identifiers for related resources (e.g. the DOI of the corresponding dataset)

If you plan to apply for inclusion in other registers, you should also take account of their guidelines, as well as the metadata schemas for DOI registration, for example those of Crossref and DataCite

Choose a Licence

Open access journals are journals “whose articles are available and reusable worldwide free of charge and without restrictions immediately on publication” (see our Open Access Journals page). This presupposes the granting of a corresponding licence, ideally a Creative Commons licence, in order to clearly indicate what rights will apply when using open access publications. It is recommended to use the current Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (see our Publishing Open Access Journals page; see also Redhead, 2012).

Advantages of CC BY:

  • It permits as open reuse as possible.
  • It conforms with the principles of Plan S.
  • Other licence variants may have possible negative consequences (e.g. CC BY-NC).

The licence details should be made transparent and should be included in the metadata of the individual articles, on the landing page, and in the document itself.

Important Basics

To successfully operate an open access journal, it is advisable to take some basic measures. A number of international organisations advocate for high standards in open access publishing and offer their support. Membership, for example of the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA), may therefore be of advantage for your open access journal. In addition, to enhance the reach of the journal, it is helpful to apply for indexing in registers, for example the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), even though this is a time-consuming process. Furthermore, the standards and guidelines of Plan S, OASPA and the DOAJ can provide guidance when drawing up a policy for an open access journal.


Back Issues

In addition, you should consider how you are going to deal with back issues of your journal. Are you allowed – and do you want – to make them available in open access (retrodigitised or with an embargo period)? If you decide in favour of doing so, and it is legally possible, you should consider contacting the authors and, if applicable, getting legal assistance. If you are changing publishing venue, you should determine whether and how already published content can migrate with you.

There will always be articles that are still going through the publication process at the time of flipping. Open communication with the affected authors – also regarding licensing terms and conditions – is essential. Moreover, when migrating, it must be ensured that the documents and metadata can be seamlessly transferred to the new system. It is also conceivable to have a hybrid form of publishing for a certain period of time, rather than transitioning to an immediate separation between closed and open access. This short-term hybrid form should be taken into account in the financing plan, and all participants should be transparently informed about it. If you wish to avoid a hybrid form, this must be planned for in good time in the publishing process.




It is important to note that the concrete implementation of the conversion of a subscription-based journal to open access depends very much on the individual case and the prevailing circumstances. It is therefore advisable in any case to seek the support of experts. The scholars and librarians who have joined forces in the Fair Open Access Alliance (FOAA) support inter alia editors who are interested in converting their journals to open access. The advice offered by the open access officers at scholarly libraries should also be availed of.

If you are intimidated by the number of questions that have to be clarified, you should bear in mind that you are not alone in the process of conversion, and that you can avail of external support. Well- planned journal flipping is worthwhile, and it leads to success. This is evidenced by examples such as Quantitative Science Studies, a journal that was successfully flipped in 2019 (Tullney, 2019).

Further examples of successfully flipped journals are listed in the Open Access Directory (2021).





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