A hybrid journal is a journal that publishes Open Access articles together with others articles that require a subscription or payment to access and read. Thus, a hybrid journal is a subscription-based journal where only some articles are Open Access, usually after financial sponsorship by the author. The sponsorship is in fact a publication fee (known as Article Processing Charge (ACP)) that the author chooses to pay to the publisher in order that the article is published as Open Access (OA).
Most publishers include Open Access articles in their subscription-based journals in order to gradually migrate their subscription-based titles to full Open Access in a safe and economically sustainable way for their business. Thus hybrid journals can arguably be seen as part of a transitional publishing business model. They are an important business option because they give the publisher the opportunity of testing the potential demands for Open Access for their mature journals; without the risks associated with launching new full Open Access journals that normally would take a long time to be highly ranked and economically sustainable.
Hybrid journals first appeared 10 years ago and there is little evidence that they will not be around in the future. Every year, more subscription-based journals start to include Open Access articles in their issues. In some cases (e.g. Springer, Taylor & Francis, John Wiley and Sons, SAGE, Inderscience, Emerald) the vast majority of subscription-based journals are de facto hybrid ones, because all of them are offering an Open Access option. Being able to provide a standard mechanism to identify Open Access articles increases the potential for hybrid journals to be accepted as a fully functioning optional model, rather than just a midway post on the journey towards fully OA journals.
Publishers have an interest in offering a fair and transparent Open Access business model. When publishers make the effort of clearly announcing and helping to identify the Open Access articles that have been published in their hybrid journals, they cannot be accused of using a “double dipping” practice, where publishers do not attempt to reflect the amount of OA articles in their subscription prices. Some publishers have agreed to decrease subscription fees when a certain percentage of the articles have been published in Open Access via the hybrid model. In this case hybrid journals become a fair and desirable publishing path towards Open Access publishing, where publishers decrease the subscription fees for the hybrid journal as its number of OA articles increases. Publishers such as Oxford University Press, the American Institute of Physics, Walter de Gruyter and Nature Publishing Group have committed to adjusting the subscription prices for their hybrid journals as they receive increasing levels of income from OA articles published in those journals. It is natural to expect that one benefit of hybrid journals should be the decreasing of subscription prices based on the number of their Open Access articles.
The hybrid model is also attractive for authors because it gives them the chance to publish their Open Access articles in prestigious journals. Moreover, the authors’ own institutions and many funding agencies are willing, or require, to let authors use grant funds to pay publication fees so their authors can publish Open Access articles in high-ranked journals, which have impact in promotion and systems assessing the quality of research in higher education institutions (e.g. UK REF).
Hybrid journals need to have a transparent and easy mechanism to support the clear and systematic identification of their Open Access content. If they don’t, the publishers’ hybrid business model risks being put in question by the very sources of their Open Access income. For example, the Wellcome Trust expressed concerns about hybrid journals being a fair commercial option for libraries and readers. Providing a systematic mechanism, such as including Open Access metadata in their RSS feeds, would send a clear signal that publishers have nothing to hide, and instead are working to help the wider community be aware and benefit from Open Access content published in their important journals.
Discovery services cannot say for sure whether an article is Open Access or not, if it has been published in a hybrid journal: A systematic solution, including standard metadata schemas, could also enable library discovery services to provide proper and timely Open Access information. Web-scale discovery services are nowadays considered indispensable components of any important digital library. However, most of these services cannot discover information about Open Access, which is increasingly becoming important for patrons. Thus, discovery services cannot make users aware of OA articles which appear in hybrid journals to which an institution does not subscribe. The fact is that discovery services cannot say for sure whether an article is Open Access or not if it has been published in a hybrid journal. This scenario can be improved by making available for the discovery services’ harvesters, standard metadata elements that provide Open Access information at the article level.
A low-barrier standard-based systematic identification of OA articles would enable the creation of subject clusters where anyone could access OA articles relevant for their research field: Last but not least, a low-barrier systematic identification of Open Access articles, using well-adopted standard metadata schemas such as Dublin-Core and PRISM (widely implemented in over 48% of journal TOC RSS feeds), would enable an additional benefit for the research community. It raises the possibility of grouping all OA articles, regardless of where they appear (i.e. in full OA journals or hybrid journals) in subject clusters – something which will help to disseminate research findings, and which will enable the creation of different subject clusters or one-stop shops at which anyone could access Open Access articles relevant for their research and collected from all types of scholarly journals. This subject-based approach has proven to be a very successful model in cases such as PubMed in medical sciences and arXiv for physics, computer science, mathematics and statistics. In fact, the European Research Council had implicitly acknowledged the benefits of this approach when, recently, it took the decision to directly fund arXiv.