Back in May 2011, the ‘Open Access Fees and the Hybrid Journal’ JISC Collections workshop did not find a clear answer to the question:
However, one thing was patently clear. The participant publishers saw hybrid publishing as a low-risk business approach to join Open Access (OA). Alicia Wise from Elsevier summarised the pragmatic approach of the publishers: Publishers are open minded about whether the hybrid model is transitional or optional. Their interest is to respond to the challenge of continuing to be economically sustainable in a market that has been upset by an innovation called Opentop Access.
But, will hybrid journals stay here forever? No. With a few exceptions, in 10-15 years most of those journals will be Gold OA journals and a few of them will have financially failed and ceased to exist.
D.L. Lewis estimates that in the best scenario 90% of the hybrid journals would have become Gold OA in 2020, and in the worse scenario that would happen in 2024 . Using the disruptive innovation theory of Clayton Christensen , he demonstrates that Gold OA is a disruptive innovation because it is making access to research literature cheaper and easier for the customers (readers) and is using technology and business models that are new for the established publishers which will need to adjust their existing workflows and publishing models quickly, something that it is difficult to achieve because established and previously successful legacy systems and business models are not easy to change.
The theory of disruptive innovation predicts that the technology or business creating the disruption will always prevail and, after taking a market share of 90%, it will quickly and totally displace the traditional technology within a very short period of time .
That is how disruption happens. Gradually and then suddenly. Now and in the next few years OA will slowly penetrate the market and then will rapidly take it over. The incumbent publishers will continue along their existing and successful business models, unknowingly sealing their fate.
Lewis uses Christensen’s methodology and the data collected and estimated by Laakso  to make his estimations and bold claim. However, there are more signs pointing in the same direction and supporting those estimations. To start, from the innovation point of view, hybrid publishing is more a strategy than a permanent and sustainable business model. Hybrid journals are not a disruptive innovation. They haven’t changed and they will not change anything (e.g. subscriptions are still the main source of profits produced by hybrid journals.) Hybrid journals are just a means used by “traditional publishers” to introduce Open Access into their established business models.
The end consumer, particularly librarians, will not tolerate for longer a product that doesn’t bring new benefits to them. It is not a coincidence that practically all the funds allocated to support OA in Universities and administrated by academic libraries, have a strong stand against hybrid journals.
Using this “list of open access journal funds”, Kingsley  has calculated that only 13.5% of the 81 funds listed there accept hybrid journals outright for funding. 40% clearly state they do not support hybrid journals and the rest of the funds can only support hybrid journals with strings attached. For example hybrid journals are not eligible for funding to authors from these 34 universities such as Virginia, Harvard, Boston College, Cornell and Carnegie Mellon. In the UK, the consensus seems to be moving towards a requirement that all outputs submitted to the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise are published in OA journals. All the UK Funding Councils expect that from 2016 all articles submitted to the REF be Open Access.
Thus, as less financial support becomes available for authors for hybrid journals, the pressure to convert to Gold OA increases.
On the other hand, publishers have learned that it is possible and economically better to migrate from subscription-based to Gold Open Access within the shortest period of time possible. Publishers are experiencing that publishing a hybrid journal for years can in fact create a bad reputation for the journal if the ‘double dipping’ issue associated with hybrid journals is not handled honestly and intelligently.
The International Union of Crystallography is an interesting exception. IUCr has been publishing hybrid journals since 2004, but with an important difference. IUCr has always shown transparency regarding APC (a relatively low $1000 USD) and subscription price adjustments. It has always provided very detailed data on the uptake of OA articles. IUCr has already converted two of its journals to Gold OA and for the remaining seven titles it provides various mechanisms to help users to clearly identify OA articles appearing in its hybrid journals. For example IUCr is among the first publishers to use the <cc:license> and <dc:rights> standard metadata elements in its journal RSS feeds to support systematic identification of OA at the article level (e.g. http://journals.iucr.org/d/rss10.xml). IUCr has implemented all of the Best Practices Recommendations for scholarly RSS feeds and provides one of the best sets of RSS feeds.
Regardless of the claims made by some publishers, the accusation of charging twice or too much for OA articles published in hybrid journals will always have support and will erode the standing of some titles (e.g. this, this, this and this). The reality for most of those hybrid journals is that the percentage of OA articles is very low (<10%) and probably too small to have any impact on the subscription fees [6, 8]. The hybrid strategy, while apparently easier and risk-free, can become complex to manage as new mandates are forcing authors to be more selective in their choices (e.g. RCUK and Wellcome Trust require that OA articles be published with CC-BY only), so publishers need to manage different types of licenses depending on who is funding the author’s work. In a recent session of the AAP Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing division, Stephen Hall, Managing Director of IOP Publishing, which publishes 70 hybrid journals, noticed that “the adoption of this open access model was not free of its own pains, and that creating the infrastructure for open access publishing has required substantial investment in back office systems”
Reports from the same AAP session understood that Wim van der Stelt, from Springer, was anticipating that all their 1,580 hybrid journals would be open access by 2024. NOTE: Bev Acreman, Vice President, Marketing & OA Business Development at Springer-SBM/BioMed Central, has let us know that it seems that Wim was misquoted/misunderstood and there isn’t in fact a timetable for Springer to move their existing hybrid journals over to Gold OA, but that they would continue to invest in BioMedCentral and the Springer Open (Gold) portfolio.
While a few journals have successfully made the conversion to Gold OA using the hybrid strategy (OAD lists 136 journals that have converted) the lesson is that the quicker the conversion is done the better. Oxford University Press converted Nucleic Acids Research to OA in 2005, after just two years of being a hybrid journal. Hindawi is the typical example of a publisher making a quick conversion from subscription-based to full Gold OA. It proved to be a very successful move. When all the odds were against a small and new publisher such as Hindawi (because library budgets were largely taken up by “Big Deal” and consortium-level subscriptions), in late 2003 Hindawi started to gradually make its journals hybrid. In 2005 they began to see an important increase of OA articles at the same time as noticing that its weakness (few subscriptions) was becoming irrelevant. That year its first hybrid journals became full Gold OA journals. In 2007, Hindawi completed the conversion of all its journals to Gold OA, except four journals that couldn’t be converted and were sold to Oxford University Press .
The figure above, prepared by Solomon et al , presents the number of journals in Scopus converting from subscription-based to OA between 1991 and 2012. The highest number of conversions happened between 2003 and 2007 with a sharp decline in conversions thereafter. The peaking numbers around 2005 coincide with the period of success of start-up OA publishers such as BioMedCentral, scholarly societies’ journal conversions and Hindawi’s full portfolio transformation. Paradoxically, since 2010 the number of conversions to Gold OA has tailed off. But something new has started to happen in 2013 that could dramatically change this trend.
Will the large subscription-based publishers disappear in 10 years?
Probably no. What is going to disappear is the subscription-based business model, but not the established companies, because the exponential grown in the number of hybrid journals experimented in the last three years shows that established publishers have seen the advantages of OA and they know by now that a fast transition must be done to survive.
However, in most of those hybrid journals the relative number of OA articles is still very low. Studies have shown that while in general OA is rapidly growing , the number of OA articles is not growing as fast as desired in hybrid journals . The limited availability of institutional funding (noticed above) for hybrid journals makes this scenario worse.
So how can publishers make the move quickly to Gold OA when the uptake of OA is very low in their hybrid journals? The answer is in something peculiar that is happening in the publishing industry. Something that normally is not present when a market is being disrupted by an innovation. Here comes one factor that would help to accelerate the conversion to OA in a shorter period of time: Help from subject-based partnerships and national-wide funding agencies.
Singularly, and in particular in Europe, the consumers are putting together funds to help the established businesses to deal with the disruptive technology. For example the UK Government has fully endorsed the recommendations of the Finch Report and is supporting the development of sustainable funding models that link APCs and subscription fees and enable a commercially sustainable transition to Gold OA for both the publishers and the consumers, making a balance between the concerns of the research community and minimizing the risks for the publishers as well as ensuring that publishers have sustainable business models. Another example is the new partnership representing thousands of libraries and key funding agencies and research centres from two dozen countries, created by SCOAP. The aim of this partnership is converting key journals in the field of High-Energy Physics to Gold OA at no cost for authors; instead the partners will be paying participating publishers an average APC of 1,586 USD to account for their conversion to GOLD OA.
The position taken by important agencies such as RCUK and Wellcome also confirms the perception that the period of hybrid journals has to be short. The message is clear: Help is at hand for established publishers to continue playing an important role, provided that they convert to Gold OA within a reasonable short period of time.
RCUK and Wellcome Trust do not exclude hybrid journals from funding but they are not going to continue funding hybrid journals indefinitely because this would give less incentive for established publishers to complete the change to Gold OA; would give publishers an incentive to keep hybrid APCs at their current high levels; would strengthen a hybrid model that is neither transparent nor helping to reduce subscription prices; and while helping to increase the uptake of hybrid OA it would not have a lasting effect in OA because the limited APCs funds will be rapidly used up.
Finally, the fact that for some reason the APCs charged by hybrid journals are higher than the APCs charged by Gold OA journals makes hybrid an unsustainable strategy for a long period of time. In general, in this new market, any journal charging an APC over 2,727 USD is in risk of disappearing. PLOS charges an average APC of 2,307 USD but it doesn’t charge authors from 80 low income countries, charges a flat 500 USD to authors from 33 lower middle income countries, and offers its own IAP schema which can reduce the APC associated admin costs for participating institutions.
- What is unsustainable is funding hybrid journals, given their ever increasing numbers and subscription prices. Subscription-based publishers, using hybrid to cram OA into their existing business models at the same time as keeping high APCs and subscription prices, will eventually fail because the market-tolerance and the availability of funds will run out. Gold OA, based in fewer subject-based mega-journals, will make sustainable a post-subscription-based era.
- Publishers’ efforts to tackle honestly, transparently and ingeniously the double-dipping question may have an effect of increasing faith in the hybrid model and may provide a financially sustainable longer period of transition, such as the case of IUCr as described above.
- 10-15 years is a long time in publishing. Anything can happen in that period. However, in the meantime publishers must make sure that the identification of OA articles within hybrid journals is a problem solved.
- Identifying OA articles within hybrid journals is a problem that can be relatively easily solved by adding OA standard metadata elements to the feeds that publishers provide to aggregators, and discovery and I&A services. Some publishers have started to do that and JEMO will be presenting new cases in this blog.
- Academic libraries that invest huge amount of money in Resources Management Systems, Link Resolvers, Catalogues, Discovery Services, Databases Systems and Library Service Platforms are finding out that those systems are often unable to facilitate the discovery of/access to all OA articles published in hybrid journals. Adding OA elements to their source feeds would solve the problem for those systems and thus support the work of libraries and motivate librarians’ support for hybrid.
- A relatively large amount of money is currently going via funding bodies to hybrid journals and it is essential that the funding agencies get value for money, and that the consumers are made aware that such articles are freely available. A transparent and systematic identification of OA articles from hybrid journals is needed, and would increase support for publishers that are using hybrid in their journey to Gold OA.
- It has been demonstrated that Gold Open Access is a disruptive innovation and therefore it is anticipated that it will become the dominant publishing model within the next decade. That means that the disruption caused by OA in the publishing market will win the battle in 10 years. The need for hybrid journals would have ceased. Green OA and embargo periods will become much less significant, as their existence is closely linked to the existence of subscription-based journals.
Notes and references
Lewis D.W. (2012) The Inevitability of Open Access. College & Research Libraries. Vol. 73 No. 5 pp. 493-506. URL: http://crl.acrl.org/content/73/5/493.abstract
 Christensen, C. (2011). The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. HarperBusiness. p. 336. ISBN 0062060244.
 Christensen, C; Johnson, C; Horn, M (2010). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (2 ed.). p. 272. ISBN 9780071749107.
 Laakso M, Welling P, Bukvova H, Nyman L., Bjork B, and Hedlund T. (2011) The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009 PLoS ONE 6 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0020961
 Kingsley D. Do OA funds support hybrid? Australian Open Access Support Group website http://aoasg.org.au/funding-hybrid/
 Laakso M and Björk B. Anatomy of open access publishing: a study of longitudinal development and internal structure. BMC Medicine 2012, 10:124 http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1741-7015-10-124
 Van Noorden R. (2013) Open access: The true cost of science publishing. Nature. Vol 495, March 2013 pp 426-429. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/495426a
 Björk B. (2012) The hybrid model for open access publication of scholarly articles: A failed experiment? Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Volume 63, Issue 8, pp 1496–1504 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/asi.22709
 Solomon D.J, Laaksob M and Björkb B. (2013) A longitudinal comparison of citation rates and growth among open access journals. Accepted Version for publication in the Journal of Informetrics. http://www.openaccesspublishing.org/apc9/acceptedversion.pdf
 Peters, P (2007) Going all the way: how Hindawi became an open access publisher. Learned Publishing 20, 191-195. http://dx.doi.org/10.1087/095315107X204049
(1) In this context transitional means moving from a wholly subscription business model to a wholly OA business model (Gold OA)
(2) Publishers can use any of the six Creative Commons licenses currently available and described at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/
(3) APC stands for Article Processing Charge, though very few entities translate it as Article Publication Charge.