Alice MeadowsFor learned societies, the steady rise of open access can seem like a daunting prospect. In this guest post, Alice Meadows shows how OA is not necessarily a threat to society publishers and explores five ways to get started. Alice is Director of Communications for Wiley, with responsibility for external communications with Wiley’s key audiences – researchers (including authors and early career researchers), libraries, and societies, among others. She previously held a number of marketing roles at Wiley and, before that,  Blackwell including most recently as Director of Society Relations. 


A couple of years ago I wrote a post about open access and societies that highlighted some of the key challenges they face, including the tension between their mission to disseminate information versus the threat to their revenues posed by OA. But I’m happy to report that more and more societies are finding ways of making OA work for them. In fact, according to this list compiled by SPARC, there are now over 850 OA society journals. And, although a recent survey by ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers) and Taylor & Francis found that 41% of respondents still view OA as a threat, and only 30% see it as an opportunity (the remaining 29% are neutral), apparently “Whilst ‘threat’ is still the larger number, the difference between these two camps has halved since 2013.”

There's more than one way to slice the open access cake

There’s more than one way to slice the open access cake

At a recent Copyright Clearance Center and Wiley-hosted webinar on this topic, my colleague Rachel Burley outlined a number of approaches that some societies are taking to making their content openly available without compromising their overall sustainability – something another recent survey (by TBI for EDP Open) found was the biggest single issue for 82% of the society executives who responded.

Some of the OA options available to societies include:

  • The hybrid model: arguably the perfect way to test the gold OA water, this enables societies to offer authors the option to publish their papers OA in return for an article publication charge (APC), while continuing to publish most papers under a subscription model. Over 600 society journals published by Wiley offer our OnlineOpen option, and takeup averages 4%. Importantly, without a gold option for authors, some funders require their research to be made available within a shorter embargo period – by converting journals to hybrid, societies can avert this risk. It’s essential, however, for societies not to be seen as double dipping – effectively requiring subscribers to pay for content that has already been paid to be openly available. Many societies partner with publishers, most of whom (including Wiley) have introduced policies to ensure this isn’t the case.
  • ‘Flipping’ journals: where takeup of the hybrid option proves very popular, or for newer journals with few subscribers but a high impact factor, societies are increasingly starting to ‘flip’ titles from subscription to gold OA. EMBO Molecular Medicine is a great example. Launched as a traditional subscription journal by EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization) in 2009, it converted to open access in early 2012 and now has an IF of 8.2. If you’d like more detail on whether, when, and how to flip a journal (including our experience with EMBO Molecular Medicine), I recommend you watch this video of a talk on the topic by Jackie Jones, another Wiley colleague, at the 2014 ALPSP International Conference. The slides are also available here.
  • Launching a born OA journal is another option, particularly in well-funded and fast-moving fields, for example in the health and life sciences. Successful society examples include Journal of the American Heart Association, which launched in February 2012 and has now published over 700 articles.
  • The cascade model: an increasing number of societies are also choosing to help support OA journals – either their own or others – through a manuscript transfer program, whereby authors of articles that have not been accepted are offered the chance to transfer their paper and the accompanying peer review to a gold OA journal. This model has proved popular with societies and authors alike. Tens of societies are now supporting cascade journals published by Wiley, and 12 have launched their own cascade journals, including the American Physiological Society and The Physiological Society (whose Executive Director Philip Wright also spoke at the CCC webinar mentioned above), which co-founded Physiological Reports, launched in 2013.
  • Going green: given the plethora of green OA mandates now in place – often across all disciplines – all societies should be considering introducing a self-archiving policy if they haven’t already done so. But deciding on an appropriate policy – especially in terms of embargo periods– can be challenging for societies. On the one hand, funders are recommending (or in some cases mandating) anything from 6 – 36 months; on the other, many societies are concerned that libraries may start to cancel subscriptions if embargo periods are too short. There’s a great summary of some of the issues in this recent interview with Chris Wickham about a study he carried out for the British Academy. (Irrespective of embargo period or, indeed, of business model, most societies are keen to drive usage of articles on their own (or their publishing partners’) platforms, something which CHORUS*(Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States) has been set up to facilitate. Details of this and other CHORUS benefits for publishers can be found here.)

More models continue to be proposed, including an ambitious one set out in a white paper from KN Consultants* – A Scalable and Sustainable Approach to Open Access Publishing and Archiving for Humanities and Social Sciences – which, among other things, specifically addresses the problems facing HSS societies.

The fact that such a wide range of options already exists shows the importance of not taking a one-size-fits-all approach to OA for societies. Every community has different needs and, by continuing to experiment with different OA models, there’s a good chance that – in time – every society will find one that works for them and for their members.

*Disclosures: I am Chair of the CHORUS Communications Working Group (2013 – present) and a Board Member of KN Consultants (2014)