The EDP Sciences-SMAI Subscribe-to-Open programme: how is it going so far?

By Anne Ruimy (Senior Publisher, EDP Sciences) and Amandine Veber (Director of publications, SMAI)

EDP Sciences is a reputed publishing house in Science and Technology, based in France. The Society of Applied and Industrial Mathematics (SMAI) is a French learned society. We have been partners for the publication of 6 journals of applied mathematics for nearly 20 years now. One of these journals has been in open access from the beginning, while the 5 others were historically subscription journals. They have now transitioned to the Subscribe-to-Open (S2O) publication model.

How is our mathematics S2O programme going so far? As we have just launched the yearly subscription renewal campaign under a Subscribe-to-Open model for the 3rd year in a row, we are again sitting on hot coals. It doesn’t get easier waiting for subscriptions to trickle in, or surge in as agencies forward batch orders from their customers at agonizing intervals, while we field assorted questions on why one should pay for something that is already free.  

Year 1 was a breeze. Our first steps in S2O land took place during the pre-COVID days of late 2019. We trialled the new open access transformation model pioneered by Annual Reviews with one maths journal from our portfolio: Mathematical Modelling of Natural Phenomena. MMNP is a relatively small journal, receiving on the order of 200 submissions per year, and publishing around 50 papers on a wide variety of subjects, from models for cancer to analyses of fluid dynamics. The journal has a small subscriber base to match its small size. In fact it costs more to publish than it receives in subscription revenue, even before its open access transition. Along with other journals in the maths portfolio, it is partly cross-subsidized by the flagship journal in the portfolio,  ESAIM: Mathematical Modelling and Numerical Analysis (ESAIM: M2AN). So we figured that the risks of S2O for MMNP were low. At this time, Annual Reviews were transitioning the first five journals to open access under the S2O model, and the model was in its infancy. We braced for a flood of questions from subscribers. We got none. 100% subscribers renewed their subscription, and we flipped the journal. From March 2020, MMNP started publishing newly accepted papers in open access.

Emboldened by this success, at EDP Sciences and SMAI we started imagining that all maths journals in the portfolio could similarly transition to open access under this model. The French mathematics community is very much in favour of open access, but not if it means that authors need to pay to publish. The alternatives for maths publications are either moving to a low-cost open access platform, or finding a way to subsidize the publication of the journals in open access. Subscribe-to-Open is a third way to open access without Article Processing Charges, as it is based on using existing funds and workflows. In the prescient words of Ralf Schimmer et al. in 2015: “there is currently already enough money in the system.”

At the beginning of 2020, we applied for funding from the French “Fonds National pour la Science Ouverte” (FNSO, National Fund for Open Science) to operate the larger scale transition of the entire maths portfolio. Not to make up for a possible shortfall in subscriptions, but to allow us to communicate more effectively about the S2O model in general and about our lovely maths journals that deserve much better recognition. Also, we had a technical problem. Because subscription prices didn’t keep up with journal growth historically, we were limiting the number of articles we published every year. This led to a growing backlog of accepted articles waiting to be published. If S2O was successful, and we continued on this trajectory, there would have been a significant lag before we could publish our first open access articles. Our successful application to the FNSO allowed us to clear the backlog and publish 6 to 12 months’ worth of articles in supplements in free access in February 2021, in the 3 most backlogged journals – RAIRO- Operations Research, ESAIM: Control, Optimisation and Calculus of Variations, and ESAIM:M2AN. In parallel, we made our best to exchange with the community (and in particular the French community) of mathematics librarians and mathematicians to see how S2O was perceived, and how we may improve our implementation of S2O. We were now ready to transition the whole portfolio to open access.

By this time, the COVID pandemic was in full swing. While renewing MMNP subscriptions in late 2019-early 2020 had been a breeze, the 2021 subscription campaign including 5 journals in mathematics and 1 in theoretical computer science under the S2O model hit the COVID storm head on in late 2020-early 2021. It was arguably the worst time to convince libraries suffering from budget cuts that they should continue to subscribe, knowing that perhaps enough other institutions would subscribe so that the content would be open anyway – in S2O-speak: the free riders phenomenon. Our self-imposed target of 95% renewed subscriptions by mid-February came, and went. And it came, and went again, as we moved the red line by successive two-week windows, and were still short of the hoped-for 95% renewals. We reasoned that this was due to administrative delays more than pandemic-related hard budget cuts.  Indeed, subscriptions continued to slowly trickle in, much later than in previous years. However, there came a time when we could not delay making a decision any longer. 

We faced a conundrum. Our heads said that flipping to open access while our targets were not met would create a moral hazard : if subscribers realize that we open the content regardless of the outcome, there is even less incentive to subscribe. Our hearts said that flipping to open access was a much better story than not doing it, and we didn’t want to let our supporters down. We took a gamble. In mid-May, we announced that our 6 journals would be published in open access in 2021. We hoped to make the shortfall with tail-end subscriptions arriving during the remainder of the year. The gamble didn’t completely work out. As we’re nearing the end of 2021, we are still short of our renewal targets for the current year. On the other hand, SMAI’s appeal to French institutions for exceptional funding was met with very generous individual and institutional contributions, acknowledged here.

How will the S2O story unfold for our maths journals? We can’t rely forever on unspent lab funding and the goodwill of individual donors – Subscribe-to-Open is and should be a model based on libraries renewing their subscriptions year after year, or preferably committing to support the publication of journals in open access in the longer term. Are there institutions that are willing to pay to open academic content for all, and not just to avoid the threat that their own access will be cut off? Knowledge Unlatched (KU) are among those who specialize in the impossible: bringing together publishers of scholarly resources, and institutions willing to “unlatch” them for the common good. There are early encouraging results from our partnership, as a few institutions who previously subscribed to only a few of our maths titles decided to take the full package through KU, or new institutions who are strong advocates of S2O and other virtuous open access models decided to subscribe.

Another key to institutional buy-in is financial transparency. This was clearly shown by a recent survey commissioned by Annual Reviews and the S2O Community of Practice to “gauge the level of interest, understanding and support for Subscribe to Open (S2O) among librarians at different types of institutions and in different parts of the world.” Respondents who were familiar with the S2O model ranked different features which they felt would encourage their institution to participate in S2O offers from publishers. “Transparent pricing” came on top at 92.60%, much higher even than “Additional benefits to S2O subscribers”. Based on this knowledge, we published our first Transparency report for the S2O programme. This document is the result of yet another conundrum – how much financial information can we share without disclosing business-critical information? To guide us, we followed the open access mantra:  be “as open as possible and as closed as necessary”. Interested libraries are welcome to contact us for other unpublished information.

So how are we doing so far? The 2022 subscription renewal campaign is still as anxiety-inducing, but we are not alone! We relish the increased closeness that the S2O adventure has brought between EDP Sciences and SMAI. It has become even more a true partnership to publish and disseminate great maths content. The S2O model has put a media spotlight on our small structures. We have gathered around us an Advisory Committee constituted of the major players of scientific publishing in mathematics, and of open access publishing in France, to oversee the mathematics S2O programme. We are part of a strong international S2O community of practice on whom we rely for regular advice and support, and with whom we share our experiences of implementing different flavours of S2O.

And finally at EDP Sciences, we have embarked on a new adventure: introducing the S2O model to  the astronomy community, another community not only adverse to the “gold open access” model but also with a strong “green open access” tradition, with nearly 100% of preprints available on arXiv. Let the dice roll!

Annual Reviews’ 2020 Subscribe to Open Pilot Program

Richard Gallagher

Annual Reviews included five journals in the 2020 pilot program for Subscribe to Open. The decision on whether to publish the 2020 volumes open access was made just ahead of publication date, when maximum information on subscriptions was available. Our titles have publication dates spread across the year, although much of the content is made available as “Reviews in Advance” before these dates. Reviews in Advance were kept behind the paywall.

All five titles met the criterion for open access publication, which was that subscription levels would be maintained. There was a small reduction in subscribers for one title, raising the possibility of excluding it from the program. However, this title had experienced similar small drops in subscriptions in other recent years. We decided to include it, and request information from institutions that did not renew. Across the five titles we recorded a small increase in the number of subscribers.

The graphs below show usage of the five titles in 2019 and 2020, presented in order of publication dates. Note that the paywall was removed from all Annual Reviews content between mid-March and the end of June (as described in my previous post:

Volume 4 of the Annual Review of Cancer Biology was published was published open access via S2O on March 9, 2020. This is the youngest of the quintet of titles in the pilot project (one of the reasons that it was included). Usage in December 2020 was four times greater than in 2019.

Volume 23 of the Annual Review of Political Science was published on May 4, 2020; as explained above, the content had already been opened in mid-March, and it remained open thereafter. In December 2020, articles from this journal were downloaded 151,047 times, an increase by a factor of 5.6 over December 2019.

Two journals were opened on October 20, 2020: Volume 45 of the Annual Review of Environment and Resources and Volume 70 of the Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science.

Usage of the Annual Review of Environment and Resources in December 2020 was 79,767 downloads, exceeding that of December 2019 by a factor of 4.7.

The Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science enjoyed the greatest relative increase in usage of the five journals. In December 2020, there were 31,585 downloads, more than 12 times higher than in December 2019. A large portion of this increase was accounted for by usage in one country, and the range of articles downloaded in large numbers were suggestive of inclusion in an academic course. When that country was excluded from the data, the increase and pattern of usage was consistent with those of the other titles in the pilot program.

The remaining journal is the Annual Review of Public Health. We have used this journal to trial unrestricted access since April 2017, so it did not have a conversion event in 2020. Downloads paralleled 2019 usage, suggesting that the journal has settled into a “new normal.” For comparison below, 2016 usage — the last full year that the journal was paywalled — is shown.

What we learned from the pilot program:

  • A diversity of titles, representing social science, physical science, biology, and biomedicine, and ranging from recently launched (4 years) to highly established (70 years) performed similarly, both in respect to subscriptions and in the rate of increase in usage.
  • Subscriber patterns closely followed the recent trend for each journal, that is, those that have been gaining subscribers had an uptick, those that had a stable base retained that base, and the one that has lost a few subscribers in recent years had a small downtick. Thus, in this first trial, the move to S2O did not alter subscriber behavior.
  • While this stability is welcome, it does not allow conclusions to be drawn about the likely long-term attitude and support for S2O among subscribers.
  • The usage increases were consistent and strong, offering a textbook illustration of the impact of removing paywalls from scholarly publishing.
  • The above was achieved using existing processes, relationships, and budgets.
  • Overall, these findings are encouraging and warrant further exploration of S2O models, by us and other.

The next post will explore usage patterns of open content. 

Richard Gallagher ( is the President of Annual Reviews

Pandemic Usage Validates S2O Effort

Richard Gallagher

As part of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Annual Reviews made all journals available without access control between mid-March and the end of June 2020. This was done to facilitate access by researchers, faculty and students at subscribing institutions. We did no promotion of the removal of the paywall.

For 50 of the 51 titles, usage at least doubled during the freely accessible period, and in many cases tripled, quadrupled or more. These increases were seen across the social, physical, biological and biomedical sciences. Below is an example from each category.

Usage of the Annual Review of Anthropology by month, 2019 and 2020

Usage of the Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics by month, 2019 and 2020

Usage of the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics by month, 2019 and 2020

Usage of the Annual Review of Microbiology by month, 2019 and 2020

These immediate, dramatic increases in usage underline the value of moving all Annual Reviews journals to open access, a goal that we are trying to achieve as quickly as possible.

The journal that didn’t show an increase in March through June 2020 was the Annual Review of Public Health, which has been open since 2017. Usage of this journal throughout 2020 mirrored that of 2019. To illustrate the long-term impact of an Annual Reviews journal being open, the graph below compares usage by month and cumulatively for 2016, the last year that the Annual Review of Public Health was toll access, with 2020.

Usage of the Annual Review of Public Health by month and cumulatively in 2016 and 2020

Although the blue bars look very low, they represent 15,000 – 27,000 downloads per month. The cumulative total for 2020 through November (gold bars) is more than 1.7 million uses.

One last item of interest: there was a disproportionate rise in usage in low-income countries when the content was freely available March-June. This occurred despite the fact that Annual Reviews makes its content available in these countries via Research4Life ( Below are the usage data for an exemplar, Bangladesh.

Annual Reviews usage in Bangladesh, 2019 and 2020

Note the rise of relative increase in usage in the second half of 2020, a consequence of five Annual Reviews journals being published open access using Subscribe to Open.

I will add a blog post about 2020 usage of our five Subscribe to Open titles in January.

Richard Gallagher ( is the President of Annual Reviews

S2O CoP Inaugural Blog Post

Publishers and academic libraries share an interest in promoting open access (OA)—free access without use restrictions—to peer reviewed scholarly and scientific journals. Although article processing charges (APCs) have become the prevalent model for funding OA articles, many authors and publishers find APCs unacceptable or unworkable. In many disciplines, especially in the humanities and social sciences, the funding available for APCs is quite limited. Article fees are also ill-suited to funding some types of research content, including commissioned review articles and other editorial content, such as book reviews and other content.

Subscribe to Open (S2O) represents an innovative approach to flipping existing subscription journals to open access without the use of APCs. Pioneered by the nonprofit publisher Annual Reviews, the model is now being implemented by a growing number of nonprofit and commercial scholarly publishers worldwide.

We have launched this community of practice to support publishers in implementing S2O, to promote experimentation with variations on the model, and to explain the model to academic libraries, research funders, and others interested in innovative open access approaches. We will use this space to discuss strategies for increasing S2O participation over time, for launching new open access journals, and for adapting S2O to  manage participation over time.

We encourage all members of the community—including both publishers and librarians—to contribute to this blog to share experiences, pose questions, and offer their insights about S2O.