Frequently Asked Questions

What is Subscribe to Open (S2O)?

S2O is a subscription model that allows a publisher to convert journals from gated access to Open Access (OA).  Institutional subscription revenue is collected and, assuming all subscribers participate, the publisher commits to publishing that year’s content OA. This is a subscription model, not a voluntary donation. For a fuller description, see “Subscribe to Open: A practical approach for converting subscription journals to open access,” Learned Publishing, October 1, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/leap.1262

How was Subscribe to Open developed?

The design of Subscribe to Open was commissioned and refined by Annual Reviews (www.annualreviews.org), which is currently piloting the model with a subset of its journals. The model was designed by Raym Crow of Chain Bridge Group (www.chainbridgegroup.com).

How does an institution participate in Subscribe to Open?

Subscribe to Open is offered using a publisher’s existing invoicing process. S2O is offered on an opt-out basis, so a library simply pays the invoice to participate.

What happens if all subscribers do not participate?

Subscribe to Open requires all of a journal’s subscribers to participate. If one or more subscribers opt out of the offer, the publisher has the right to fail the offer and keep that year’s content gated. Any library that opted out of the offer would then need a subscription to access the content. Publishers take into account the normal churn of subscriptions.

Is participating in Subscribe to Open a donation?

No. Given the 100% participation requirement, an institution can only guarantee access to each year’s content by subscribing or participating in Subscribe to Open. Therefore, participating in S2O cannot be considered a voluntary donation and should comply with procurement policies that forbid paying for free resources.

Does a publisher publicly specify a revenue target for the Subscribe to Open offer?

No. As S2O is intended to be revenue-neutral for the publisher, all current subscribers must participate in Subscribe to Open to guarantee that the offer succeeds. Moreover, establishing a specific dollar threshold would change the perception and dynamics of Subscribe to Open from a self-interested decision by individual institutions to a collective action based on group dynamics. Given the size and diversity of most journal subscriber bases, a collective action approach would be cost prohibitive.

Is there a way to track the progress of a Subscribe to Open offer?

No, because there is no group contribution target against which to track progress. The success of Subscribe to Open depends on each institution participating in the offer out of individual self-interest in continued access to the content.

Does Subscribe to Open require institutions to act collectively?

No. Subscribe to Open relies on subscribing institutions acting in their own self-interest. The offer is integrated into the routine invoicing process and does not require additional coordination across institutions.

Is Subscribe to Open a subscription payment or an Open Access payment?

Subscribe to Open is a subscription payment as current subscribers cannot ensure continued access without a payment. S2O uses existing library procurement and publisher sales processes to simplify the offer, reduce administrative costs, and allow libraries to utilize their existing subscription budgets.

How is the Subscribe to Open offer presented to libraries?

Subscribe to Open uses existing library budgets and procurement processes with no special handling. Libraries receive the S2O offer via a conventional subscription invoice that includes a discount for participating.

Will the Subscribe to Open offer work with journals included in collections or aggregations?

Yes. A subscriber may opt-out of the S2O offer for a title in a collection, although the institution would lose access to the title and no longer be eligible for the collection discount.

What prevents a subscriber from delaying renewal to see whether the content will be opened?

Institutions that commit to Subscribe to Open will gain access to the new year’s content as soon as it becomes available. The new year’s content will only be opened to everyone else if all subscribers participate.

What would happen if a Subscribe to Open offer were to fail?

If the Subscribe to Open offer were to fail, that year’s new content would remain gated. Libraries that participated in the offer would continue to have access, libraries that opt out or delay will need to subscribe to have access.

What if an institution has a legitimate reason for cancelling a journal?

Over time, some institutions might need to withdraw their commitment to Subscribe to Open for a given journal due to a material change in circumstance (for example, a budget reduction or change in research focus). A publisher’s S2O participation policies might stipulate that an institution may withdraw from participation without causing the offer to fail by notifying the publisher in writing before that year’s deadline, explaining the reasons for the withdrawal.

Will opened content be closed if the offer were to fail in a future year?

No. Once made available open access, a year’s content will remain open in perpetuity and will never be closed.

What license applies to the Subscribe to Open content?

Publishers may apply the Creative Commons license that best serves their needs and those of their authors. Often, this will be a CC BY license.

Can a publisher revert to a conventional subscription model?

Using Subscribe to Open, a publisher never leaves the subscription model: The S2O offer is delivered via invoices to subscribers just as under a conventional subscription.

Will Subscribe to Open work for any journal?

Subscribe to Open works best for established subscription journals with stable subscriber bases. In most cases, it would not be as well-suited to new subscription journals with growing subscriber bases, journals that experience significant subscription churn from year-to-year, existing OA journals, and journals that depend on significant non-subscription revenue (from licensing, advertising, etc.).

Does Subscribe to Open allow a publisher to grow revenue over time?

Subscribe to Open works best for sustaining established journals, with stable revenue streams, that do not rely on new subscribers. As with a subscription journal, a publisher can increase the annual S2O fees moderately to cover routine cost increases.

Can Subscribe to Open accommodate funder mandates?

For most journals, a publisher should be able to implement policies that accommodate authors who need to publish Open Access to satisfy funder mandates, guaranteeing the specified articles will be Open regardless of whether the S2O offer succeeds. However, such an approach might not be tenable for journals with high percentages of articles resulting from funded research.

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