The Becker Blog

Subscribe-to-Open – An OA Business Model for the Times


I’ve been in the academic publishing field for a good 45 years, and it’s been quite a journey. The conversation about open access and changing publishing models has been a lively one, growing more intense with time. It’s clear now that it’s not a matter of if but when these changes will happen, and figuring out the right business model is crucial for the survival of many journals.

I’ve seen more discussions at annual Congress sessions (aka The Learneds) focusing on how every part of the scholarly ecosystem can support research work. And it looks like Subscribe-to-Open (S2O) might be the business model needed.

S2O is an innovative twist in academic publishing, offering a viable alternative to the old ways. It’s especially relevant now, with the growing expectation of funding agencies to ensure publicly funded research is publicly available for advancing knowledge across various fields.

The idea behind S2O is straightforward: instead of paying for each article or journal, institutions and individuals subscribe to a publisher’s entire content. In return, the publisher makes this content open for everyone. This way, subscribers essentially become sponsors of open access.

A key advantage of S2O is how it opens up access to research, a key requirement of SSHRC and les Fonds de recherche du Québec. It breaks down the paywall barriers, which is great news, especially for researchers in smaller institutions or developing countries who might not have the budget for pricey journal subscriptions. 

Financially, S2O offers a sustainable model for publishers. With subscriptions from libraries and institutions, publishers can keep a steady revenue flow, avoiding the high costs often associated with open access models like article processing charges (APCs).

However, S2O isn’t without its challenges. It calls for a major shift in how institutions view subscriptions, from a simple transaction to a more collaborative approach. Plus, it needs broad support from the academic community to really take off.

It looks like the S2O model marks a big step forward in making academic research more accessible and fair. By using institutional subscriptions to support open access, it could really change the game in scholarly communication, encouraging free knowledge exchange. It’s a direction that seems to be gaining traction, not just in Canada but in many parts of Europe too.

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