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Harvard Library Publishes Report on Converting Subscription Journals to Open Access

The report is a comprehensive review of diverse approaches to convert subscription journals to open access. 


The Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) is pleased to announce the release of a comprehensive literature review on strategies for converting subscription journals to open access.

In the spring of 2015, the OSC commissioned the research from David Solomon, Mikael Laakso, and Bo-Christer Björk, who completed it in the spring of 2016. We posted a preliminary draft online for a four month public-comment period, and asked a distinguished panel of 20 colleagues to add their own comments. 

The authors identified 15 journal-flipping scenarios: 10 that depend on article processing charges (APCs) and 5 that dispense with APCs. For each one they give examples, evidence, and their assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. The examples come from all scholarly niches by academic field, regions of the world, and economic strata. 

"This report is the first of its kind," said Peter Suber, Director of the Office for Scholarly Communication. "It identifies a large number of distinct pathways from subscriptions to open access. As non-OA journals consider the move to OA, it will help them find a model that might work for them. At the same time, it helps OA proponents recommend models that might work for a given journal or publisher. It should put an end to the idea that there's only one way to flip a journal to OA, and at the same time invite deeper exploration of the options and the experiences of the journals that have already made the move."

This comprehensive review of diverse approaches is the report’s strength. Not every flip was a success, and not all the flips that were successful using one scenario would have been successful with a different scenario. But there were successes under every scenario and in every scholarly niche. Journals that picked a scenario that fit their circumstances were able preserve or enhance their readership, submissions, quality, and financial sustainability.

The invited panelists represent a wide range of relevant experience and expertise, including OA and non-OA academic publishing, fee-based and no-fee OA publishing, for-profit and non-profit OA publishing, society and non-society OA publishing, the global north and global south, the sciences and humanities. 

The overall questions were: What has already been done? What conversion methods have been tried or proposed? What has been the outcome for submissions, readership, quality, impact, and finances? Which conversion scenarios have good track records, and in which scholarly niches? When journal publishers consider a move to OA, what options and evidence should they take into account?

The research was made possible by a grant to the Harvard Library from the Arcadia Fund. OSC thanks both the Arcadia Fund and the Harvard Library for supporting this research. 

Text of the report:

Journal-flipping project home page:


Article written by the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication.

Article published on August 5, 2016.