An overview of business models

Business Models for Open Access Monographs: A Summary Document

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The number of business models for Open Access (OA) monographs is extensive and new business models are constantly being developed and trialled. In this emergent marketplace, many of the models are ‘not well tested’, well understood or well established. Yet this does not mean that they won’t be successful or become widely accepted by the scholarly community.

The OAPEN-UK SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) workshops are a key element of the OAPEN-UK project. When the project started in 2010 there was little activity taking place in the area of OA monographs, let alone actual testing of business models. Over the last four years we have been examining the attitudes and perceptions of different stakeholders in the UK scholarly community towards OA monographs and it is clear (as echoed in the recent HEFCE report ) that ‘understanding the opportunities and barriers to delivering open access for monographs, and the merits and drawbacks of various models that are emerging for doing so’ is critical to future adoption of business models. We can already see from OAPEN-UK research that it is unlikely that a single business model will exist due to the plethora of attitudes and the complexity of the market. So it is important to delve into the attitudes and perceptions of three main stakeholder groups (librarians / institutions, researchers as both readers and authors, and publishers) towards the various business models for OA monographs in order to build a clearer picture of which models are likely to be more acceptable and achievable.

To support the attendees of the workshops, this document attempts to provide an overview of the various business models currently being explored for OA monographs. In no way is it comprehensive or complete. Instead, it attempts to summarise the various business models in the field of OA monographs, informed in the main by findings from both the OAPEN-UK project and the recent HEFCE report on ‘Monographs and Open Access’. It also incorporates the business models already outlined in the ‘Open Access Directory’ as well as those previously featured in a report in ‘Jisc Inform’.

Before proceeding to the summary of business models, however, it is necessary to be clear on what is meant by a ‘business model’. To align with the recent HEFCE report, we shall use the same definition – namely that business model shall mean:

‘a combination of actors and processes (including flows of funds) that carry out the publishing function in a replicable manner at some scale. In other words, to qualify as a business model, the operation has to be a serious attempt to produce books on an ongoing basis for a sizeable readership.’ (p5)

The types of business models listed below (in bold), then, lie somewhere between the parameters of the traditional print approach to publishing and mission-oriented OA: The former focuses on selling books for profit, whilst the latter is largely driven by an ‘idealistic or disruptive purpose’ with an ‘emphasis placed on openness’ to make all publications widely available in digital format for free.

In order to facilitate analysis of the different business models for OA monographs at the forthcoming OAPEN-UK SWOT workshops, this document has divided them into three target groups, namely:

  1. author/institution/funder-pays models
  2. publisher-bears-the-risk revenue models
  3. community-pays models

The attendees of the workshops will be asked to consider the SWOTS of models in each of the above groups. As well as any other characteristics that the attendees would like to add to the SWOT charts for each model analysed, attendees will be required to consider the six performance criteria originally outlined in Annex 4 of the HEFCE report in order to create consistency, not just between the OAPEN-UK SWOT sessions and the HEFCE study, but also between all the business models examined in the workshops. The six performance criteria are defined in the HEFCE report as follows:

  • Quality refers to the publisher’s ability to produce books that reflect and advance the state of knowledge in the respective field of scholarship. Quality is bound up with the editorial acquisition process (including commissioning, scholarly review, and the publishing decision itself), as well as editing tasks of varying scope, and is dependent on the relationship between the publisher and the author, and to a certain extent, the embeddedness of the publisher in the academic community more broadly.
  • Sustainability refers to the publisher’s ability to fulfil its function on an ongoing basis. This has two aspects: the first and most crucial one relates to financial viability in the sense that the funds available are sufficient to sustain the activities carried out on an ongoing basis over a reasonable time (e.g. the time it takes to establish the systems that are needed to produce and disseminate books and to forge relationships with authors, service providers and clients). The second aspect is more technical and refers simply to the ability of the publisher to ensure long-term access to its books.
  • Dissemination is essential to the viable operation of OA (in that it is a requirement) that OA achieves greater dissemination of monographs than the for-profit model, either in the sense of simply reaching a wider audience, or gaining readers in communities currently excluded from access.
  • Diversity means that the system caters to the needs of scholars in different fields, at different stages in their career, at different institutions and at different positions in the academic hierarchy, with different approaches to scholarship (digital humanities as well as traditional fields) and different preferences regarding intellectual property rights, output and dissemination formats, etc. Diversity is also of value from the reader-side, again concerning different formats, different service levels, and different distribution channels.
  • Innovation refers to the ability to expand the possibilities of academic monograph publishing in ways that benefit users. One aspect (bound up with dissemination) is the overall enhanced distribution of knowledge, including better discoverability, indexing, etc., and better solutions for end users (delivery models, ‘super journals’, package deals, cross referrals, etc.). The other is innovation that advances scholarship and the production of knowledge itself, e.g. through digitally enabled research approaches (digital humanities), comprehensive hyperlinking of relevant texts, tagging at the concept level etc., and new approaches to academic working practices (multi-author collaboration, post-publication peer review, etc.).
  • Integrity means that the system as a whole is credible, in the sense that actors engaged in scholarly publishing are collectively seen by the relevant communities as capable of meeting the needs of those communities.In other words, this refers to upholding standards to ensure that the model enjoys the support of the academic community (as readers and as authors).


Author/Institution/Funder-pays models


These models are largely based on the ‘author pays’ models for journal articles (article processing charges – APCs), where the author (or perhaps also the author’s funder or employer/institution) pays a fee for a book to become open access.

Publication fees / Book Processing Charges

These are fees paid to the publisher to publish a book in OA format. Current OA publication fees for monographs vary by publisher but they can be a set fee (e.g. £11,000 Palgrave) or a fee based on the number of chapters (e.g. $2,400 de Gruyter), words (e.g. £5,900 for 80,000 words Manchester University Press), etc. In some cases, where the author’s institution is a member of the publishers open access offering, a discounted fee is charged.

The publication fees can include or exclude a number of format and licensing options and may increase as a consequence:

  • OA HTML version only
  • OA PDF version only
  • OA all e-formats (ePub, Mobi etc)
  • Print on Demand (POD)
  • CC BY licence (the most open licence) – CC BY NC-ND (the most restrictive licence)

If a particular option is excluded from the publication fee, it is likely that the publisher will be charging the reader a fee to purchase a copy of the monograph in a particular format.

It should be noted that costs for the inclusion of third party content such as images are not always included in the publication fee. The funds for which the author has to find separately.

Institutional subsidies

This is becoming an increasingly popular model as institutions/universities recognise the value of supporting an open access publishing venture either in-house or at another institution. The support offered may be straight financial funds, covering estate costs, services in kind, use of in-house production equipment, staff expertise, etc. In many cases there is a strong relationship between the new university press and the library. This approach is common to the New University Press route to OA, where institutionally-affiliated researchers are supported financially, but money can still be made from fees charged to authors outside the home institution. In addition, the press can still raise revenue by selling POD editions / other formats of a book.

Publisher/Press bears the risk revenue models


These models take the costs of OA monographs off the author and put the onus on the publisher/press to generate revenue from other sources. The risk is borne by the publisher – the level of risk varies.

Toll-access / Print Subsidy

In this model the publisher makes a particular version of the open access content available freely online (such as the HTML version) and charges for other formats such as PDF or print. The model relies on demand for alternative versions and the co-existence of print and electronic versions. This model has been adopted by many university presses and new presses including Open Book Publishers. It should be noted that this model can often be the flip side to the publication fee model in that the publication fee may only cover the OA PDF or OA HTML and not the ePub copy. The publisher is then free to charge for other formats and collect sales revenue.

Alternatively, the publisher may not make any charges for the OA editions and takes on the risk by collecting revenue from the POD edition to cover all publication costs.

This model is also sometimes referred to as Tiered Quality, where free OA to a book is offered in a lower-quality format (such as OA HTML, which comes without formatting or edited page layouts). Charges are then applied for readers wishing to access other formats with greater functionality and polish.

Freemium / Value Added Services for the Reader

This model is slightly blurred with the Tiered Quality model but rather than just offering different formats, it also offers the reader additional ‘premium’ services which are charged for. These services could include full-browsing functions and full-text searches, navigation tools or external connections to related blogs and podcasts. It could also include access to additional content that is supportive of the research, translations of the work, etc.

Embargo / Delayed OA

In this model, the monograph is only released in OA format after a pre-determined amount of time or after the publisher has recouped an agreed amount of revenue from sales.

Cross subsidies

This business model works when publishers fund OA editions of a book from profits made from non-OA publications or other activities (conferences, journal subscriptions, etc.). This is particularly common in university presses and learned societies. Some university presses, in particular, use revenues generated from non-OA operations to support Selective OA, which occurs when only certain, selected works are made available in OA, usually to achieve maximum impact.


This approach allows a publisher to build an endowment and then use the annual interest to cover OA publication costs. In some cases, such as the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, the funds in the endowment are provided by institutions or other bodies that provide funding.


This occurs when a publisher solicits donations for OA publications, either periodically or continuously. ‘Wikibooks’ currently employs this model by constantly asking for donations on its navigation bar.


This approach allows publishers to sell advertising space on or within the OA content and then use the revenue to fund OA publication costs.

Community-pays models


‘Community-pays’ models open up the more traditional two-way exchange between author and publisher and involve other stakeholders in the process of covering OA publication costs. Communities – or consortia – can meet OA costs through:

Collaborative underwriting

This is the typical Consortia or Community approach to OA. It occurs when participating institutions (usually libraries) group together to meet the price a publisher has agreed and, therefore, share the production costs for publishing the first digital copy of an OA title. Print books are still available for purchase separately. This collaborative approach is exemplified by the ‘Knowledge Unlatched’ project, which operates by creating a global library consortium. The more libraries from the consortium that decide to ‘unlatch’ a particular title, the lower the cost. In addition, members receive discounts on hardback and premium e-book versions of ‘unlatched’ books.

This might also be known as a membership or partnership model.


This model works when the public sets a sum that an author would be paid to create OA content on a particular, predefined topic. This approach allows the public to identify a need for an authoritative work on a certain topic and to present an offer to a publisher, who will then produce the work and find an appropriate author for the task of writing the content. Whilst commissioning does take place within the monograph market, it is usually decided by the publisher alongside a series editor for example, rather than the general public.


This model is similar to the Commissioning approach but, instead, it relies on a publisher taking the initiative by pitching a range of potential projects online, from which the public – or the “crowd”-chooses which project it wants to support and then raises funds to support it through donations. is an example of this model.

Liberation OA

This approach usually involves sponsors (which could be individuals, foundations or governments) buying the copyrights to existing works and then making them OA. Again has worked with de Gruyter to raise funds to open up the de Gruyter back list of monographs.

Freemium Community

This involves members (mainly libraries) paying a publisher for ‘premium’ access to all e-formats other than the basic free version and, thus, avoids any charge to the reader. The premium service paid for may include additional services of value to the library such as enhanced metadata, usage statistics, governance, print copies etc. OpenEditions is a good example of this model. The revenue generated through the premium services allows the free service to be maintained, revenue to be passed back to the publisher or author, and further investment in the platform.