Flipping journals from subscription to open access

More Elsevier journals are changing to open access; what will this mean for authors and customers?

Editor's Note: Since publication, several of you have raised a very good question on our Facebook page about the affordability of publishing fees for researchers in low-income countries. Elsevier is a founding member of Research4Life, a program that gives access to developing countries. Elsevier also has a waiver policy for open access publishing that gives preference for participating Research4Life countries. — Alison Bert

For some of Elsevier's journals, 2014 is the beginning of a new journey as an open access publication. Seven established subscription journals will change to open access. This article explores how plans for the journey began and what the impact will be on authors and customers.

Community approach

A new beginning in 2014. On January 1, Physics Letters B and Nuclear Physics became open access. Elsevier will change five more titles this year: Stem Cell Research, The International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Epidemics, and EJC Supplements.Open access is not a new concept, and the start of the open access journey for these seven journals began several years ago. In any transition to open access, the aim is to find practical ways to implement it that will work over time and at scale while maintaining quality and research impact. Collaboration among stakeholders in each subject area is crucial for success.

Bringing the key stakeholders together – authors, institutions, publishers and associations – has led to collaborative and unique pilots. For example, the SCOAP3 (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics) initiative is a unique way to bring open access to the high-energy physics community. Essentially, this is a new program which centrally supports the open access fees needed to fund open access journals in this community.

To make this a reality, publishers and librarians needed to work together. Publishers have flipped established high-energy physics journals to open access to provide more publication choices for authors. SCOAP3 includes two former Elsevier subscription titles: Physics Letters B and Nuclear Physics B, which just became open access on January 1. The funds used by libraries to pay subscription costs for these two journals will be re-directed to SCOAP3, which centrally pays the open access costs of the flipped journals. Authors can continue to publish their research in familiar quality journals, with the additional benefit of the articles being immediately and publically available.

"As high-energy physics journals flip to open access, this is a time of reflection," said Dr. Salvatore Mele, who led the building of the SCOAP3 initiative at CERN. "Hard work and close collaboration have brought this open access initiative into reality. Many different stakeholders have reached unprecedented consensus: libraries, funding agencies, research organizations and publishers such as Elsevier. All together they have made this possible."

Listening to authors

In other communities, the open access journey for a journal begins with authors and their desire to publish open access. Elsevier has been supporting authors by launching new open access journals and by offering authors the option to publish open access in over 1,600 established journals. In some cases where there is clear and sustained support for open access from the author community, this will involve flipping journals from subscription to open access to better serve the research community.

In 2014, Elsevier will change five titles to open access in response to authors and the research community: Stem Cell Research, The International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Epidemics and EJC Supplements

Philippe Terheggen, PhD"Open access actually presents an opportunity to bring us closer to our authors, and we are committed to providing more choices for them to publish and promote their research," said Dr. Philippe Terheggen, Managing Director of STM Journals at Elsevier. "In areas where we have seen a clear uptake and support for open access publishing from authors, funders and the wider community, we will take a carefully considered decision to flip a journal. Our priority is always to focus on what authors need and to provide the best quality journal to serve the community, regardless of the business model."

What exactly changes when a journal becomes open access?

The most important thing to understand about flipping journals is that the change in business model does not impact on the editorial or ethical standards of the journal. The journal maintains the same editorial board, and articles undergo the same peer review process. What changes is how the articles are made available and how the costs of publication are covered.

The costs of publication in a subscription journal are covered by subscription fees, and upon publication the articles are immediately accessible to subscribers. Articles in open access journals are broadcast to everyone. The costs are covered by an open access publication fee, paid by the author, his or her institution, or a funder.

After a journal is flipped from subscription to open access, libraries no longer need to subscribe to these titles as the new content is publically available. Past issues remain accessible to subscribers through their collection agreements, which will be adjusted to remove the new open access journals.

Elsevier's provides authors who choose to publish open access with a choice of Creative Commons user licenses, including CC BY, and offers a varied pricing structure of open access publication fees that range from $500 to $5,000 depending on the dynamics of the scientific community and the article type.

How does Elsevier support implementing open access?

We realize that the journey towards an open access world will take many different paths, reflecting the differences among disciplines. There is certainly no single, standard approach.

At Elsevier, we are working and collaborating in many different regions and fields to see how best to support open access where there is need from the research community. In some cases, this will mean expanding our open access options; in others, it will involve piloting and testing new approaches, such as SCOAP3. We are excited to see what will become of our new open access journals and to continue to work closely to implement open access.


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Rachel MartinRachel Martin (@rachelcmartin) is the Universal Access Communications Manager at Elsevier, based in Amsterdam. She is responsible for helping to communicate Elsevier's progress in areas such as open access, philanthropic access programs and access technologies.[divider]

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3 Archived Comments

Stevan Harnad January 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Open Access Publishing ("Gold OA") are premature. Funds are short; 80% of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA; the asking price for Gold OA is still high; and there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards. What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors' final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) ("Green OA"). That will provide immediate OA; and if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions) that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery model; meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs. The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a "no-fault basis," with the author's institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

Richard Poynder January 14, 2014 at 10:00 am

"Elsevier also has a waiver policy for open access publishing that gives preference for participating Research4Life countries."

Can you please provide a link to the text outlining exactly how Elsevier's waiver policy works, who is eligible, and when?

Alicia Wise January 15, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Richard — Information about this is on our OA pricing policy page: http://www.elsevier.com/about/open-access/open-access-policies/open-access-pricing-policy

Richard Poynder January 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Thanks to Alicia for replying to my question. What I read is this:

"If you would like your article to be published open access, but you genuinely cannot afford these fees, then individual waiver requests are considered on a case-by-case basis and may be granted in cases of genuine need. Priority for this waiver program will be given to applications by authors from countries eligible for theResearch4Life program".

If I were a researcher in a developing country (or any impecunious researcher) I would not be encouraged by this. I am wondering why Elsevier cannot publish a firm set of criteria, rather than make case-by-case decisions.

In the meantime, I wonder if Alicia could provide some figures on how many waivers Elsevier has provided to date, what percentage of these were full waivers, which journals provided them, and how Elsevier establishes whether a researcher genuinely cannot afford to pay to publish?

Are there at least some internal criteria, or is it at the discretion of individual editors?

Alicia Wise January 17, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Hi Richard,

Our policy is to waive article publishing charges on request from authors in countries eligible for Research4Life who wish to publish in our open access journals, and to consider other requests on a case by case basis.

With kind wishes,


Dr Alicia Wise

Director of Access and Policy



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