The open access (OA) movement began in the 1990s with the introduction of online publication. To help in the transition to full OA, a hybrid model was adopted by many journals as a way to gradually reduce subscription costs. In the hybrid model, individual articles are made openly available upon payment of an article processing charge (APC), while the journal retains a level of subscription. Since the emergence of hybrid journals, there have been concerns about publishers receiving two revenue streams for one article, which have been compounded by the lack of transparency surrounding the increasing adoption of OA. A recent article by Najko Jahn and colleagues published in JASIST sheds light on these revenue streams by assessing the volume and invoicing of hybrid OA articles at Elsevier.
Using openly available article metadata, the authors found that the uptake of OA grew steadily between 2015 and 2019, with the number of OA articles nearly doubling during this timeframe. However, as the total article output also grew, the relative share of OA publications increased from only 2.6% to 3.7%.
Although the number of hybrid open access articles has increased over time, its uptake has remained low.
The main drivers of hybrid OA in recent years include research institutions and funders that implemented policies and agreements with publishers that allow affiliated authors to publish free of charge. Jahn and colleagues reported that APCs were most often invoiced directly to the authors, albeit it is unclear whether these were covered through institutional OA funds, research grants, or personal savings. OA publication for a third of articles was facilitated through publishing agreements, underlining the impact of science policy in hybrid OA publishing.
Overall, this study highlights the complexity of hybrid OA publishing, which involves research funders, libraries, consortia, and authors. However, the authors focused solely on Elsevier’s journal portfolio, which may not be representative of the industry as a whole. The authors note that having more publishers provide publicly available data on OA uptake and APC invoicing would improve monitoring of the scholarly journal landscape over time. These steps may also help increase transparency and build trust in OA publishing.