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Open Access Challenges for Small Publishers

The following blog post is a recap of our webinar "Open Access Challenges for Small Publishers." Our guest speakers shared their experiences on these topics and discussed challenges faced in making Open Access a reality.

Event duration September 19, 2022
Event location Copenhagen, Denmark
Speakers & Moderator

Partner at White Horse Press
James Rice

James Rice

Journals Manager at University of Wisconsin Press
Toni Gunnison

Toni Gunnison

Chief Social Scientist at Common Ground Research Networks
Phillip Kalantzis-Cope

Phillip Kalantzis-Cope

Head of Publisher Relations at ChronosHub
Romy Beard

Romy Beard

Romy is specialized in the academic online publishing industry, with a focus on publisher relations. And she’s one of our key experts in Open Access publishing terms. 


Let them have Open Access

First up was Phillip Kalantzis-Cope from CGRN, a publisher who focus on the arts, design, humanities, and social sciences. Out of 67 journals in total, 53 are hybrid and 14 are fully OA journals.

A year and a half ago CGRN began the intensive process of changing all their Spanish language journals to gold OA. Phillip admitted it was a complicated and lengthy process, but he was happy to announce the demanding work paid off! This set of journals were successfully converted to fully OA. And now, they are seeing a growth in OA for their Spanish language titles.

CGRN observed that European researchers were seeking green OA options to meet funding requirements. Therefore, they’ve implemented their transition to OA across all their journals. “We are keen to make sure our authors are able to publish within our journals, but also are in step with the requirements of their countries.”

This approach was echoed by Toni Gunnison, at University of Wisconsin Press. They publish 12 humanities and social science journals, all of which are hybrid. They introduced Green OA for all articles, because funders increasingly require that their researchers deposit their manuscripts in a repository.

In a similar model to both the other publishers, James Rice from White Horse Press noted that they have a green option. They offer an immediate OA route for four journals, but the uptake is a handful every year. However, White Horse Press are seeing a growth in OA year on year across their five journals, four of which are hybrid and one fully diamond OA journal. The amount of OA articles has more than doubled already this year from 9% in 2021 to 20% in 2022.

Because of the national and international push for OA University of Wisconsin Press have considered ways to make content more accessible beyond OA models. They have ensured their editorials and section introductions are available OA and supplementary materials are openly readable, but not with a CC BY license. They regularly do promotions to make an article free to read for a period and whilst this is not technically OA it does help to meet the goals of the authors by widening their readership.

This unorthodox approach is one-way small publishers can dip their toes into promoting OA. Throughout the discussion it was acknowledged that it is a tough balancing act to manage and grow established relationships with research communities whilst considering the financial and administrative implications OA brings. For small publishers it requires research, persistence and thinking about the business in a new way.

The move to Open Access is a very fundamental change in the industry. We expect there to be a time when it is no longer viable for a company like ours to survive if we are not Open Access… We must think much more like a service provider than we have traditionally. Making any kind of fundamental change to a business takes time and effort and focus, but we have to keep publishing the books and journals in the meantime. Taking time out to do other developmental work is challenging when you have low capacity to begin with.

James Rice, White Horse Press

Finding sustainable models

Toni and Phillip pointed out that there is less money available for humanities and social science authors to publish OA than in STEM subjects. To meet the demands of the subject areas they serve, they have tried to make the hybrid route as affordable as possible. It turns out that authors from the arts, design, and humanities are less familiar with the cost of article processing charges (APCs) needed to publish OA.

Within this fee-paying structure there are also concerns about equality. White Horse Press posed the question - how do we work an APC model that is equitable? “We would like to avoid charging APCs to maintain a strictly fair playing field when it comes to publishing research.”

One solution came from White Horse Press’ fully OA journal. It is supported by a sponsor, but replicating this across all the journals is a challenge and carries a degree of uncertainty – what happens if the sponsor no longer supports the journal? Toni Gunnison completely understood these worries - University of Wisconsin Press published a diamond OA journal for two years. It was grant supported and unfortunately, they lost their funding. It left them “feeling a bit shy to try other super bold initiatives.”

Despite this, the publishing of OA articles has had a slight increase this year at the University of Wisconsin Press because a journal approached them to publish a special edition as diamond OA. Following on from this, a member of the audience asked a question that Phillip thought got to the heart of the sustainability issue – “Should publishers be based within university systems? The staff are paid salaries by the institution and researchers can publish without paying fees.”

In response to this, Toni said she would be delighted with that as the solution! – If only it was that simple. She went on to explain: “Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas all were threatened with being shut down in the past five to seven years because the universities demanded that they make money and don’t lose money.”

There was an agreement between the three panelists that the OA landscape is constantly evolving and it is difficult to predict the models that might exist in future. James remarked that this is not just an issue from small publishers: “publishers of all scales likely have questions about which OA models are sustainable.” The worst-case scenario is being locked into an outdated OA model without the resources to adapt quickly.

Open Access does not just affect the financial stability of small publishers, but also the finances of academic societies and the communities they serve. Toni pointed out: “Some of our journals are strongly associated with societies and they are reliant on the surplus we can provide them. It would be financially unsustainable for the society to not have this money.” Whilst serving academic communities and committing to a more open world is paramount, concerns were raised about the instability of revenue coming from APCs in comparison to predictable income from traditional subscription models.

Is Subscribe to Open (S2O) the answer?

Romi raised the pertinent question - is there sustainability in the industry going forward? Are there any models that you think are more sustainable?

Subscribe to Open (S2O) was discussed as a practical solution. The model replicates subscription agreements - except subscribers pay for all articles to be OA. To work all subscribers must renew year on year. (

James raised the point: “if you don’t have those direct relationships to make the case for why the publication is valuable and why it contributes to the public good… then it is a challenge to put one’s case across.” White Horse Press have launched an S2O campaign for one of their journals this year and so far, the response has been good.

They are going to see how it goes and roll it out to their other titles if it is a success. They hope that S2O is a sustainable possibility. Perhaps Read and Publish agreements are much more sustainable in terms of a business model, but small publishers need extra support and infrastructure to get this off the ground.

This lead Romi to want to know more about how Read and Publish agreements work for small publishers. Do they replace subscription agreements? Do small publishers work with subscription agents to sell their journals?

For James, it does seem difficult at the scale they work at to roll out Read and Publish agreements. The interdisciplinary nature of their catalogue and the international spread of their authors means that they don’t have multiple authors at a handful of institutions publishing all the time.

White Horse Press began to use a subscription agent to sell their journals to libraries and institutions. When they began their S2O campaign it was tough because they had a limited number of direct relationships with institutions or libraries. From their subscription agent they were able to get a subscriber list and do outreach that way. Using a subscription agent meant they don’t have a history of being in contact with their customers, which is challenging when they need a network to be OA.

Is this easier for University of Wisconsin Press to manage because they are in the library?

Toni confirmed it is a comparable situation to White Horse Press and they also use subscription agents. Understandably libraries prefer to work with one agent rather than managing a one-to-one relationship with every publisher in the world! It is much more efficient this way.

This lead Romi to wonder if there is space for subscription agents to play a bigger role helping small publishers move to OA. Can agents help to push libraries to S2O?

James said that it depends on the interests of the subscription agent because they “must advocate why doing it this is way is something different from a straightforward subscription.” Even although they are not running a S2O trial now, Toni could imagine that larger agents would be interested in this way of working.

Reaching out to researchers

Romi wondered if part of the challenge is educating authors and asked the panelists if they view educating researchers as part of their role - do small publishers also find themselves as OA educators?

Phillip did see this as a considerable aspect of the OA challenge. Particularly within the art and design subject area because authors are unfamiliar with the fee system that is attached to OA. At CGRN “editorial and production teams spend time reaching out to authors to help them understand how APCs work. The conversations are not always easy, as pressure on academic budgets is considerable.” He reflected that this is because the publication model is changing, which in turn causes confusion and researchers are often unaware of funding available to pay APCs.

Toni was not sure that education is necessarily the issue, but thought it was important to acknowledge that authors have different goals. She shared that in come cases authors are not aware or interested in OA. In other situations, authors are worried about losing control over their work and are resistant to the idea of publishing something that has an open license.

For White Horse Press, the problem of authors resisting OA hasn’t been an issue because authors can select their route in hybrid journals. James hasn’t picked up on authors being unaware of OA, it’s more like what Toni was saying – if the author is not interested, they are not interested. It appears to be that when funders mandate that research outputs are Open Access that interest and need is generated and publishers need to have an option for those authors.

What's next?

Phillip looked to lessons learned during the pandemic. As the world flipped to online conferences CGRN considered how they could support researchers to deliver papers online. They built their own infrastructure to allow presenters to share digital content. Going forward they are looking at how conference content can be accessible to all and not just to those who attended.

Following on from this University of Wisconsin Press would like to see more fully OA editions of journals, just like the diamond special edition they have had this year. Toni said they are looking at S2O but want to see more results in the field before making a commitment to experimenting with the model.

For White Horse Press their first milestone will be to see if their new S2O offer works and if so, it will be rolled out to their other titles. They will concentrate on infrastructure that helps to develop links between them and institutions such as OA Switchboard. James said they are also hoping to get support from JISCs OA Community Framework (OACF). All of this will help them form relationships with libraries and institutions without lengthy one-to-one negotiations.

It sounds like small publishers can adapt to the challenges OA brings by responding to the needs of their authors, being inventive with possible solutions and using existing infrastructure to try out new ways of working.


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