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Hybrid journal pricing (1): Impending Oxford Open price increases

Hybrid journal pricing (1): Impending Oxford Open price increases

You are satisfied that Oxford University Press takes the mixed 
revenue model for their hybrid Oxford Open program seriously and 
reduces prices for e-only site licenses for some of their 
journals in response to increased Open Access uptake? Don't cheer 
too soon:

>From Dec 2009, author publication charges for your scientists 
will increase by 40% in GBP or EUR and 25% in USD, for all 
journals in the Oxford Open program for which your library 
maintains a local online subscription [13].

Oxford Open, the hybrid journal program of OUP, carefully 
designed as a controlled experiment and case study [1-4], 
continues to evolve and adjust its pricing model.

OUP promises to (and actually does) adjust the e-only price for 
its hybrid journals in order to "reflect the amount of open 
access versus non-open access content published within each 
journal" during the last completed year when setting its annual 
prices, and this has resulted in some Oxford Open journals 
experiencing a price reduction to the online-only subscription, 
cf. the explanations and examples provided in [5-11]. We have 
recently analysed the 2010 price list [15], and the 2010 OA % 
adjustment ranges from 0% up to 28% (2009: 0%... 24%), with 8 
titles at 16% and above, 20 titles in the range 8%...15%, 33 
titles in the range 1...7% and 25 titles with no adjustment, 
median adjustment was 4% (2009: 2%), average (aggregate) 
adjustment 7% (2009: 5%), relative to the 2010 online only price 
without adjustment which may be derived from the print only and 
combined prices that are not adjusted. Actual price decreases 
relative to 2009 range up to 14%, but there are also price 
increases up to 33% and the median decrease is only 1% in GBP/EUR 
and 2% in USD, the aggregate decrease 1.3% resp. 2.7%.

It may be instructive to compare prices for the journal with the 
largest OA uptake, Bioinformatics. From 2005 to 2010, online only 
price changed from GBP 1008 to GBP 976 or EUR 1512 to 1464 (-3%), 
and USD 1714 to 1951 (+14%, the company exchange rate used for 
USD/GBP was 1,7 in 2005, and 2.0 for 2010). In contrast, during 
the same years, combined subscription rates for print plus online 
increased from GBP 1120 to 1626 or ca. EUR 1680 to 2439 (+45%), 
and from USD 1904 to 3252 (+71%).

There is one peculiar case, Evidence-based Complementary and 
Alternative Medicine (eCAM), where OUP has abandoned the 2009 OA 
adjustment for the online only version, thereby doubling its 
price for 2010. OUP claims that INMPRC's 10 year sponsorship 
grant for eCAM (which helped to start the journal in 2004) has 
ended which seems strange (requests by this author to both the 
editor in chief and the managing editor to confirm this remained 
unanswered). In 2007 eCAM moved from fully sponsored to a 
subscription based model for non-research articles. For 2008 eCAM 
announced a change in its OA policy: while all original research 
articles would continue to be published open access (costs then 
presumably still being covered by the sponsorship grant), 
"Reviews, editorials, commentaries and all other articles 
excluding original articles will be published as standard 
articles, available to subscribers of the journal.

However, the journal will participate in the Oxford Open program, 
and authors may choose to pay the Oxford Open charges in order to 
have their articles published as open access articles." eCAM has 
ca. 55% original research and 45% other articles. For the latter, 
access is subscription based, if authors do not opt in to pay for 
OA. Apparently they do, because the journal is nearly 100% OA 
(almost all articles carry a cc-by-nc license, and the two 
reviews (3%) from 2008, that did not were still labelled with 
'Free Full Text'). So it is a mystery to us why OUP has abandoned 
the OA % adjustment: even if original research articles were no 
longer sponsored through INMPRC, most of the rest is being paid 
for by author charges. We do not know whether any library 
actually pays for the online version - as this journal is 97% 
open access and 100% free access, there is no need to do so 
except as a voluntary sponsorship.

Since its inception, in addition OUP has used an incentive to 
keep libraries subscribing to these hybrid journals by offering a 
lower author publication charge for corresponding authors based 
at institutions with a full price online subscription to the 
journal. At the same time this helped to make the Oxford Open 
option more attractive to authors at those institutions and 
provided an incentive for authors to try it out.

It has to be taken into account here that the majority of Oxford 
Open journals are not excluded from collection deals for 
consortia. However, reduced article processing fees apply only to 
fully paid subscriptions not titles one might get via cross 
access or additional access with in consortia collection deals.

>From the Oxford Open FAQ [14], 

"Why is there a mixed model of funding under the Oxford Open 

"We have chosen this model in consultation with authors and 
librarians. The ability of authors to pay publication charges is 
highly dependent on sponsoring agencies and research institutions 
making the necessary changes to their funding processes so that 
authors have the funds at their disposal.

For this reason we believe that any transition to an 
author-funded open access model will need to occur gradually. We 
hope that you will support the Oxford Open initiative by 
maintaining your online subscriptions to give your researchers 
who wish to publish in the journal in question the option of 
paying reduced author charges, should they choose to have their 
paper made freely available online. By doing this we hope to 
establish an accessible charging initiative that will actively 
encourage funding agencies to make further resources available 
for publication."

Nevertheless, with a mixed revenue model like this, if we assume 
that the full Open Access Charge is in the order of that required 
to sustain the journals if they were to move to full open access 
without subscriptions [4], the reduced rates are bound to 
increase, as OA uptake increases and subscription rates are 
adjusted downwards correspondingly. I did not see this effect 
mentioned in the various articles outlining the prospects for 
pricing within the Oxford Open program, but it now becomes quite 

The discount for authors from subscribing institutions has been 
reduced twice in the 5 years since program start, i.e. from

47% in 2005-2007 : GBP 800 / USD 1500 / EUR 1200 vs. GBP 1500 / USD 2800
/ EUR 2250 to

40% in 2008-2009 : GBP 900 / USD 1800 / EUR 1350 vs. GBP 1500 / USD 3000
/ EUR 2250, and now to

25% in 2010- : GBP 1275 / USD 2250 / EUR 1900 vs. GBP 1700 / USD 3000 /
EUR 2550

So for 2010 OUP increases author publication charges for authors 
from subscribing institutions drastically, by over 40% in GBP and 
EUR, and 25% in USD. In the 5 years since the inception of the 
program, APCs for institutional subscribers have increased by 60% 
(USD 50%) which amounts to an annual increase of 10% (USD 8,5%). 
If this were intended to shift money from subscription fees to OA 
funding, and to limit any loss due to a higher OA uptake, it 
would be clearly driven only by the needs of the journals with 
the highest current OA uptake (near 30%). Given the multiple 
other means of revenue increase used by OUP, it seems doubtful 
whether such a large increase is really necessary, especially if 
it is applied to all journals, even those with very low OA 
uptake. Interestingly, for Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) 
Richardson [3] reported a substantial reduction in cost per 
article from 2002 to 2005 (from GBP 2700 to ca. GBP 1750), 
attributed to economies of scale, together with an "aggressive 
efficiency drive which has increased speed of publication whilst 
reducing cost."

How many institutions and their authors will be affected by this 
price increase? One would guess that a major part of submissions 
willing to pay for open access to their paper would come from 
institutions that also hold a subscription to the journal in 
question, also because the full open access charge might seem 
prohibitive to many authors. For the Oxford Open Journal with the 
highest OA uptake, Bioinformatics, this is indeed the case. In 
2006, 87% of authors choosing the Open access option for 
Bioinformatics were eligible for the subscriber rates [11], and 
the press release reporting the first full-year results from 
Oxford Open [5] quoted a percentage of 80% overall. The converse 
could also be true: given the bonus model above, any institution 
that is paying author publication charges on behalf of its 
authors is better off, when it holds also a subscription, mostly 
already with 1 pub/year, and certainly with 2 or 3. Thus, library 
subscriptions may serve to support lower publication charges for 

Full Author publication charges (for authors from institutions 
that do not have a fully paid subscription) increase also, for 
the first time in 5 years, by 13% in GBP and EUR while remaining 
unchanged in USD - the latter possibly reflects that the GBP has 
lost in value compared to the USD; that it has also lost compared 
to the EUR is conveniently ignored by OUP.

Similar, when OUP speaks of "exchange rate adjustments", these 
are apparently made to offset the loss effects of currency 
devaluations for the company, not to bring company rates in 
better accord with actual exchange rates. E.g, for some US based 
titles we see in 2010 price increases by 33% because OUP prefers 
to use a "company rate" of 1.0 USD/EUR instead of 1.33 (a result 
of switching from 2,0 USD/GBP to a more current exchange rate of 
1,5 while leaving the EUR/GBP conversion rate unchanged at 1,5 
GBP/EUR). On the other hand, OUP UK titles continue to be sold in 
the USA at 2,0 USD/GBP and in Europe at 1,5 EUR/GBP, even though 
the pound has lost 20...25%.

Therefore, institutions from USA and Canada (charged in USD) and 
Europe outside UK (charged in EUR) would have been far better off 
for 2010, had OUP - instead of announcing a "price freeze" on 
e-only, had increased prices normally but then also adjusted the 
company exchange rates (20...25% downwards) as it did conversely 
in previous years when the GBP was still getting stronger in 
relation to the USD (2005: 1,7, 2006: 1,8, 2007: 1.8, 2008: 1,95, 
2009: 2,0, 2010: 2,0). (That the failure to do so was not 
necessarily related to the "price freeze" only, is apparent from 
the fact that OUP did neither take into account the loss of the 
GBP against the EUR in setting 2009 prices, the conversion rate 
has been kept at 1,5 since 2006). So this is a clear example of 
what we know as "exchange rate profiteering" (raise the 
conversion rate as long as it can be justified by an increasing 
exchange rate, but leave it unchanged for years if the exchange 
rate falls back).

In this context it is interesting that we have here another 
publisher believing that it is compatible with EU competition 
regulations to charge markedly higher prices for non UK customers 
within the EU, using artificial "company exchange rates" that are 
far from actual exchange rates, while at the same hindering 
agencies to buy services at UK prices for reselling to to non UK 
customers. A premise that in our opinion is worth contesting.

In summary, it appears that OUP makes up for the 2010 "price 
freeze" on e-only subscriptions by price increases of 10% on 
print and 14% on combined subscriptions [12] plus price increases 
of 13% resp. 41% on author charges for its Oxford Open program, 
plus avoiding the need to adjust EUR and USD conversion rates to 
GBP by 20...25% downwards for non-US titles. Not exactly helpful 

In implementing a cautious transition strategy towards more OA 
and away from Print OUP has certainly been successful so far. 
They are also one of the few hybrid publishers who actually make 
adjustments to their hybrid journals depending on OA uptake, and 
carefully document the progress of their experiments in OA 
publishing. However, based on our findings above, librarians and 
university administrators should clearly not indulge in illusions 
about direct savings for their institutions; and those who are 
going to save are institutions that do not publish in a 
particular Oxford Open journal they subscribe to (or, 
paradoxically, those who choose not to publish OA via the golden 
route, as long as they at least self-archive). Article processing 
charges so far seem to spiral up in the same way as subscription 
charges did in the past. We are in a transition period, and it is 
still too early to make predictions. Nevertheless, what we see 
here indicates that there is now more money on the table for 
paying article processing charges in certain fields for gold OA 
publishing in established journals and OUP must think that price 
elasticity of demand for gold OA is low enough to allow 
adjustments such as those described above (or perhaps this is 
just another facette of their carefully designed longterm 
experiment with hybrid OA models). Whether this will not throw 
back OA uptake for 2010 remains to be seen.

Bernd-Christoph Kaemper,
Stuttgart University Library


[1] David Worlock, OUP: OA In The World Of Intelligent 
Experiment, in: EPS Insights, February 24, 2006


[2] Martin Ruchardson: Open access: evidence-based policy or 
policy-based evidence? The university press perspective, in: 
Serials 18(1), March 2005, 35-37, DOI:10.1629/1835


[3] Martin Richardson: Open access and institutional 
repositories: an evidence-based approach, in: Serials 18(2), July 
2005, 98-103, DOI:10.1629/1898


[4] Claire Saxby: The Bioinformatics Open Access option, 
Editorial, in: Bioinformatics, Vol. 21 no. 22, 2005, p. 
4071-4072, DOI:10.1093/bioinformatics/bti707


[5] Press release, 30 August 2006 Full year results from Oxford 
Open show wide variation in open access uptake across 


[6] Richard Gedye: Open about open access: we share preliminary 
findings from our open access experiments, in: Oxford Journals 
Update for Librarians, Issue 2, Winter 2006


[7] Presentation slides, Audio of Panel discussion and final 
report, "Asessing the impact of open access: Preliminary findings 
from Oxford Journals", presented at the Oxford open access 
workshop, June 2006,


[8] Kate Stringer, Oxford Journals open access pricing 
adjustments, posted to liblicense-l, Sun, 12 Aug 2007 15:28:30 


cf. also comment by Peter Suber on an earlier liblicense-l 
announcement, Oxford reduces prices on 28 hybrid journals


[9] Martin Richardson: Oxford Open prices adjusted for open 
access uptake, in: Oxford Journals Update for Librarians, Issue 
2, Winter 2007/2008


[10] Mandy Hill: Oxford Open prices adjusted for third year in a 
row, in: Oxford Journals Update for Librarians, Autumn 2008


[11] Claire Bird: Case Study: Oxford Journals' adventures in open 
access, in: Learned Publishing 21 No. 3 (July 2008), 200-208), 
DOI: 10.1087/095315108X288910


[12] Martin Richardson: Oxford Journals makes a change to its 
pricing policy, in: Oxford Journals Update for Librarians, Autumn 


[13] Oxford Open Pricing. New charges -- for all papers accepted 
on or after 1 December 2009,

[visited Mon, Oct 19, 2009]

[14] Oxford Journals / Frequently Asked Questions: Oxford Open,


[15] The data for this paper have been compiled in the spreadsheet