Friday 12 September 2014

Open access: the daily challenge (new customers, processes and relationships)

Phil Hurst, Jackie Jones, Wim van der Stelt
Springer's Wim van der Stelt chaired the final panel at the 2014 ALPSP International Conference. The panellists reflected on the daily challenges of starting an open access product and how the new business model fundamentally alters the publication chain.

Phil Hurst from the Royal Society talked about how they approached launching OA journals. They had a gap in their portfolio and they thought the best way to do this was to launch an OA journal. Open Biology was their first online only journal.

They learnt that many things are the same. Getting the right people on the board is key: you need top people. Content is still king and they need to get the journal in the right places. Open access is a big benefit to everyone. They didn't really realise until they launched the journal. The benefits to stakeholders include speeding up science. There is greater visibility for universities and funders. For researchers there is increased visibility and results. It was good for them to get involved in the OA community.

Much of the marketing is the same, but they supplemented this with an OA membership. Authors from member institutions receive a discount on pure or hybrid access. They incorporated a wider range of metrics including DORA and Altmetrics as a range of measures of research impact. It has also provided them with a springboard. They launched the journal to learn and prepare for the future. OA is consistent with the mission of learned societies. Sustainable? The jury is still out, we will only learn by putting OA journals to the test.

Alex Christoforou from BioMed Central asked who is the actual customer for an OA publisher? They have hundreds of journals across BMC and Springer with hundreds of members, thousands of authors and transactions. What they all need is access to the publisher, support and excellent customer service.

Alex Christoforou
They continue to provide some good old fashioned and reassuring tools to support authors such as a fax number, photos of the team on the web and lots of different ways to contact them. They have 4000 customer service queries each quarter that they deal with. It's increasing as well. They have to provide some kind of service 24 hours a day so they can turn around queries in one day. They even provide online banking for those that spend large amounts of money.

Customer services is not just complaints, payments and author services. It's a way of thinking across the organisation so that all stakeholder groups can build a constructive relationship with them and business can grow over time.

Jackie Jones from Wiley talked about subscription versus open access and 'flipping' journals. They have flipped eight journals so far and it is early days. Some of the key flip criteria they assess include
whether it has a modest subscription revenue. Typically these are young journals that haven't achieved predicted revenues. They also look at areas where there is evidence of good OA funding and existing hybrid activity. Where there is longer term growth potential or attractiveness to authors. They also consider ratio of current revenue to articles.

For publishers flipping can lead to potential for faster growth, but there is higher volatility of revenues. From a society perspective, it provides an opportunity to explore OA. However there is risk commercially and editorially. From the funder point of view some prefer full OA journals but Gold OA is the only option. From an institutional point of view there is no subs fee, but you have to track APCs and costs. For tools and modelling they have flow charts and decision trees to help monitor and track submissions and revenues.

EMBO Molecular Medicine launched in 2009. It had modest subscription sales and the society had concerns about visibility. There was an 85% rejection rate. The per page publication charge was 125 euros and pre-flip the average author cost was 1600 euros. They set the APC at 3000 euros in line with other journals in the society's portfolio. Submissions doubled in the launch period. However, on other journals there was a dip in submissions initially, but they do recover.

They have learnt you need to plan ahead and time communication really carefully. Make sure papers in hand are under the new model so you don't have to waive fees. Don't flip mid year and avoid complications of subs reimbursements. Undertake submissions and publications surveys.

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