Thursday 19 July 2018

Business Models for Open Access: How can I run a successful Open Access journal?

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In this week's guest blog Martyn Rittman, Ph.D, Publishing Services Manager at MDPI, offers some words of wisdom for developing successful open access journals.

The Directory of Open Access Journals contains over 11,500 journals and more than 3.1 million open access articles. Our indexing database Scilit contains around 20 million freely available articles, mostly open access. Estimates put the amount of open access in the region of 15% to 20% of all published articles. Do these numbers represent a threat to traditional revenue channels, or is it possible to run a healthy business using this model?

MDPI started publishing free online articles in the late 1990s. At first, we were supported by other projects, conferences, grants, and a great deal of voluntary time. In the mid-2000s, along with other publishers, we adopted author-side charges for publication, commonly known as article processing charges (APCs). By separating the journal editors making final acceptance decisions from the publisher, we have been able to maintain a rigorous and objective peer review process alongside gold open access. However, we have spoken to other publishers who have found it difficult to adopt the open access model, don’t feel they have the expertise, or find it difficult to cover their costs. Here, we offer some advice for developing successful open access journals.

Sources of revenue

Assure yourself that revenue streams for open access are available, even in fields with high scepticism towards author-side charges.  An increasing number of national funding agencies and governments have open access mandates, and offer support for the payment of APCs. National agreements with publishers are also emerging. Many non-governmental funding agencies and university libraries have also embraced open access and provide assistance to authors. These include the Wellcome Trust, the European Union, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and many more. A useful resource to see the amounts paid by universities for open access publication is the OpenAPC platform ( Other models include Knowledge Unlatched for humanities and SCOAP3 for high energy physics, where publishers receive a per-article payment out of a central fund collected from funders and libraries. Smaller journals may be able to find a single funding agency, university or society to cover all the costs of the journal, especially in niche fields. In fact, there are increasing opportunities that do not involve directly invoicing authors.

Providing a useful service

Do not assume that open access is enough. Look carefully at the scope of your journal to see whether it offers something unique in the field. This is especially critical for new journals. For many authors, the decision on where to publish is not primarily linked to open access: the scope, editorial board, and reputation of the journal are usually more important. Open access journals should be focused on providing a good service to authors and you can distinguish your journal simply by providing a better alternative to existing journals.


Consider new workflows for your journal. There may be an initial cost to making changes in how you run the journal but it will pay off in the long-term. Authors publishing in open access are often looking for a quick decision and publication. This might mean revisiting how editorial decisions are made, and changing expectations among editors, editorial board members and reviewers about how quickly they provide feedback. On the marketing side, you will need to consider how to better reach your target authors, redirecting efforts from potential subscription customers. If you opt for an APC model, handling a larger volume of small payments may require a new approach to invoicing.

There is no magic formula for running an open access journal and much of the work is the same as for traditional journals. Open access journals now exist in all fields using all kinds of editorial and business models. At MDPI, we continue to see growth in the open access market across many research fields. We are convinced of the benefits of universal access through a large, broad readership, allowing ideas to shape those outside of the academy as well as authors from institutions with small subscription budgets. Open access supports the dissemination and sustainability of knowledge and we encourage all publishers to take advantage.

Head and shoulders photo of Martyn Rittman
Martyn Rittman, Ph.D. is Publishing Services Manager at MDPI, combining a passion for open access publishing with an interest in new models for publishing and open science. He joined MDPI in 2013 following a research career covering physical chemistry, materials science, instrumentation, and mathematical modelling.

MDPI is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, with branch offices in China, Spain, and Serbia. It runs over 200 fully open access journals, including some in collaboration with scholarly societies, and in 2017 published over 35,000 peer-reviewed articles. MDPI also provides publisher services through its JAMS software ( and offers academic communication tools, including a conference management platform, at

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