Sharing the results of publicly funded research

The sheer scale of hybrid journal publishing

March 24, 2014 in Comment

The last few years have seen a significant rise in what are termed ‘hybrid open access journals’, where only some of the articles are freely available to read and a subscription is still required to read the remainder. As many journals require payment from authors to publish in this fashion, then university libraries need to pay subscriptions to read the remaining articles, publishers are in effect being paid twice for the same work.

With recently published data from the Wellcome Trust, the scale of this double charging has become much more clear.

In Oct 2012 – Sept 2013, academics spent £3.88 million to publish articles in journals with immediate online access – of which £3.17 million (82 % of costs, 74 % of papers) was paying for publications that Universities would then be charged again for. For perspective, this is a figure slightly larger than the Wellcome Trust paid in 2012/2013 on their Society & Ethics portfolio.

Only £0.70 million of the charity’s £3.88m didn’t have any form of double charging (ie, was published in a “Pure Open Access” journal) – with this total being dominated by articles published in PLOS and BioMed Central journals (68 % of total ‘pure’ hybrid journal costs, 80 % of paper total).

Top 5 publishers by total cost to Wellcome Trust


No. of articles

Maximum Cost

Average Cost

Total Cost (nearest £1000)

Elsevier (inc. Cell Press)















Oxford University Press





Nature Publishing Group (not inc. Frontiers)






Top 5 publishers by total cost to Wellcome Trust – separated into money spent on author charges for articles appearing in hybrid and pure open access journals



Journal Type

No. of articles

Max Cost

Average Cost

 Total Cost (nearest £)







Pure OA











Pure OA











Pure OA





Oxford University Press






Pure OA





Nature Publishing Group






Pure OA






Wellcome Trust pays nearly £1 million to Elsevier, and pays over £500,000 to Wiley-Blackwell to make articles freely available on point of publication, in journals that a university library will also be trying to find money to also pay subscription fees to. These are outrageously high sums of money! Especially given a recent explosion in the number of journals, and an increase in journal prices, means even well-funded libraries can no longer afford the cost of subscribing to many journals!

Journal articles should be published in a way that means they are freely available – and not just to academics, but also to wider public audiences. And I’m not critical of article processing charges. However, I’m unsure how any publisher can justify charging an academic an average cost of £2,443 to publish in a journal that is already being supported by library subscriptions from not just one university, but many universities around the world. And surely no cost based model should charge more for publication in a hybrid journal with multiple funding streams than in one supported purely on author charges (as appears to be the case with Wiley-Blackwell).

If you want to know more and might want to help the Open Knowledge Foundation’s soon-to-be launched project on Open Access, please leave your email address in the below form.



Data source found here

Original data: Kiley, Robert (2014): Wellcome Trust APC spend 2012-13: data file. figshare

Enhancements on original data made by Cameron Neylon:

18 responses to “The sheer scale of hybrid journal publishing”

  1. […] Sharing the results of publicly funded research  […]

  2. […] Sharing the results of publicly funded research (RT @alicebell: Academic publishers are taking the piss and the scientific community is letting them…  […]

  3. Jon Tennant says:

    Hey Michelle, thanks for this break down.

    I thought the whole point of hybrid OA was that the money gained from APCs was supposed to offset the costs of subscriptions proportionally, so that publishers would avoid ‘double dipping’. Is this not the case?

    If subscriptions are being reduced accordingly, then this could actually be viewed as a success – articles are being made OA, and libraries are reducing subscription fees.

    If they’re not, publishers should obviously be investigated for I dunno, there’s gotta be something massively illegal about this.

  4. Thank you Michelle for this post, that makes an important contribution to this jigsaw puzzle…

    Jon, do you have a reference for your comment re: OA options from paywalled journals meant to bring down subscription prices?

    My empyrical perception as reader and author was that the options were there because of mandates and and as an additional ‘service’ to authors, but that left the paywalled model uninterrogated…

    As I suggested elsewhere, I find the average APCs unrealistically high, setting up a steep access barrier for authors without the funding or without such generous funding anyway, particularly in other academic fields (arts, humanities, social science).

    Are we facing the need to call for the open (or at least more affordable) access of authors to open access publishing?

  5. […] Central journals (68 % of total ‘pure’ hybrid journal costs, 80 % of paper total).” More here. Source: […]

  6. Penny Andrews says:

    Several publishers have made Jon’s comment, that they intend to adjust subscription prices in line with the number of articles made OA. E.g. Wiley and Nature Publishing Group

    There is also of course the fact that publishers are not really “flipping” any of their prestige journals to full OA, only minor ones, and most who publish both hybrid and fully OA journals charge more for APCs in the former (prestige! keeping OA niche!) than the latter (here’s your less prestigious, less fussy, cheap OA journal, why are you complaining?).

  7. Stuart Lawson says:

    I could talk for hours about this. At the next LDNOpenDrinks perhaps…

    ‘I thought the whole point of hybrid OA was that the money gained from APCs was supposed to offset the costs of subscriptions proportionally, so that publishers would avoid ‘double dipping’. Is this not the case?’ – Nope. Hybrid OA exists, at the scale it does now, primarily as a reaction by publishers to funder mandates, as Ernesto suggests. I’m about to become intimately familiar with the process of negotiating with publishers, so will be sure to share as much knowledge as I am able 🙂

    (Suggested reading for anyone who hasn’t already seen it: Bjork and Solomon, 2014

  8. […] relatively large amount of money is currently going via funding bodies to hybrid journals and that it is essential that the funding agencies get value for money and that the consumers are […]

  9. […] analysis shows that the average APC levied by the traditional subscription publishers (e.g. Elsevier, Wiley, […]

  10. […] has since been cleaned up, improved upon, and augmented by a number of people working together (see these posts from the Open Knowledge Foundation for a summary of this work so far, and a follow-up […]

  11. Why should the commercial publishers reduce the subscription prices as long as they find enough subscribers? It may look unfair, but “price fairness” is not a relevant category.

    It seems to me that the whole idea of for-profit publication of scientific content is misgueded (see my recent article on this:

  12. […] Trust’s data on the charges it pays to different publishers for open access publishing articles highlighted high cost of hybrid OA, an issue that was also raised in a recent assessment of the OA publishing market by Bo-Christer […]

  13. […] open access fashion, either in pure open access journals, or these ‘hybrid journals’. However, data released last month shows that in 2012-2013 alone, the Wellcome Trust alone spent over £1 million on articles […]

  14. […] her analysis, Michelle Brook from the Open Knowledge Foundation highlighted that most of the money goes to hybrid […]

  15. […] her analysis, Michelle Brook from the Open Knowledge Foundation highlighted that most of the money goes to hybrid […]

  16. […] those papers Elsevier currently publishes? We can use average figures from per article returns for Wellcome Trust (£2,448 or €3,100) or RCUK (£1,268 or €1,600) funded articles to get an average APC for […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *