The Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing division hosted a session at its annual Washington D.C. conference last month to discuss a movement that has, until recently, left many key players in the industry scratching their heads. “Open Access: Beyond the Tipping Point,” brought together five leading publishers to share their experiences with the implementation of the OA business model, and to discuss how its adoption has been received by each respective academic community.

Despite a slow start in the clinician community, Wolters Kluwer Health Medical Research rolled out an open access hybrid option last year to all interested authors. Anna Salt Troise, Vice President of Medical Journals at Wolters Kluwer, noted that a new fully-open access journal has launched and that they expect to add more journals this year. Wolters Kluwer went one step further with the open access model and acquired India-based academic publisher Medknow, who has over 300 peer-reviewed open access journals. The journals themselves are openly available online, while PDFs and print versions are available for a fee, which serves the needs of many emerging economies.

According to Stephen Hall, Managing Director of IOP Publishing, 70 of their journals currently offer authors the option to have their article published under an open access license, and four of their journals are fully open access. Of all articles published in 2013, a full 12% of them were open access immediately upon publication. Hall did note, however, that the adoption of this open access model was not free of its own pains, and that creating the infrastructure for open access publishing has required substantial investment in back office systems. There is even a considerable difference in demand for open access among subdisciplines. Within the field of physics, for example, there is a higher demand for open access in medical physics and biophysics.

It’s not just subdisciplines that are in demand with the open access model in play – publishers are also looking for individuals who know how to implement these new models. David Ross, Executive Publisher, Open Access, at Sage Publications, was brought to Sage to develop open access publishing in the social sciences. Sage Open, a mega-journal covering all areas of social science, was launched in 2010 and has 1,500 subscribers with roughly 500 articles published. The majority of authors who submitted their articles to Sage Open did so because they were unsure of how their topics would fair amongst more traditional publishers, an avenue with great potential that could gain popularity for authors across disciplines.

Alicia Wise, Director of Access and Policy at Elsevier, noted that they currently have 82 Gold open access journals and 1,600 hybrid journals, and are also encouraging subscription-based journals to make the switch to open access, as they’ve noticed an increase in open access articles within their hybrid journals. Publication fees range from $500 to $5,000, and where ever possible, have reduced prices for journals with open access content.

The final speaker, Wim van der Stelt, VP for Publishing Strategy at Springer Business + Media, mentioned that Springer, similarly to Wolters Kluwer, has expanded their library of open access journals by acquiring BioMed Central. Springer currently has 450 fully open access journals and has seen even stronger growth in submissions within this particular model than in others. Another 1,580 journals allow authors to choose open access as an option. Springer anticipates all of their journals to be open access by 2024.

How will open access models affect the business of scholarly publishing? In many cases, the cost burden appears to be simply shifting from library budgets to authors and their research grants; so while the revenue stream may come from a different bucket, it is still largely paid for by scientists, their institutions or the government. While OA experiments are certainly a growing trend among commercial publishers, it also remains to be seen how this will affect the quality of information now available without a pay wall. We may have reached a tipping point for new initiatives, but are authors voting with their feet by abandoning traditional subscription journals and publishing business models? Or more to the point, will tenure and promotion processes evolve to embrace OA these publications?

Janet Fisher is a Senior Publishing Consultant for Publishers Communication Group