Tag Archives: COAF

Hybrid open access – an analysis

Welcome to Open Access Week 2016. The Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge is celebrating with a series of blog posts, announcements and events. In today’s blog posts we revisit the issue of paying for hybrid open access. We have also published a related post “Who is paying for hybrid?” listing funder policies on hybrid.

Recent years have seen a proliferation of funder open access mandates, the terms of which can differ markedly, adding to the confusion of an already complex area. The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP) lists 80 funders with open access requirements, and the list continues to grow.

Within the UK, policies fall into three broad categories: those that mandate green Open Access without paying a fee, such as the HEFCE policy; those that prefer gold but make no additional funds available, such as the NIHR policy, and those that have a preference for gold and offer block grants to institutions to help cover the associated costs, such as the Research Councils UK (RCUK) and Charities Open Access Fund (COAF) policies.

Accompanying this expansion of mandates, unsurprisingly, has been an increase in the amount being spent to support Open Access. The Open Access Directory lists 179 funds for OA journal articles worldwide, compared with 81 in early 2014.

All this brings into sharper relief the question of how open access funds support hybrid publishing. But first a quick history lesson.

Hybrid origins

Hybrid journals provide open access to specific articles where an Article Processing Charge has been paid in an otherwise subscription journal. A few learned societies offered hybrid options in the early 2000s. Hybrid open access options were first offered by large publishers in 2004 with Springer’s Open Choice product charging USD3000 per article. This price has not changed in the past 12 years. In the UK the Springer Compact now pays for hybrid under a different model.

Wiley Online Open’s trial began the same year, charging USD2500. Today the price ranges from USD1,500 – 5,200. Oxford Open launched in 2005, and in 2006 Elsevier Open Access and Sage Choice began. In 2007, Taylor & Francis Open Select, Cambridge Open and Nature Publishing Group’s open access offering began.

The uptake of hybrid began slowly. It is very difficult to obtain statistics on what percentage of journals have hybrid Open Access content but in his 2012 analysis The hybrid model for open access publication of scholarly articles – a failed experiment?, (open access version here ) Bo-Christer Bjork found the number of hybrid journals had doubled in the previous couple of years to over 4,300, and the number of such articles was around 12,000 in 2011. This represented a small proportion of eligible authors (1-2 %).

That analysis was published the same year as the Finch Report which recommended a gold path to Open Access. The resulting RCUK Open Access Policy and RCUK Block Grants to fund Open Access APCs has dramatically increased the  expenditure on hybrid in the UK since 2013. According to a report published in 2015, “the UK’s profile of OA take-up is significantly different from the global averages: its use of OA in hybrid journals and of delayed OA journals is more than twice the world average in both cases, while its take-up of fully OA journals with no APC (Gold-no APC) is less than half the world average and falling.”

At Cambridge University we have spent literally millions of pounds on hybrid Open Access – which constitutes approximately 85% of our total APC spend. This is a higher percentage than estimates across the country, which are a 76% spend on hybrid Open Access.

Double dipping

Hybrid represents a second income stream to publishers and has raised questions about ‘double dipping’. Some publishers manage this by reducing the cost of subscriptions in proportion to the percentage of hybrid in a given journal, such as Nature Publishing Group. However ‘big deals’ for subscriptions can render this relatively ineffective, and the reduction is spread across all subscribers, regardless of who has paid the article processing charge. This means research intensive institutions (such as Cambridge) are contributing heavily to the system but not receiving a relative reduction.

To address this issue at a local level, several publishers have created offsetting arrangements, where discounts or refunds are provided in proportion to the contribution the institution has made in APC payments above subscriptions. However, each of these schemes operates differently and they can be complicated to administer, or have other preconditions such making large prepayments to publishers.

The biggest problem from an implementation perspective, however, is that they are by no means universal. By far the biggest publisher, Elsevier, for example, offers no form of offsetting at all, although they nevertheless assert that they do not double dip. The result is that in very many cases, institutions and authors continue to have to pay twice for material in hybrid journals, swelling publisher coffers at the expense of research funding.

Very expensive

One of the problems with hybrid is that even ignoring the added cost of subscriptions to the non Open Access material in those journals, hybrid Open Access charges are more expensive than those for fully Open Access journals.

In March last year both the Wellcome Trust and the RCUK undertook a review of their Open Access policies. The Reckoning: An Analysis of Wellcome Trust Open Access Spend 2013 – 14  noted: “The average APC levied by hybrid journals is 64% higher than the average APC charged by a fully OA title”.  In Wellcome’s data, the average APC for a hybrid article in 2014-15 was £2104, compared with only £1396 for fully OA journals. Worryingly, the data showed that fully OA APC costs had risen more than their hybrid counterparts since the previous year.

Similarly in the Research Councils UK 2014 Independent Review of Implementation the observation was that article processing charges for hybrid Open Access were “significantly more expensive” than fully OA journals, “despite the fact that hybrid journals still enjoyed a revenue stream through subscriptions”.

A Max Planck Digital Library Open Access Policy White Paper published on 28 April 2015 noted that The Wellcome Trust had a significantly higher average APC cost than German, Austrian and SCOAP3 figures. This was because the Wellcome Trust pays for hybrid APCs, “which are not only much higher than most pure open access costs but are also widely considered not to reflect a true market value. In Germany and many other countries, hybrid APCs are excluded from the central funding schemes.”

A study undertaken last year considered APCs in the five-year period between 2010 and 2014 found the mean for fully-OA journals published by non-subscription publishers was£1,136 compared with £1,849 for hybrid journals. The same study also found that traditional subscription publishers are capturing most of the APC market. The top-10 publishers in terms of numbers of APCs received from participant institutions (who received 76% of the total APCs paid from the sample) “only included two fully-OA publishers (PLOS and BMC). The others were established publishers (Elsevier, Wiley, Springer and so on) who are mostly gaining APC income from hybrid journals.”

The 2014 report Developing an effective market for open access article processing charges was written for a consortium of research funders comprising Jisc, Research Libraries UK, Research Councils UK, the Wellcome Trust, the Austrian Science Fund, the Luxembourg National Research Fund and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics. The authors noted of the hybrid journal market that it is “highly dysfunctional, with very low uptake for most hybrid journals and a relatively uniform price in most cases without regard to factors such as discipline or impact“.

Value for money?

A second issue which has become apparent as open access mandates have expanded is the extent to which publishers – mostly of hybrid journals – do not deliver the Open Access option that has been paid for. In many cases, the ‘immediate’ Open Access for which an author or institution has paid an APC may take months or even years to be made Open Access; some articles are never made Open Access at all. Even when articles are made available, there is no guarantee that it will have the appropriate licence. It is by no means uncommon for articles to carry more restrictive licences than those requested, or for the appropriate licence to appear on a journal website while the PDF of the article itself bears only a publisher copyright notice and a prominent ‘All rights reserved’.

In March 2016 the Wellcome Trust published a report into compliance among its paid-for articles in 2014-15, concluding:

The good news is that we have seen an improvement in correct and programmatically identifiable licences (from 61% of papers in ’13-‘14, to 70% in ’14-‘15) and a similar increase in overall compliance from 61% to 70%.  The bad news, however, is that in 30% of cases we are not getting what we are paying for.

The source of this non-compliance was overwhelmingly hybrid journals, and the largest publishers were the worst offenders: in the Wellcome data, 31% of Elsevier hybrid articles (and 26% of their ‘fully OA’ articles!) were non-compliant, as were 54% of Wiley’s.

One might conclude, then, that hybrid Open Access represents a bad deal for funders and institutions, with poor service and double-dipping.

Other hybrid issues

To further complicate matters, some have argued that the open access/hybrid dichotomy is too stark. Some journals, particularly coming from learned societies, (e.g. Plant Physiology, from the American Society of Plant Biologists) make all articles open access after a certain period, but charge an optional APC to make them available sooner. This would generally be considered hybrid publishing, but could be seen as a rather different category from the majority of corporate hybrid journals, in which articles never become Open Access unless an APC is paid. There is a possibility that strict funder mandates against hybrid could close off such journals to researchers, exacerbating the anxieties regarding open access felt by many learned societies.

Where does this leave authors and institutions? It’s clear that the situation remains very much in flux. The problems that have existed with hybrid since the beginnings of Open Access are far from resolved, despite the expansion of journal offsetting schemes. Meanwhile, prices continue to rise and while many funders have taken the step of allowing their funds to be used only for fully Open Access journals, it is still a minority of the largest and most powerful funding bodies.

The result is confusion for researchers and an increased administrative burden for institutions, who have to manage and advise on a proliferation of divergent funder and publisher policies, as well as conducting regular and extremely resource-intensive compliance-checking of hybrid publications to ensure publishers have delivered what has been paid for. As numbers of Open Access publications increase, it is questionable how sustainable this will be.

Published 24 October 2016
Written by Dr Philip Boyes and Dr Danny Kingsley 
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Cambridge University spend on Open Access 2009-2016

Today is the deadline for those universities in receipt of an RCUK grant to submit their reports on the spend. We have just submitted the Cambridge University 2015-2016 report to the RCUK and have also made it available as a dataset in our repository.


Cambridge had an estimated overall compliance rate of 76% with 46% of all RCUK funded papers  available through the gold route and 30% of all RCUK funded papers available through the green route.

The RCUK Open Access Policy indicates that at the end of the fifth transition year of the policy (March 2018) they expect 75% of Open Access papers from the research they fund will be delivered through immediate, unrestricted, on‐line access with maximum opportunities for re‐use (‘gold’). Because Cambridge takes the position that if there is a green option that is compliant we do not pay for gold, our gold compliance number is below this, although our overall compliance level is higher, at 76%.

Compliance caveats

The total number of publications arising from research council funding was estimated by searching Web of Science for papers published by the University of Cambridge in 2015, and then filtered by funding acknowledgements made to the research councils. The number of papers (articles, reviews and proceedings papers) returned in 2015 was 2080. This is almost certainly an underestimate of the total number of publications produced by the University of Cambridge with research council funding. The analysis was performed on 15/09/2016.


The APC spend we have reported is only counting papers submitted to the University of Cambridge Open Access Team between 1 August 2015 and 31 July 2016. The ‘OA grant spent’ numbers provided are the actual spend out of the finance system. The delay between submission of an article, the commitment of the funds and the subsequent publication and payment of the invoice means that we have paid for invoices during the reporting period that were submitted outside the reporting period. This meant reconciliation of the amounts was impossible. This funding discrepancy was given in ‘Non-staff costs’, and represents unallocated APC payments not described in the report (i.e. they were received before or after the reporting period but incurred on the current 2015-16 OA grant).

The breakdown of costs indicates we have spent 4.6% of the year’s allocation on staff costs and 5.1% on systems support. We noted in the report that the staff time paid for out of this allocation also supports the processing of Wellcome Trust APCs for which no support is provided by Wellcome Trust.

Headline numbers

  • In total Cambridge spent £1,288,090 of RCUK funds on APCs
  • 1786 articles identified as being RCUK funded were submitted to the Open Access Service, of which 890 required payment for RCUK*
  • 785 articles have been invoiced and paid
  • The average article cost was ~£2008


The average article cost can be established by adding the RCUK fund expenditure to the COAF fund expenditure on co-funded articles (£288,162.28)  which gives a complete expenditure for these 785 articles of £1,576,252.42. The actual average cost is £2007.96.

* The Open Access Service also received many COAF only funded and unfunded papers during this period. The number of articles paid for does not include those made gold OA due to the Springer Compact as this would throw out the average APC value.


In our report on expenditure for 2014 the average article APC was £1891. This means there has been a 6% increase in Cambridge University’s average spend on an APC since then. It should be noted that of the journals for which we most frequently process APCs, Nature Communication is the second most popular. This journal has an APC of £3,780 including VAT.

Datasets on Cambridge APC spend 2009-2016

Cambridge released the information about its 2014 APC spend for RCUK and COAF in March last year and intended to do a similar report for the spend in 2015, however a recent FOI request has prompted us to simply upload all of our data on APC spend into our repository for complete transparency. The list of datasets now available is below.

1. Report presented to Research Councils UK for article processing charges managed by the University of Cambridge, 2014-2015

2. Report presented to the Charity Open Access Fund for article processing charges managed by the University of Cambridge, 2015-2016

3. Report presented to the Charity Open Access Fund for article processing charges managed by the University of Cambridge, 2014-2015

4. Report presented to Jisc for article processing charges managed by the University of Cambridge, 2014

5. Open access publication data for the management of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Research Councils UK, Charities Open Access Fund and Wellcome Trust open access policies at the University of Cambridge, 2014-2016

Note: In October 2014 we started using a new system for recording submissions. This has allowed us to obtain more detailed information and allow multiple users to interact with the system. Until December 2015 our financial information was recorded in the spreadsheet below. There is overlap between reports 5. and 6. for the period 24 October and 31 December 2015.  As of January 2016, all data is being collected in the one place.

6. Open access publication data for the management of Research Councils UK, Charities Open Access Fund and Wellcome Trust article processing charges at the Office of Scholarly Communication, 2013-2015

Note: In 2013 the Open Access Service began and took responsibility for the new RCUK fund, and was transferred responsibility for the new Charities Open Access Fund (COAF). At this time the team were recording when an article was fully Wellcome Trust funded, even though the Wellcome Trust funding is a component of COAF.

7. Open access publication data for the management of Wellcome Trust article processing charges from the School of Biological Sciences, 2009-2014

Note: Management of the funds to support open access publishing has changed over the past seven years. Before the RCUK open access policy came into force in 2013, the Wellcome Trust funds were managed by the School of Biological Sciences.

Published 14 September 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley & Dr Arthur Smith
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A Day in the Life of an Open Access Research Adviser

As part of the Office of Scholarly Communication Open Access Week celebrations, we are uploading a blog a day written by members of the team. Monday is a piece by Dr Philip Boyes reflecting on the variety of challenges of working in the Open Access team.

As anyone working in it knows all too well, Open Access can be a complicated field, with multiple policies from funders, institutions and publishers which can be complex, sometimes obscure and sometimes mutually contradictory. While we’re keen to raise awareness of and engagement with Open Access issues, the University of Cambridge’s view is that expecting academics to get to grips with all this themselves would represent an unreasonable demand on their time and likely lead to errors and resentment.

Instead, Cambridge’s policy is that authors should simply send us their Accepted Manuscript at acceptance through our simple upload system and our team of Research Advisers will check out exactly what they need to do to comply with all the relevant funder and journal policies and get back to them with individually-tailored advice. The same system also allows us to take care of deposit into the repository for HEFCE and to manage payments from the block grants we’ve received from the UK Research Councils (RCUK) and the Charities Open Access Fund (COAF – seven biomedical charities, including the Wellcome Trust).

The idea is that from the academic’s point of view the process feels smooth and seamless. But the reality is that very little of the process is automated. Behind the scenes there’s a lot of (thankfully metaphorical) running around by our team of three Open Access Research Advisers to provide this service, as well as working on broader issues of communication, processing APCs and improving our systems.

So what does a Cambridge Open Access Research Adviser do all day? Here’s a typical day in the life…

8.45am- Getting started

Arriving in the office, I check my emails and look at the Open Access Helpdesk. Overnight we’ve received around 15 new tickets, as well as some further correspondence on existing ones. Fairly typical. It’s split between manuscript uploads that need advice, general queries and invoicing correspondence from publishers. I start working through these on a first-come-first served basis.

They’re a real mixed bag. If a submitted article is straightforward we can deal with it in a few minutes – we check the journal site for their green and gold options and then advise the author on which is appropriate in each case. We also flag the manuscript for deposit into our repository – at the moment that’s a manual process and is mostly handled by temps.

Today things aren’t straightforward. A lot of the submissions are conference proceedings and there’s very little information on the conference websites. It’s not even clear whether some of these are being formally published (does private distribution on memory stick count? Do they have ISBNs or ISSNs?) It’s going to be a slow morning of chasing up authors and conference organisers for any information they have.

 10.00am – Complexity

I’m more or less through the conference proceedings, but we’re not through with complex cases. One of the invoices we’ve received is for an article we’ve not heard about before. It’s from a senior professor but he’s never submitted it to the open access service so we weren’t able to advise him on policy or eligibility for block grant funds. He selected the gold option for a Wellcome-funded correspondence article and now wants us to pay the $5000 + VAT bill. The trouble is, letters aren’t covered by the Wellcome policy so technically it isn’t eligible. I contact the author and break the news that he might have to pay this large bill himself and that this is why we like people to contact us first.

 11.00am – Clarity

The professor has got back to us. Although the journal’s classed it as a letter, the paper’s actually a very short research article, he says. I decide to contact Wellcome for guidance and let them decide whether they want this to be paid for from the COAF block grant.

 11:30am – Deja-vu

For the moment the backlog on the helpdesk has been cleared and our temps are busy adding manuscripts to the repository and updating previously-added articles with citation details and embargo end-dates. I have a bit of free time to move on to something else so begin to tackle the stack of publisher APC invoices that need processing.

They’re mostly correct, but some publishers and invoicing companies are better than others. Inevitably there are a few errors that need chasing up or publishers who have invoiced us repeatedly for the same thing. Among the stack is an overdue notice from a major publisher for a familiar article. It’s one we’ve repeatedly confirmed was paid fully almost two years ago but every few months ever since the publisher has told us it’s outstanding. I send them back the payment reference and details yet again and ask them to mark the issue as resolved. I somehow suspect we’ll be seeing it again.

 2.00pm – Presentation

Today offers a welcome opportunity to get out of the office. We’re holding a joint Open Access/Open Data presentation to researchers in one of the University’s departments to try and increase awareness of the policies. Our stats show that this department has particularly low engagement with the Open Access service so we’re keen work out why. It’s a fractious crowd. One or two people are keen Open Access advocates and speak up to say how simple the system is, but some others are vocal about their view that it’s an unwarranted burden and tell us they don’t see why they should bother.

We try to explain the benefits and funder mandates, as well as how we’ve tried to make the system as simple as possible. When we get back to the office we find that one of those present has sent us their back-catalogue of thirty articles stretching back to 2007 to put into the repository.

 4.00 – Compliance

While my colleagues work on the helpdesk I need to turn my attention to compliance and reporting. All too often when we’ve paid an APC the publisher hasn’t delivered Open Access with the correct licence, or in some cases at all. I generally try to do a weekly check of the articles for which we’d paid APCs to see whether they’ve been published correctly but it’s time-consuming and things have been busy lately. It’s been around three weeks since the last check so it really needs doing.

But the deadline is also fast approaching for annual reports to RCUK and COAF. These are both large and complex, and cover slightly different periods (and different again from the Jisc report a couple of months ago). It’s proving a major challenge to get the information together from our various systems and to match it to the relevant figures from the University Finance System. I decide to let the compliance checking wait a bit longer and work on trying to move things along on the reports. I make a bit of progress, but there’s still a huge amount left to do – information on thousands of articles that needs to be manually collated. With luck in the future we’ll have integrated systems that can do much of this automatically, but for now each report represents weeks of work.

Wrap up

There is, then, a huge variety and amount of work that goes into the Open Access service. The Helpdesk and the reporting alone would be more than enough to keep us busy, but we also have to make time for outreach and communications, managing the finances, improving our systems and more. We’re finding that as our team grows, we’re starting to specialise more into particular areas, but we’re still basically all generalists, working on all areas of the job. This balance between specialisation for the purposes of efficiency and the need for individuals to be able to move effectively from one task to another – not least to keep our jobs interesting and varied – is one that’s likely to become ever more challenging as the volume of articles we handle increases.

Published 19 October 2015
Written by Dr Philip Boyes
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