Not all hybrid is equal

The hybrid publication landscape is not a case of “you can have any colour as long it is black”. Hybrid publishing involves a rainbow of different hues – with different charges for different ‘services’. This complexity is creating confusion and obfuscation, contributing to apprehension about open access amongst the academic community.

Hybrid OA articles are not always clearly marked

Anecdotally there have been some issues with the availability and discoverability of hybrid open access articles. In some cases authors have complained that where an APC has been paid to make an article open access under a hybrid scheme, the published article does not differ from any other article in the otherwise subscription journal by stating that is is available open access.

In other instances a user clicking on one of these articles hits a paywall as noted in August 2013 by Peter Murray-Rust, a prominent commentator in open access issues. He blogged again in March 2014 about continued issues with Elsevier charging for access to CC-BY articles. Elsevier has replied it is working on resolving the issue.

There are also issues related to clarity about the licensing that is attached to a particular article where an APC has been paid. In March 2012 one blogger noted that a ‘free’ to read Elsevier article still had a ‘Permission’s link’ which when followed charged to download the work.

In another case, an open access Taylor & Francis article states it allows use for research, private teaching and research, but the article cannot be reproduced or distributed. What can be specifically done with the article is defined by the license – which can be challenging to ascertain.

The BMJ sends potential re-users of a CC-BY-NC to a RightsLink page which then places restrictions on what the article can subsequently be reused for. It is a complex issue but details are here.

Paying for hybrid doesn’t mean the article is discoverable

Some publishing contracts state that authors should link to the article within the online journal rather than depositing a pdf into their own repository. Open access articles need to be discoverable and publicly accessible.

This can be an issue for ensuring the work is being indexed by search engines because in some cases publishers don’t always have data available about the access conditions of individual articles. A blog about this issue notes:

In many cases, [publisher] discovery and link-resolution systems describe access terms only at the journal level, so OA papers that are published in hybrid journals might not be made visible to patrons because of the systems’ presumption about access.

An item is not open access if it is only available on a publisher’s Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 2.09.16 PM‘platform’ but not indexed by search engines. It is advisable for authors intending to pay for hybrid to check contracts carefully to ensure the license will be applied immediately to the published pdf of any article where a payment has been made for open access.

By also depositing a copy to their repository an author can ensure their article will be indexed by search engines.

Which license? And at what cost?

Possibly the greatest influence on the recent hybrid landscape has been the RCUK policy which requires funded authors to publish their articles in a journal with “immediate and unrestricted access to the final published version of the paper, which should be made available using the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence”. This policy came into force on the 1 April 2013.

An example of multiple hybrid options is the American Chemical Society (ACS) which ‘expanded their offerings’ under their hybrid scheme, which has been in operation since 2006. This expansion allows authors:

  • Immediate or embargoed (after 12 months) open availability of the final published article
  • Open access options as low as $750 for ACS members at subscribing institutions
  • Creative Commons licenses available with ACS AuthorChoice

At the lower end of the scale an author can pay $2000 to make the work available 12 months after publication without a CC license. This is still a higher price than most fully open access journals. Note all ACS authors may deposit their accepted manuscript within 12 months to their funder, institutional, or governmental repository to comply with open access mandates. It does beg the question – what would be the benefit of paying to make an article available in this manner as little can be done with the research?

Under the ACS hybrid scheme, immediate open access under a CC license is more expensive. For a start it costs twice as much to make the published version available immediately than it does to make it available after 12 months. In addition, CC licenses cost an extra $1000 for non members and $500 for members.

So for an author under an RCUK mandate who not an ACS member and is publishing in an ACS journal needs to pay US$5000 to make their work immediately available with a CC license – very much at the highest end of hybrid charges.

The ACS are not alone in this model of distinguishing between different type of licenses. Nature Publishing Group’s press release on 7 November 2012 “NPG expands Creative Commons Attribution license options” lists the costs for different titles. The premium standard, and what is required under RCUK policy – an immediate CC-BY open access license – attracts the highest charge.

The differentiation in these examples is around the GBP300-400 mark, (for example Bone Marrow Transplantation charges GBP2500 for CC-BY-NC-ND or CC-BY-NC-SA but GBP2,800 for CC-BY). This is considerably less price discrimination than ACS, but the pricing strategy is the same – authors pay more for what is required under the RCUK mandate. The market has adjusted to the most profitable position given the mandate.

These complex publication options do little to increase transparency in publishing costs.

Hybrid – a transition

A final word about hybrid. So far this discussion has looked at the practices of commercial publishing companies and their hybrid open access programs. In many cases the hybrid options offer an alternate income stream and a way to transition their operations and cost bases to open access business models while maintainting commerical viability,

Something that can get lost in these discussions is the potential hybrid can offer smaller publishers to transition to an open access journal. Some learned societies are using it as a way of ‘testing the water’ as they consider a move from subscription based to open access publishing.

One such society journal, International Surgery from the International College of Surgeons, has used this model, transforming from print to online in 2012.

The subscription to the journal is a modest US$500. They have transitioned to a hybrid model as a stepping stone to a pure open access journal, having adopted a hybrid model with permission of the BMJ, charging US$1500 for article processing charges. All content that is not paid open access is available 12 months after publication.

So the hybrid option has benefitted some learned societies.

Indeed commentators were suggesting this route for society journals in July 2012. However by June 2013 the same commentator had concluded that hybrid journals are not the way to go. Time will tell.

Published 13 March 2014
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed by AOASG under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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