AAUP 2014: OA Success and Sustainability (S. Skomal)
Susan Skomal, Ph.D.
Association of American
23 June 2014
Open Access: Success and Sustainability
Why would a successful NFP aggregator, whose business model is based on subscription
sales, invest over $2M in an OA project based on a model that even some members of our own
community have referred to as “magical thinking”?
1. BioOne was incorporated in 1999 as a solution for scholarly societies and publishers to
publish electronically, at a time when only the largest publishers had the resources to
move their business models from print production to fully online.
2. SPARC is one of the 5 founding partners.
3. BioOne is currently a $10M business
**At the time it was conceived, many thought that BioOne was taking a magical thinking risk.**
1. Collaboration is at the heart of B1’s success. Academic libraries were angel investors,
advisors, members of board of directors, beneficiaries, & supporters. NFP publishers
& authors are participants/beneficiaries & also members of the board.
2. Thus, what began as a new economic model supported by partnering with members of
the entire scholarly communications community now allows us to
• adapt to & explore new models, and
• survive & thrive as the technological sands shift beneath our feet.
Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene
= BioOne’s response to evolution of scholarly communication
3. Provides high-qualty, original peer-reviewed research & open data to report on new
the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems during this era of human impact
4. INTENTIONALLY created in partnership with universities
• Dartmouth College Library is a key partner
• EICs identified with the active assistance of library deans at 5 universities
5. A single journal, Elementa has begun with six domains, with 1 EIC per domain:
6. Designed to scale with addition of other domains as appropriate
7. Fundamental principle of Elementa = basic knowledge can foster sustainable solutions
for society. Editors wll second-guess the ultimate impact of articles.
8. Publilshing in Elementa requires that data used in the article be deposited in Dryad (at
BioOne’s cost) or in repository of author’s choice
9. Launched first articles, December 13, 2013
Elementa’s Business Model
Treated as a business proposition from the beginning, using BioOne’s hard-earned cash re-
serves as initial investment = very calculated risk.
Product of 5+ years exploration. Model included budgetary outcomes for various scenarios, ad-
justing for article acceptance, pricing, and compensation. Hired consultants to review model and
budget before submitting to the Board to approve the investment. Throughout we’ve eceived
much-appreciated advice from colleagues at PLOS ONE & eLIFE, among others.
Essential points of the model:
1. “Business” v. “Project” = a distinction between university projects and nfp or fp business
important to factor into any business plan
a. Project = best defines university research
• Funded through grants
• Focus on testing, & refining for most complete/comprehensive results
• Time is necessary to explore and search for greatest understanding
• Sustainability refers to the ability to continue one’s own research; the ability to
obtain further grants; further knowledge; and ultimately supports one’s career
b. Business = applies outside the university
• Funded through investments from those who expect an ROI
• Focus is on speed, meeting the market need, so as to return on the investment
• Less time to explore as a result
• Sustainability means life or death of the enterprise (aka survival); ability to
reinvest in further development
• MOST VIABLE PRODUCT mindset; can be at odds with the search for perfection.
2. As an investment for BioOne, Elementa was designed to provide a ROI by the 4th
operation. Processes built in to review progress carefully throughout, eg. sepearate over-
sight committee meets quarterly.
3. Bounded investment: 2013-17 = reevaluate mid-2016
4. Separable if necessary. Cannot compromise BioOne’s core activities.
5. Pricing = $1450/published article; $650/published commentary
a. Budgeted for waivers for inaugural content and projected % of authors
b. Staffing – Key investment in staff expertise
• Top notch 5-person team composed of BioOne-salaried FT director, plus con-
tracts with communications director, agile project manager (tech), digital produc-
tion manager, and senior programmer
• Stipends for EICs (used for release time and/or assistants)
• Honoraria for AEs/article accepted
• In-person meetings for EICS
• Substantial investment in marketing from beginning given competitive market
for OA publications
c. Accounting for all expenses is essential so that we can track how much we have invest-
ed (ROI), e.g., staff overhead, legal, VAT, foreign currency gain (loss), bank fees,
accounting fees. Also need to keep an eye on opportunity costs to extent possible.
Infrastructure – extensive and complicated system of interconnecting parts including open
source, proprietary, as well as nfp and commercial partners:
Not PLUG & PLAY
[NB: Slide illustrates the many parts necessary to provide a comprehensive service; but are
not arranged in sequence or proportion.]
• Server – Amazon Web server
• Websites – PLOS OS Ambra & commercial WordPress -- heavily customized for GUI & architec-
• Submission system – commercial partner
• Composition/Conversion – commercial partner
• QC – commercial partner
• Author disambiguation (Orcid) – nfp partner
• Archiving & Migration – nfp partners
• Discoverability – nfp/commercial/anywhere needed [NB: not sufficient to be available OA,
must actively seek ways to be indexed, included in library search products, & online search]
• E-Commerce – commercial partner [OA poses different challenges than subscription model =
fractional billing, acceptance of POs]
• Operability on devices & browsers - customized
• Data storage – nfp partner
• Responsive web design (allows auto adaptation to devices) – commercial partner
- OA Publishing done correctly is neither free nor cheap -
1. Acceptance by Editors-in-Chief = 0 to 500 mph in 1 year = tight team
2. Collaboration amongst EICs results in innovation [e.g., Special Features = suite of top-
ic-driven articles published as accepted]
3. Favorable reviews [Huffington Post, NYT...]
4. Positive author & reader experience
5. Volume of hits increasing
Decision Points That We’ve Made (& will continue to make)
1. Build v. Buy – Open Source is a major commitment, requiring much more work than
2. Where to focus investments: marketing-communications from outset
3. Dedicated effort to actively enhance discoverability
4. IF is critical; altmetrics are available, but IF still drives submissions
5. Prioritize the features that meet needs of authors & readers
What Keeps Us Up Nights
1. Speed of initial development should have been faster
2. Increasing, but lower than modeled volume of submissions
3. Hesitance to submit by younger scholars until IF [3-yr min]
4. Not all domains have access to APC funding (e.g., HHS in Sustainability Transitions)
5. Must increase speed of production
6. Adaptation of technological components is costly & never-ending
7. Hence, the need to build in flexibility for future adaptability
By 2016, we will formally address the question of whether Elementa is a sustainable and sound
investment. The questions we’ll ask include:
1. Can Elementa support itself through sufficient volume of submissions, independent of
2. Can it return investment to BioOne’s Capital Reserve?
3. Will it be able to invest in its own future development (e.g., create its own capital re-
• Can Elementa cover costs to maintain OS system?
4. Flexibility: Are we able to add features and functionality without a major overhaul?
5. Can it continue to deliver high caliber quality articles?
6. Can we create economies of scale & lower costs for major expenses?
7. Can we lower APCs ?
8. Is BioOne learning from Elementa for extensibility to other projects/needs?
For BioOne, success is the ability to continue providing for the public good.
To achieve this, we designed Elementa to be a calculated and tactical project.
There is nothing magical about our thinking.