9. August 2017

learn more


Here you will find a wealth of information to better understand the rationale of the OA2020 Initiative and its vital role in the Open Access ecosystem, along with a selection of resources that may be helpful as you take steps toward endorsing OA2020 and pursuing the transformation in your own local context.


OA2020 builds on analysis that shows that there is already enough money within journal publishing to allow for a transition to open access that will be – at a minimum – cost-neutral. This analysis is outlined in a widely-read White Paper, published by the Max Planck Digital Library in April 2015.

Here is a selection of further publications and commentary that illustrate the economic rationale at the basis of the OA2020 Initiative and the opportunities that will arise from the transition of today’s scholarly journals to Open Access.


B.-C. Björk, Scholarly journal publishing in transition – from restricted to open access, Electronic Markets 27(2) 2017, 1-9, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12525-017-0249-2

L. Earney, Offsetting and its discontents: challenges and opportunities of open access offsetting agreements, Insights: the UKSG Journal 30(1)2017, 11–24, http://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.345

K. Geschuhn; G. Stone, It’s the workflows, stupid! What is required to make ‘offsetting’ work for the open access transition, Insights: the UKSG Journal 30(3)2017, 103–114, http://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.391

J. MacKie-Mason, Economic thoughts about “gold” open access, madLibbing [Web log], April 23, 2016, http://madlibbing.berkeley.edu/economic-thoughts-about-gold-open-access/

J. MacKie-Mason, Authors have the power, let them use it: rebuttal to David Shulenburger, madLibbing [Web log], September 25, 2016, http://madlibbing.berkeley.edu/authors-have-the-power-let-them-use-it-rebuttal-to-david-shulenburger/

J. MacKie-Mason, Supporting OA2020: Changing the journal funding model to pre-payment doesn’t increase publisher market power, madLibbing [Web log], October 23, 2016, http://madlibbing.berkeley.edu/supporting-oa2020-changing-the-journal-funding-model-to-pre-payment-doesnt-increase-publisher-market-power/

R. Schimmer, K. Geschuhn and A. Vogler, Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access. A Max Planck Digital Library Open Access Policy White Paper, München, MPDL 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.17617/1.3

“Findings and Other News from the Pay It Forward Project Pay it Forward” (2016 June 30), Retrieved from http://icis.ucdavis.edu/?page_id=286

J. D. West, T. Bergstrom and C. T. Bergstrom, Cost effectiveness of open access publications, Economic Inquiry 52(4) 2014, 1315-1321, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ecin.12117/full


You can have real impact in making open the default in scholarly communications.

Here are some resources that can be helpful in promoting and discussing OA2020 with other stakeholders. Additional materials from the OA2020 Transformation Workshops are also available, and more resources are currently in development. Please contact us with your specific resource requests, and we will be happy to provide what you need.


OA2020 Resources

OA2020 Executive Summary PDF

OA2020 Expression of Interest Form for Signature.pdf

OA2020 Letter to Administration Template.pdf

List of Institutions who have endorsed the OA2020 Initiative

Sample MPDL Gold OA Publisher Service Level Agreement DOCX

OA2020 Presentations

OA2020 Conceptual Framework PDF

How OA2020 alters the publishing industry’s balance of power: Strengthening the market’s competitive forces PDF

Why do researchers and libraries support OA2020? An American Libraries webcast.

OA2020 Transformation Workshops and Webinars

Following successful workshops in South Africa, Brazil and at the Max Planck Digital Library offices in Munich, Germany, we are pleased to help coordinate and support workshops and webinars to define transformational strategies and roadmaps in local contexts. Please contact us for more information.

OA2020 – the video

If you can’t start or see the video, here is a link to the mp4 file.



By loading the video, you agree to YouTube's privacy policy.
Learn more

Load video



Reach out to the community of Institutions and Organizations that have endorsed the OA2020 Expression of Interest to learn more about implementing an OA2020 roadmap and to share your own perspective. Contact us and we will put you in touch with the contact point in your region, or let us know if you wish to volunteer as an OA2020 contact point. Get involved and stay connected!

Please apply here to join the OA2020 Community listserv.



What is OA2020?

OA2020 is a global initiative endorsed by a growing number of researchers, libraries, institutions and organizations committed to accelerating the transition to universal open access by transforming today’s scholarly journals, currently locked behind paywalls, to open access.

Our strategy is based on reallocating expenditures that are currently used for journal subscriptions to cover the costs of open access publishing models.

As a global alliance, OA2020 can meet the major scholarly publishers at eye-level and foster OA business models that preserve the publishing services upon which researchers currently rely while liberating the fruits of their research and the full potential of a 21st century digital environment.

OA2020 is the fastest path toward an open scholarly communications system in which outputs are not only open but also re-usable and the costs behind their dissemination are transparent and economically sustainable.

What scholarly publishing business models align with the OA2020 vision?

The OA2020 Initiative is based on analysis that shows there is already enough money within journal publishing to allow for a transition to open access that will be – at a minimum – cost-neutral. As a driving force in the Open Access ecosystem, OA2020 actively promotes the implementation of any number of emerging business models that enable a transition away from the subscription system to open access publishing.

What does the MPDL White Paper say, exactly?

Analysis presented in the MPDL White Paper illustrated that there is enough money already in the publishing system to support a transition to open access that will be, at the very least, cost-neutral.

Institutions are currently paying 7.6 Bn. euro into the global subscription market each year, while publishers are producing approximately 2 M scholarly articles via their paid subscription journals. Comparing these two data points, we quickly find that institutions are currently paying an average of 3800 euro per article to access their own research outputs with no provisions for sharing or re-use, such as text and data mining.

Conversely, the average article processing charge requested by genuine open access publishers today is around 1200 to 1300 euros (according to data from the OpenAPC initiative)–and even considering a more conservative per-article average of 2000 euro, the real costs of publishing in a purely OA scenario would come closer to 4 Bn euro, leaving a surplus, based on the money we are already putting into the system, to reinvest in Open Access initiatives. To be clear: this analysis, to date undisputed, was carried out using the “article processing charge” for modelling, as this is the most widely used OA publishing business model today (think PLOS), but does not signify prescriptive endorsement of the APC model as the only means to achieve the OA2020 vision.

The transformation envisioned by OA2020 is an opportunity to reapportion the excessive profit margins of the larger publishers, reaching 45% in some cases, toward new and improved services and other publishing initiatives (Repositories, University Presses, Society memberships, HSS publishing, etc.).

We encourage you to read the MPDL White Paper which can be found, along with a number of relevant articles addressing subscription expenditures and the costs of scholarly publishing, here.

Why not simply (re-)integrate scholarly publishing into universities and research institutions?

The scholarly publishing environment is undoubtedly in flux as researchers demand new or better publishing services, traditional publishers expand their scope beyond content dissemination, and institutions and funders alike increasingly craft their own solutions for disseminating their research outputs. Nevertheless, it is undisputed that the business of scholarly publishing demands massive investment in technological infrastructure and expertise and, considering the ongoing growth and specialization of scientific output, significant time and resources necessary to develop and maintain these. Indeed, this strategy has been steadily articulated in recent years, but has yet to be adopted on a large scale by researchers, universities and research institutions.

The OA2020 transition sits alongside these efforts, aiming to bring disruption to the financial streams and business models behind today’s scholarly journals which will inject a level of competition that currently is missing from the market which would drive publishing costs down, freeing up funds to reinvest in any number of publishing services, whether they are offered by traditional publishers, new commercial entries (pure OA publishers), or institutional platforms.

The current subscription-based publishing business is very profitable, at least for some publishers. What if they simply resist shifting their business models to open access?

Even before the piracy platform Sci-Hub entered the scene, there was sufficient evidence that researchers have increasingly been using other ways of acquiring publications, such as Research Gate, Academia.edu or Twitter via #icanhazpdf.  The lack of a subscription may be one reason for using alternative gateways to publications; but convenience is another.  Even if the building of barriers to access and creating artificial scarcity were a respectable business model in the digital age, such an approach in any case fails to prevent the dissemination of content.  And lessons about withholding content are available from other branches of publishing, such as the music industry.  One doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict that the subscription system is destined come to a natural end, sooner or later. The question is, how can that end be reached without risk?

An unmanaged end is unpredictable and could create damage to the meaningful core activities of the current publishing infrastructure, putting the entire system of research dissemination at risk. The transition outlined by OA2020 represents an offer to the publishers to partner with institutions in an orderly transformation of their standard business model in the inevitable shift to open access. The step-by-step shift in the allocation of libraries’ budgets already under way ultimately leads to the withdrawal of monies from the subscription system, so that there will then be no alternative than to fully embrace an open access business model.

How does OA2020 relate to the green route to open access?

Every strategy that is designed to increase the amount of openly accessible research articles is laudable, and the green and gold delivery venues for open access are not mutually exclusive. While efforts to populate repositories are ongoing and necessary, however, the subscription system continues to inflict unsustainable price increases on institutional budgets. Changing researcher behaviour, to improve the compliance and deposit rates of their outputs—estimated at around just 6% globally—is a slow process, and does not directly address the prohibitive cost of subscriptions in the meantime. The OA2020 Initiative tackles the publishers’ market power head-on by focusing its efforts on rapidly changing the economic models behind scholarly communications which, in turn, will strengthens other OA initiatives. Here’s how.

Will authors from low income economies be at a disadvantage?

No, the OA2020 Initiative is a concrete step forward in eliminating inequalities. In a gold OA world, the problem of expensive paywalls would be eliminated which would, subsequently, boost scientific research of all institutions, North and South. Additionally, institutions in lower-income countries would be able to redirect those funds saved through the elimination of subscription costs to building their own alternative and regional open access models, such as SciELO, or supporting publishing fees of their researchers.

In the context of “pay to publish”, pure gold OA publishers currently offer fee waivers and subsidies to support publication of researchers from under-funded institutions; evidence of the desire to level economic barriers to publication. Furthermore, in a pure gold OA scenario publishing costs would be transparent and subject to scrutiny from the academic community.

Of course, the issue goes well beyond publishing and no one solution will be able to solve inequality among nations and the opportunities of their researchers. The global academic and scholarly publishing communities must continue to work together to identify and experiment publishing programs and platforms that will enhance the production, dissemination, discovery and integration of local research into a just, inclusive and truly global scholarly landscape.

What about the humanities and social sciences, since these authors often do not have sufficient funds, and publishing fees do not fit into their academic culture?

The humanities and social sciences would actually profit the most from the transition to a gold OA system. Under the current subscription system, the lion’s share of libraries’ expenditure on scholarly information is tied up in paying the ever-increasing subscription prices in the STM fields, leaving only limited budgets for the humanities and social sciences. The conversion of subscription-spending to open access would liberate funds which institutions might redeploy to support open access publishing in these fields.

Additionally, as there are also many journals that do not charge publishing fees (in fact, about two-thirds do not), it is safe to say that the expenditures for scholarly communication in an open access world would at the very least not exceed the current spending level, and would most probably fall well beneath it. OA2020 encourages any and all open access financing models and features some examples here.

Won’t research-intensive institutions with high publishing outputs be the losers in a scenario where costs are shifted from subscription to publication?

It should be kept in mind that research-intensive institutions usually have not only high publication outputs but also high costs in providing broad information access to their researchers. Even for a very research-intensive institution, such as the Max Planck Society, expenditures will not increase.

Furthermore, no given institution or country would have to finance its entire publication output, but only the portion of publications attributed to corresponding authors from that institution or country. For research-intensive institutions this amounts to between 60% and 70% of the total amount of their papers, for less research-intensive institutions, the share is between 40-60%.

For those institutions that believe themselves to be disadvantaged or who will actually rack up increased costs in a purely OA world, the transition period can be used to perform comprehensive data analyses on the publishing output, carry out cost modelling and devise and implement new funding schemes with their administration. Library budgets now comprise only 1-2% of institutional budgets, and the opportunity to increase the impact of an institution’s research and cut costs in the long term would surely be motivation enough to engage administrators.

The same holds true at a national level: government agencies, research councils and funders have the power to make the necessary adjustments in the research landscape of their respective countries; the overall amount of money already in the publishing system is sufficient and need not be increased. Overhead funding mechanisms, which are used in some countries to support the library budgets, can be restructured. Adjustments in allocation and funding structure can be implemented and fine-tuned during a transitional period.

Practical steps to be considered are described in the OA2020 Roadmap.

Wouldn’t converting journals to a “pay to publish” model be another way of giving the big commercial publishers an opportunity to consolidate their market power?

The goal of the OA2020 initiative is precisely to break the big commercial publishers’ market power by liberating scholarly communication from the subscription-based distribution and financing model of subscriptions. It is the subscription system itself, with the scarcity effect of paywalls, that is the source of this market power, and it is the most effective barrier to achieving open access on a large scale.

The current system is a somewhat monopolized market in which a relatively small number of publishers control the copyright on the most valuable articles, and are thus able to charge above-average prices.  Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, economist, university librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer at the University of California, Berkeley, provides us with a thoughtful analysis of this issue in his blog post, “Economic thoughts about ‘gold’ open access”.  MacKie-Mason argues that gold OA may (in the worst case) leave market power unchanged, but there is no indication that it would increase the market power of big publishers or decrease competition:

“To strengthen the existing monopolists, something about the APC (article processing charge) model for paying the costs of publishing (instead of subscription) charges would need to raise the barriers to competition: that is, to give the existing firms increased market power. I don’t see anything about gold OA that does this.”

He goes on to point out that

“Gold OA doesn’t increase the power of the dominant publishers: they are already extracting profit-maximizing monopoly revenues from us, and switching to gold won’t increase the amount they extract.  And articles will be available open access to everyone.  So we’ll be better off than we are today in the subscription world.”

Currently, one of the most prevalent open access business models is based on Article Processing Charges, or APCs, used by both pure OA publishers such as PLOS and Copernicus and traditional publishers moving into the OA space, like Taylor and Francis or SpringerNature. High-impact journals such as Nature threaten to charge article processing charges (APCs) in the region of 10,000 euros and beyond. How will we deal with that?

In contrast with the current subscription system, the APC-based business model brings with it price transparency.
Currently, decision-making about directing resources to purchase research output come from different people (librarians, funders) from those who decide where to submit papers (researchers). A broader shift to pre-publication APCs rather than post-publication subscriptions will lead to researchers having a clearer view of the pricing of publishing services, which, in turn, will inject healthy competition into the market. Economist and university librarian, Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, gives a clear and thorough analysis of this in his blog post “Economic thoughts about ‘gold’ open access”. Of course, cost monitoring is essential and initiatives like OpenAPC are already documenting OA spending and can be used as a stepping stone to build upon.