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Roger Clarke's 'Journal-Publishing Revenue Models'

Revenue Models for Journal-Publishing in the Open Access Era

Roger Clarke **

Notes of 11 April 2005

Prepared to accompany an invited presentation on 'The Impact of Open Access: Journal-Publishing's Cost-Profiles' in a session on 'The Impact of Open Access on Publishers, Librarians and Academics', at the Fiesole Collection Retreat Series, no. 7, Melbourne, 29 April 2005

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1. Introduction

These notes draw together some sources on business models. Some are generic. Others are targeted specifically at organisations that conduct electronic publishing, particularly of refereed journals, and more particularly still that adopt open access approaches to journal-publishing.

2. The Concept of a Business Model

The term 'business model' is used in many different senses, and no one definition prevails. At its broadest, it is equivalent to 'business architecture', and refers to the set of products, services, actors and information flows involved in an organisation's activities. Another intrepretation is that it describes the business processes whereby the organisation creates value for its customers.

A particularly critical concern is the manner in which revenue is derived and distributed. When eBusiness entrepreneurs seek venture capital, they are asked 'What's your business model?'. What the potential investor wants to know about is the likely future sources of revenue. A useful interpretation of the term 'business model' is therefore that it is the answer to the question 'Who pays what, to whom, and why?'. That is the sense in which the term is used in these notes.

3. Generic eBusiness Models

Since the Internet became widely available from about 1993 onwards, it has been applied to many longstanding approaches to doing business. But there have also been many innovative ideas, which have sought news kinds of answers to the business model question.

Exhibit 1, extracted from Clarke (2004), suggests a framework that can be applied to any form of business for which telecommunications-based tools are central.

Exhibit 1: A Framework for eBusiness Models

4. Journal-Specific eBusiness Models

During the last few years, a number of specific proposals have been published, suggesting ways in which refereed journals can generate the necessary revenue to enable them to perform their functions.

For-profit journal-publishers should consider the principles enunciated in Shapiro & Varian (1999) pp. 53-102. The primary focus of these notes, however, is on not-for-profit publishing, and especially that undertaken within the context of 'open access'.

Broadly speaking, not-for-profit journal-publishers rely on the following sources of revenue:

These are not mutually exclusive, and many organisations draw from multiple revenue sources. In particular, many journals are sustaining a reasonable level of institutional subscriptions, at least in the short term, even after moving to an open access model; and some journals generate useful cash-flow from royalties and from reprints.

More specifically in the context of open access, the following categories of revenue-source are identified by Soros (2002): "There are many alternative sources of funds for this purpose, including the foundations and governments that fund research, the universities and laboratories that employ researchers, endowments set up by discipline or institution, friends of the cause of open access, profits from the sale of add-ons to the basic texts, funds freed up by the demise or cancellation of journals charging traditional subscription or access fees, or even contributions from the researchers themselves".

Similarly, Suber (2004c) identified these models:

A recent contribution in this vein is Swan et al. (2005). The following sections provide more detailed proposals put forward in three particularly relevant papers.

5. Rowland (1999)

In Rowland (1999), the following categories of "non-commercial electronic alternatives" are distinguished:

6. Willinsky (2003)

In Willinsky (2003), nine 'flavours' of open access scholarly publishing are differentiated:

7. Crow & Goldstein (2003)

In Crow & Goldstein (2003), the following taxonomy of revenue-sources is provided, together with a considerable body of guidance in relation to their implementation:

8. Conclusions

For-profit publishers have been trying to convince senior academics, librarians and politicians that not-for-profit journal-publishing is not viable, and that open access, if it is worth pursuing at all, needs to be conceived as an offering of specialist publishing corporations.

The richness of alternative approaches to business models demonstrates that there is ample scope for innovation in order to avoid the unnecessarily high expense and inherent barriers of conventional for-profit publishing.


Clarke R. (2004) 'Open Source Software and Open Content As Models for eBusiness' Proc. 17th Int'l eCommerce Conf., Bled, Slovenia, 21-23 June 2004, at, accessed 26 March 2005

Crow R. & Goldstein H. (2003-) 'Guide to Business Planning for Converting a Subscription-based Journal to Open Access' Open Society Institute, Edition 1.0, January 2003, revised Edition 3, February 2004, at

HCSTC (2004) 'Science and Technology - Tenth Report' U.K. House of Commons, Science and Technology Committee, July 2004, at

Rowland F. (1999) 'Electronic publishing: non-commercial alternatives' Learned Publishing' 12, 3 Page (July) 209-216, at

Shapiro C. & Varian H.R. (1999) 'Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy' Harvard Business School Press, 1999

Smith W.T. (1999) 'The deconstructed journal - a new model for academic publishing' Learned Publishing 12, 2 (April 1999) 79-91, at

Suber P. (2004) 'What is Open Access? An Overview' Proc. Conf. Open Access Publishing, Society for Scholarly Publishing, November 2004, slide-set at

Willinsky J. (2003) 'The Nine Flavours of Open Access Scholarly Publishing' J. Postgrad. Med. 49, 3 (July-September 2003), 263-267, at;year=2003;volume=49;issue=3;spage=263;epage=267;aulast=Willinsky;type=2


Swan A., Needham P., Probets S., Muir A., Oppenheim C., O'Brien A., Hardy R., Rowland F. & Brown S. (2005) 'Developing a model for e-prints and open access journal content in UK further and higher education' Learned Publishing 18, 1 (March 2005) 25-40

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the E-Commerce Programme at the University of Hong Kong, Visiting Professor in the Baker & McKenzie Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., and Visiting Fellow in the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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