Subscribe to Open (S2O) is an equitable open access model for scholarly journals that enables subscription journals to open access to their current content without Article Processing Charges (APCs). Project MUSE is preparing an S2O program built around our current journal collections model, to launch with the calendar year 2025 subscription term. With more than 800 current journals in the humanities and social sciences on its platform, from close to 200 nonprofit publishers, MUSE is uniquely positioned to develop and deploy an S2O program at scale for a significant number of its journals. Through the support of MUSE’s vast community of publishers and libraries worldwide, the S2O program will open a wealth of vital scholarship in disciplines not well served by other open access (OA) models.
The MUSE S2O Program makes open access to the current year’s content of participating journals contingent on the continued support of MUSE subscribers. Each year, MUSE will set the minimum sustainability threshold required to fund the participating S2O journals that year. If the sustainability threshold is reached, the current year’s content will be opened to all readers. If the threshold is not reached, that year’s content will remain gated. Additionally, subscribers will continue to enjoy access to MUSE’s deep backfile content. Nearly 200 journals have complete runs – from volume 1, issue 1 – available on the MUSE platform, and many journals in the MUSE collections have several decades of back volumes.
The MUSE S2O Program builds upon the foundation of MUSE’s existing journal collections model that has been a valued platform for nonprofit university press and society publishers and a trusted resource in university libraries for nearly 30 years. The model provides a low-risk path to increasing access to a journal’s content that benefits both libraries and publishers in many ways:
- Makes high-quality humanities research from nonprofit publishers widely available to readers without barriers to access
- Ensures that subscribing libraries maintain uninterrupted access to both current scholarship and archival backfile content
- Costs no more than a library’s current conventional subscription
- Allows journals to publish an entire year’s output of articles open access without requiring authors to pay APCs
- Provides a stable and guaranteed royalty structure to support nonprofit journals and maintain the quality and integrity of their publications while making the transition to open
Supporters of MUSE understand the enormous value of humanities scholarship both in academic studies and in public spheres: shaping our understanding of the world and our place within it. Our community believes that humanities content from nonprofit publishers does not belong behind a paywall. This shift to open needs a unified approach to embark on a path to make this a reality. The success of the MUSE S2O Program relies on the collective support and collaboration of various stakeholders, including researchers, institutions, libraries, funders, and publishers. By participating in the movement towards more open access and financially backing this important scholarship, we are all contributing to a more inclusive and equitable scholarly ecosystem.
We look forward to speaking with you about how your journal or library can be a part of the MUSE S2O Program.
Download MUSE S2O Brochure (PDF)
S2O Subscriptions for Libraries
Libraries will simply continue to renew their current collection subscriptions annually, and beginning in 2025, those subscriptions will support a portion of the titles in the collection in making all their current-year content open access. S2O does not require new investment from libraries – just continued support for a trusted, vital scholarly resource.
The titles participating in S2O will continue to be included in their current MUSE collection(s) along with conventional subscription journals. You participate in the MUSE S2O program simply by renewing your existing subscription, by the annual participation deadline.
Libraries not currently subscribing to one of Project MUSE’s Journal Collections may participate by taking up a subscription to any collection which includes S2O-participating journals. Learn about MUSE Journal Collections in our For Librarians section.
Subscribe to Open subscriptions will be handled via MUSE’s standard order and invoicing process. Libraries will be able to renew subscriptions, place new orders, or change their collection option annually via the same channels. MUSE’s relationships with library consortia, sales partners, and subscription agents worldwide have been crucial to our ability to reach and serve a large and diverse customer base. Libraries may continue to subscribe via the channel of their choice, and all of our existing consortium discounts and agent commissions will remain available.
We will continue to offer the same suite of interdisciplinary and broadly discipline-specific collections that have been available for many years. Building our S2O program around these flagship collections means that libraries can support journals transitioning to open, simply by renewing their subscriptions to these trusted, essential resources. The titles included in the collections will not change – the titles from each collection that participate in the S2O program will simply make their new content OA if the program is successful.
Our approach to collection pricing will not change. Libraries can expect to continue paying the same amount for their collection subscriptions under our S2O program. MUSE has always moderated annual price increases. Modest increases are necessary to cover platform innovation and compliance with evolving industry standards, the addition of carefully curated new content to the collections and increases in our operating costs. As a division of a nonprofit university press, Project MUSE invests any surplus back into improving our platform, sustaining our participating publishers, and supporting the ecosystem of academy-owned scholarly communications.
No. MUSE’s current, library-friendly license terms will continue to apply to all gated content in the journal collections, and libraries and consortia will not need to sign new licenses. If the sustainability threshold is not reached, all content will remain gated and available only to subscribers. If the S2O program succeeds, new content from participating journals, published during the subscription term, will be open access upon publication. All older volumes/issues will remain gated and the existing license terms will apply.
Delaying subscription renewal past the January 31 end date of the standard subscription grace period will result in loss of access to all content in the collection, both gated backfile and new content from any titles not participating in the S2O program. Subscribers that renew maintain uninterrupted access to all content. The new year’s content will only be opened to non-subscribers if the sustainability threshold is reached by the participation deadline. A library that delays participating will risk delayed access to new and backfile content or will lose access entirely if the program is not successful.
Maintaining its MUSE subscription is the only way for a library to guarantee continued access to the current content and backfile content. An institution that cancels its MUSE Journal Collection subscription will lose access to both the current content and the backfile content. As the S2O program’s sustainability threshold requires very high participation by subscribers, the chances of being able to cancel and gain access via OA are quite small. Backfile content will remain gated even if the S2O program succeeds in opening the current year’s content from participating titles. A subscription will still be required to access all content from titles in the collection that are not participating in the S2O program.
Early in 2024, MUSE will announce the details of our S2O program for the 2025 calendar year subscription term, including participating titles and publishers, and the deadline by which subscription commitments are needed to determine the success of the program. Renewal pricing for our MUSE Journal Collections will also be announced earlier in the year than usual, so that subscribing libraries and consortia will have ample time to consider their participation and make renewal commitments.
An institution can participate in S2O by subscribing to a Project MUSE Journal Collection. Please see our For Librarians information or contact MUSE Sales.
Journal Participation in MUSE S2O
We are asking publishers to formalize their journals’ participation in the S2O program before the end of the 2023 calendar year. We will provide a preliminary list when appropriate. The titles that choose to participate in S2O will continue to be included in their current MUSE collection(s) along with the conventional subscription journals.
Participation in the S2O program is open to any actively-publishing, full-royalty journal in the MUSE Journal Collections. Virtually any title seeking broad, immediate access to its research will benefit from participating in the program. MUSE’s S2O program provides a way to open access to the current content of journals on any subject, in any discipline, and with any type of audience.
Publishers may participate in the S2O program with as many or as few titles as they wish. Journals will be asked to commit to a minimum of three years of participation from the time they join the S2O program.
Project MUSE works with a wide variety of publishers and journals, with diverse business models, and some may be better positioned for a shift to open access than others. We are actively engaged in conversations with publishers to help them understand the risks and benefits of an S2O model.
No, a publisher can include some or all of its journals in the program if they are actively-publishing, full-royalty journals. However, only titles participating in the program will qualify for the S2O royalty guarantee.
No. Licensed access to valuable journal backfile content provides an incentive for libraries to continue to subscribe to MUSE. The S2O program will not open the backfile years.
No. Under S2O, members need to maintain their memberships to get access to the back issues of a society’s journal, as well as current issues in any year where the S2O program does not succeed. Thus, the journal remains a key benefit of membership. The percentage of society members indicating that their membership would be more valuable if their society journals converted to OA continues to increase.
Providing an open access publishing option to society member authors is an additional benefit of S2O.
Publishers may need to reassure stakeholders that open access through S2O presents minimal risk to a journal’s financial stability. The MUSE S2O program is designed to maintain MUSE revenue by establishing a 98% sustainability threshold and supporting publisher revenue through guaranteed minimum royalties for those titles participating in the initial 2025 S2O program.
Publishers may also need to convince some stakeholders of the benefits of open access. Researcher surveys indicate that the number of researchers perceiving OA positively and the proportion of authors electing to publish open access has been growing steadily from year to year. Increasingly, authors recognize the benefits of open access for research reach, impact, and increased citations.
No. MUSE will assign current articles in S2O journals the Creative Commons license selected by the publisher. As a result, the S2O articles will be available open access under that license. At the same time, a publisher may license its copyright or distribute articles under more than one set of terms. For example, a publisher might publish a print edition that imposes copyright restrictions on use.
While MUSE cannot compel or control whether a publisher assigns the same license everywhere an article appears, once a CC license is applied to an article in one format, the article may be used in any other format or medium. See the Creative Commons web site for more details.
Yes. Assuming that the S2O sustainability threshold is reached, MUSE will continue to recruit additional titles to participate in the S2O program, on an annual basis.
MUSE cannot currently include journals from its hosting program in the S2O program. However, MUSE is evaluating a separate S2O solution for hosted titles.
Subscription Revenue, Sustainability Threshold, and S2O Program Success
The S2O Sustainability Threshold represents the minimum subscription revenue required for the current year’s content to be opened.
MUSE will establish a revenue target each year that reflects the funding necessary to maintain the platform and its participating publishers. If subscription revenue reaches at least 98% of the revenue target – the “sustainability threshold” – by the S2O participation deadline, the current year’s content will be opened.
If the sustainability threshold is not reached by the deadline, all content remains gated and available only to subscribers.
MUSE will set the S2O sustainability threshold to provide the minimum funding necessary to open the participating journals. The revenue target represents the net subscription revenue MUSE needs to maintain both Project MUSE’s operations, and those of our participating publishers, many of whom rely significantly on the royalties they receive from MUSE to sustain their publishing activities. Achieving the sustainability threshold will allow MUSE to distribute royalties to the journals in its collections and to support the ongoing operation of the MUSE platform.
Unless MUSE subscription commitments reach the sustainability threshold by the participation deadline, the current year’s content will remain available only to paid subscribers. No new content will be opened under the S2O program. Content that was published open access under prior year programs, or made open via alternative models, will remain open.
MUSE will communicate promptly and clearly regarding the success of the S2O program, immediately following the participation deadline. If subscription commitments reach the sustainability threshold by the deadline, MUSE will disseminate that year’s current content from the participating titles as OA, as it is published. Whether or not the open threshold is reached, subscribing institutions will continue to have access to both current and backfile content.
Publisher Royalties Under the S2O Program
The S2O program will significantly increase the use of participating journals, which would skew the royalty distribution under MUSE’s current royalty policy. To address this, royalties for the S2O journals will be allocated based on each journal’s average royalty share for the previous five years. For all other journals, the current royalty model will remain in effect. This will ensure the equitable distribution of royalties for both S2O and conventional MUSE titles.
MUSE’s S2O program requires the upfront, continuing support of subscribers. As a result, MUSE’s revenue should be unaffected by the S2O offer. Royalties will continue to increase at the same pace as MUSE subscription revenue for both S2O and conventional collection journals.
MUSE will guarantee that journals participating in the initial 2025 S2O offer will earn royalties no less than their average royalty for the most recent five years. This guarantee will apply to journals that commit to the S2O program by December 31, 2023 and will extend for the first three years of the offer.
Publishers wishing to discuss S2O participation and guaranteed royalty amounts for their specific journals should contact MUSE Publisher Relations.
MUSE will guarantee that journals participating in the initial 2025 S2O offer will earn royalties no less than their average royalty for the most recent five years. This guarantee will apply to journals that commit to the S2O offer by December 31, 2023, and will extend for the first three years of the offer.
There is no practical way for MUSE to guarantee publisher revenue from sources outside of MUSE’s collections. However, MUSE can provide guidance to participating publishers on how to protect subscriptions to individual journals. Such subscribers will also benefit from opening current content via MUSE’s S2O program.
Content Published Under S2O
Opening current content under S2O is contingent on the continued upfront commitment of subscribers, by the annual participation deadline for the S2O program. MUSE will communicate promptly and clearly regarding the success of the S2O program, immediately following the participation deadline. If subscription commitments reach the sustainability threshold by the deadline, MUSE will disseminate that year’s current content from all S2O-participating titles as OA, as it is published.
Project MUSE requires that publishers apply a Creative Commons license to their S2O content. To satisfy author demands, we expect most of the MUSE publishers participating in S2O will give their authors the choice of several Creative Commons licenses. CC license details will be clearly displayed on article pages and included in metadata as appropriate.
MUSE will continue to provide COUNTER-compliant statistics to library subscribers, including details on all usage of content that can be authenticated to their institution, whether open or gated. Users may discover and connect to open access content in a wide variety of ways and not all usage of OA content may be able to be affiliated to a specific institution. MUSE is also working with a number of initiatives dedicated to the collection and reporting of data on open access content use.
MUSE will continue to distribute robust metadata for our journal collections to all major library discovery partners. We will be meticulous in the creation and dissemination of metadata, for both the OA content and remaining gated content, to help libraries maintain good records and to ensure the most robust discovery of the open content, particularly by users in the wider community outside of subscribing institutions.
Project MUSE participates in PORTICO’s E-Journal Preservation Service for the preservation of journal content on the MUSE platform. OA content is preserved in the same manner as gated content. Libraries may also utilize the LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) system for archiving any applicable content from Project MUSE.
Current content opened via S2O is open in perpetuity and will never revert to being closed.
More About S2O
S2O provides a more equitable solution than conventional subscriptions and APC models.
Unlike APC-based models, S2O allows authors—regardless of institutional affiliation—to publish an article without paying a fee or requesting a waiver. While institutions continue to pay subscription fees, those fees are distributed across institutions that have already demonstrated an ability and willingness to pay for access to the journal’s content. As multiple S2O programs open content, libraries gain access to content for which they do not pay a subscription fee, as well as to content to which they subscribe. In this way, S2O creates a network of reciprocity across libraries and delivers social benefits to libraries and the general public.
Subscribe to Open is a subscription payment as current subscribers cannot ensure continued access without a payment. MUSE’s S2O program uses current library procurement processes to simplify communication and reduce administrative costs. Of course, this would not preclude a library from applying OA funds to some portion of their subscription renewal fee, if this was appropriate based upon local budgetary practices.
No. An institution needs to subscribe to MUSE to guarantee that it has access to the MUSE current and backfile content. Therefore, participating in S2O is not a donation and should comply with procurement policies that forbid paying for free resources.
Subscribe to Open relies on subscribing institutions acting in their own local self-interest. It does not attempt to coordinate institutions to act collectively as a group. Given the size and diversity of the subscriber bases to the MUSE collections, collective coordination would be difficult and cost prohibitive.
As the name suggests, S2O represents an extension of the subscription model. In contrast to collective approaches that depend on voluntary contributions, S2O is predicated on MUSE subscribers acting in their local self-interest, without relying on institutional altruism or collective behavior.