By Project MUSE

Project MUSE, the massive online collection of journal and book content based at Johns Hopkins University, has received a $75,000 planning grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Public Knowledge Program to study the innovative business model for open access journal publishing known as “Subscribe to Open.” The grant, called “MUSE Open: S2O” and led by Project MUSE director Wendy Queen, will focus on developing a financially sustainable approach to open journal publishing in the humanities and social sciences that offers an alternative to “author-pays” models, thereby expanding both author and reader access and equity.

The S2O model aims to convert traditional gated subscriptions into annual payments that support making journals open access. S2O works by offering compelling incentives that allow participation based on the economic self-interest of subscribers. In that way, the journal remains financially sustainable, and engagement with, and use of, scholars’ work dramatically increases. Eliminating barriers around access is a major step forward and a foundational imperative to achieving an equitable, just, and inclusive world.

“With Mellon’s support, we have an amazing opportunity to come together as a community—publishers, libraries, scholars—to test our assumptions about S2O,” said Queen. “The research for a potential pilot program made possible by this planning grant will provide a framework to gauge the priorities and intentions of all our collaborators when it comes to OA for HSS journal content. Can we mitigate risk, ensure sustainability, and allow a large group of partnering institutions to open content to the entire world while operating within a viable and transparent business model? We are excited to work with our community to explore this question.”

Project MUSE is uniquely suited to undertake this research and planning, as the nexus of a vast community of publishers and libraries. It is the platform for a critical mass of more than 700 scholarly journals, of which many may be ready to explore alternative models for making their content open. The Mellon grant will support the data collection and analysis to test the viability of multiple coordinated S2O offers and, if proven feasible, the design of a robust and multifaceted pilot program for journals in the humanities and social sciences.  Current MUSE staff, with funding from the grant, will provide project management, direction, and oversight.  Grant-funded consultants will conduct the necessary research, analyze data, and—if called for in the research—build the plan for a multi-publisher S2O pilot project that can be adopted by publishers, scholars, and libraries worldwide. 

Open access publishing often relies on “article processing charges” (or APCs), an approach that has worked well for journals in the sciences, where generous research grants have routinely funded open access publishing channels. The APC model has proven much less suited to the humanities and social sciences, where scarce or unreliable funding has raised concerns about sustainability and equitable access for authors. 

As an alternative to “author-pays” models, S2O is designed to provide incentives to current subscribers to support OA publishing activity. The model affords equitable access to all authors and all readers, while ensuring financial stability and compelling benefits for all participants.  

Depending on the outcome of the study during the planning period, MUSE Open: S2O could lead to a wide-ranging community-based initiative by Project MUSE and partnering institutions to significantly advance open access publishing of journals in the humanities and social sciences. The ultimate goal is to design a sustainable and equitable model for journals that can be embraced by libraries, publishers, societies, scholars, and funders. 

The open sharing of research output and free access to publishing channels are critical to universal and democratic access to knowledge. Publishing models that provide open access to both authors and readers are thus essential prerequisites for an equitable and inclusive society. 

“Testing S2O is a lot like a referendum—or many referenda, actually—on how our community wants to sustain and share content,” Queen observed. “The approach is flexible, transparent, democratic, and inherently experimental, and it keeps us focused on questions surrounding sustainability, equity, and enlightened self-interest. We are enormously grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for helping us drive forward this important conversation.”

Project MUSE has offered libraries affordable access to essential humanities and social science research for more than 25 years, as an integral part of the scholarly communications ecosystem and platform of choice for respected not-for-profit publishers. Currently, Project MUSE is the trusted and reliable source for over 700 journals and over 70,000 books, from more than 200 of the world's leading university presses and scholarly societies. MUSE also hosts thousands of open access books and several open access journal titles, freely available to anyone worldwide.

Contact Us for more information about the MUSE Open: S2O planning grant.