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[ Publishing Workflows ] September 14, 2022

How can we reshape academic publishing business models for the future?

Sharing scholarly information quickly and efficiently has never been more necessary.

In response to demand from the public and the government, the flow of information needs to become fast and frictionless. But in order to do so, the business model of academic publishing needs to change. Does early-stage research hold the key to the future of scholarly communications?


The way we were

Traditional models of revenue and sharing scholarly outputs via journal subscriptions were very successful before the rise of digital technology and other industry changes. But now, we need to reassess past business models and discover how to use emerging tools to create a more sustainable future.


User-pays publishing

In a classic case of supply and demand, when the public pays to access the research they want , publishers can get a better understanding of market needs while building revenue. But, despite its convenience and ease, the business model of user-pays publishing is not without its faults.

Public interest in scientific information is currently at an all-time high. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the world reaches a state of climate emergency, individuals who have lost faith in the government are directing their trust toward scientists and valuing the expertise of researchers around the world. Yet, according to the user-pays publishing model, the sharing of knowledge comes with extreme prices for the general public.


Author-pays publishing

An increasingly popular alternative to the user-pays model requires authors to become paying customers when looking to publish their work and gain recognition for their discoveries. In this case, an author or their institution will be asked to pay to publish their work, giving them a chance to build their reputation and advance their careers, while the journal also gets an opportunity to drive revenue. This also often means Open Access, or that the public gets to discover, share, and discuss this work for free. Another model that supports OA publishing is the transformative agreement, in which contracted payments between institutions and publishers replace subscription reading and research becomes fully accessible and freely available.

Sounds like a win-win, right? But what happens when an author, their institution, or their sponsor can’t afford the cost that comes with publishing their work? Early-career researchers or those from the global South may struggle to cover these processing charges. Can a model succeed if it means risking tomorrow’s breakthroughs, which may never see the light of day due to cost barriers?


The way we can be

How can you continue to secure revenue as values shift and these models change?

Start by embracing the digital tools that allow your members to connect and collaborate across borders, organizations, and disciplines. Providing a place for bold thinkers to share impactful ideas can lead to more opportunities, recognition, and growth for your community as a whole. It can also lead to greater member retention, which directly ties to your revenue stability. 

What’s more, your community’s exciting early ideas don’t need to continue going unnoticed. When you monetize your members’ early-stage ideas, you will no longer need to rely solely on the final journal output for financial security. This can also open up new revenue streams for your society and lead to strategic partnerships. For corporations who always like to stay ahead of trends, early-stage research is an exciting opportunity to discover the latest world-changing findings before they hit the mainstream.



The scholarly publishing community is at a crossroads. We need to reassess the way we share information and generate sustainable revenue sources without sacrificing the needs of society members and public supporters.

Is your society's revenue sustainable with green leaf on green background