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I have recently been comparing publishers regarding their policies on double dipping (charging an open-access fee for publishing in a hybrid journal and then charging again a subscription fee). Many publishers (Springer, Wiley, Taylor and Francis) state they lower the subscription fees based on the amount of open-access articles to not charge their authors / readers / customers twice for the same article.

Elsevier has a different approach. They state:

Elsevier's policy is not to charge subscribers for open access articles and when calculating subscription prices only to take into account subscription articles – we do not double dip.
[source]

But how is this implemented? The Elsevier support team was of no help when I asked there. I only got links to the help pages, which I have read forwards and backwards three times already. I even created an account and started a test submission to two of their hybrid journals but there wasn’t even a box to tick for selecting Open Access.

Has anyone made use of this policy and asked for a waiver based on a journal subscription?

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In the help page you link to, there are three relevant subheadings:

For journals that publish only subscription articles

(snip)

For journals that publish only open access articles

(snip)

For journals that publish both subscription articles and open access articles:

Adjustments in individual journal subscription list prices are made in the same way as for journals that publish only subscription articles. We do not count open access articles when setting subscription prices for titles. Subscription prices are therefore not affected by the volume of open access articles published in the journal.

Adjustments in article publishing fees (APCs) are made in the same way as for articles that are published in journals that publish only open access articles. We do not count subscription articles when setting APC prices for articles. APC prices are therefore not affected by the volume of subscription articles published in the journal.

The first two sections explain how Elsevier set subscription prices for subscription-only (no OA) journals, and publication fees for OA-only journals.

The third section, on mixed OA/non-OA journals, refers to the previous two and explains

  • How subscription prices are set, taking OA articles into account (they are not counted in the calculation according to the first section)
  • How OA publication fees are set, taking subscriptions into account (they are not counted in the calculation according to the second section)

Bottom line: the idea is not that you get a waiver for your subscription based on how many OA articles you (or your school) has published in the journal. Nor is it that you get a reduced OA publication fee based on subscribing to the journal (yourself or through your school).

Rather, everything is lumped together. It's simply a mixed calculation.

  • I agree with Bottom line: the idea is not that you get a waiver for your subscription based on how many OA articles you (or your school) has published in the journal. since Elsevier states We do not count open access articles when setting subscription prices for titles However, what would Elsevier's policy is not to charge subscribers for open access articles (the quote in my original question) mean if not waiving the Open Access fee? This is why I was hoping for a case report from an author. – Heike R Mar 24 '15 at 12:38
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    I think they mean that they don't charge subscribers "in the aggregate" - not that they don't charge individual subscribers. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Mar 24 '15 at 12:47
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@Stephan Kolassa has given the technically correct answer. I will add that all of this is irrelevant to the vast majority of universities, since they don't pay individual journal prices. They pay for an Elsevier bundle, and Elsevier forces them to keep the amount paid secret. It seems clear that bundle prices are determined based on what Elsevier believes a university can afford (i.e., will submit to) and are not based on any formula involving numbers of articles. Thus Elsevier is double-dipping. The only way they could prove otherwise would be to have a transparent pricing scheme and to allow universities to make public the actual prices paid.

Note that Elsevier has gone far beyond this and even charged for access to articles whose authors paid an OA fee in some cases.

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    I am not a big fan of Elsevier either but our library is not ready to cancel the subscription yet and while we have it, I could make the best of possible additional value for authors (although Elsevier tries its best to hide them).Thank you for linking to the latest scandal. Regarding the pricing of subscription bundles, you might be interested in this study in journal bundles which was only possible due to the Freedom of Information Act in the US link. – Heike R Mar 24 '15 at 12:23
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    No great fan of Elsevier either... but note that the proportion of OA papers in most hybrid journals is small enough (overall ~2% per STM 2015) that it would be hard to identify a "double dipping" effect on a bundle scale even with a clearly defined model, due to other sources of variation - inflation, subscription changes, etc. – Andrew Mar 25 '15 at 9:15
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    @Andrew Agreed. But my point is that their own tactics make it impossible to claim that they are not double-dipping. Their "non-double-dipping" policy only affects individual journal subscription prices, which are not the real prices paid by the majority of subscribers. – David Ketcheson Mar 25 '15 at 13:05
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Stephan is entirely correct: the OA APCs Elsevier charge are not directly dependent on whether or not you are a subscriber. The method used by Elsevier, and most publishers, is to reduce the overall subscription cost in proportion to the number of OA articles in a journal, not reduce the APCs in proportion to subscription spending. In theory, were a hybrid journal to go 50% OA, then the subscription price would be halved - which makes sense - but as David notes, the mechanics of this are pretty opaque. Most journals are not bought at list price, and things like varying numbers of articles year-on-year confuse things.

That said, there are projects which run the way you envisage it working - where APCs are reduced or waived for subscribers. The recent UK initiative to put substantial government funds into gold OA has led to a lot of pressure to come up with a system like this, because otherwise we would create a situation where UK universities spent very heavily on gold OA but only saw small reductions in the global subscription rates. Similar systems are being set up in Austria and elsewhere, and I suspect will become common over the next few years.

At the moment, two of the major publishers (Taylor & Francis and Wiley) offer such "offsetting" schemes. The T&F one is summarised here and the Wiley one here. With these, the subscribing institution gets a "rebate" voucher based on their subscription (or subscription + APC) spend over the previous year.

They can then use this to pay for future APCs. Elsevier do not have such a system, but JISC are strongly pushing major hybrid publishers to set them up, and I feel it's likely we'll see one for Elsevier within the next couple of years.

Edit: the RCUK Open Access Review, released today (26/3), has a little more detail (Appendix H) on the current offsetting projects - as well as T&F and Wiley, there are active projects from the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and Sage. The Sage one works exactly as the original post assumed - authors at subscribing institutions are charged a heavily discounted APC - while the others are a rebate/voucher system based on total spend.

Edit2: and as of 31/3, Springer have announced a very vague offsetting plan with JISC. No details on how it works yet but probably some kind of voucher system.

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Official answer from Elsevier

After an exchange of six emails, I finally got a definite answer from someone at Elsevier, who is responsible for the Open Access Policy. Very clear in the fifth email:

Open Access is not free for authors whose institutions already receive a subscription.

Then I asked for an explanation of the statement I quoted in my original question. The answer in the sixth email was:

Elsevier's no double dipping policy means that when we calculate the subscription price of a hybrid journal (a subscription journal that offers a gold OA publishing option) we only look at subscription articles in calculating this price. Open access articles are not charged for as part of a subscription, as we recover the costs for publishing open access articles via an APC. Elsevier's no double dipping policy does not mean that we waive APC fees in these journals, as an APC is still required to cover the cost of publishing the article open access in the first instance. Instead what we don't charge for is access to the open access article once it is published.

Would have been too good to be true. From an inofficial source I also learned that Elsevier's internal guideline says to not give in to any kind of fee waiving / voucher / subscription vs APC calculation request from any institution. I guess they are afraid these news would get around very fast and then everyone would request it. If only every country would have a negotiation position such as JISC in the UK.

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The two approaches you describe in the question are actually the same, just worded differently.

Subscription prices are judged based on several factors, such as:

  1. How many articles are published on average?
  2. Is there a print subscription? If so, is the journal printed in color?
  3. How many issues are there a year?
  4. How many pages are there on average?

You can see an illustration of where the pricing comes from in this article:

Elsevier has disputed the claims, saying that its average list price per article is $10 (£6.50), which is "bang on the industry mean", and that volume-based discounts bring the effective price per article down to $2, which is "slightly below the industry average".

What Springer, Wiley, Elsevier, etc as alluded to in the OP are saying is that if articles are published open access, then they're simply not counted as "normal" articles. For example if a journal publishes 50 articles/year and about 20% of those are open access, then the subscription price is lowered to that of a 40-article/year journal. Of course, this kind of price reduction can only be done once it's established that the journal will continue to receive ~20% OA articles, since if that number drops they could easily be making a loss - remember that subscription prices are set the year prior, and cannot be varied in the current year regardless of how many or how few OA articles one publishes.

If there's a difference at all in what the four publishers are saying, it's that Elsevier is giving the method, while Springer / Wiley / Taylor & Francis are giving the result.

In all cases, subscribing to a journal does not mean you get to publish open access for free. If this were the case, everyone would subscribe, since the OA cost is typically lower than the subscription price. For example, for the journal Discrete Mathematics, the OA article processing fee is $1500 before taxes, while the personal subscription price is $360.

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