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Effect of online distribution on non-subscription revenue

Whether an online edition of a journal will have any negative effect on non-subscription income streams will vary by journal and field. Non-subscription revenues include advertising, permissions, reprints, individual copy sales, back copy sales, royalties (from online aggregators), and author charges (submission fees, color and page charges, etc.). As a broad generalization, subscription revenues comprise approximately 90 percent of revenues for most scholarly journals. Medical journals, which often generate substantial advertising and reprint revenues, are one exception.

We discuss below some of the issues relevant to several of the principal non-subscription revenue streams: advertising, royalties, permissions, and grants and gifts.


With the exception of medical journals, print advertising accounts for less than 10 percent of gross revenue for most journals. Still, advertising can be a significant revenue source for some journals. As long as a society’s members continue to receive print as a component of their membership benefit, a journal’s online availability should not undermine its print advertising revenue. However, if a society elects to offer its members an online-only option, a significant decrease in member print distribution could result in a decrease in advertising revenue. Advertisers in peer-reviewed journals (a significant percentage of which are university presses and other nonprofit publishers) have yet to make the transition to online advertising. Until such time, a society will need to compare this potential lost advertising revenue against the potential savings gained from decreased print fulfillment costs.

Royalties and license fees

The introduction of an online edition of a journal might affect royalty revenues from online aggregations in which the journal is participating. The extent to which this will be the case will depend on whether the aggregation targets a journal’s core market or whether it reaches incremental non-core markets.

If the aggregation delivers the journal’s content to a non-core market that the society would not otherwise reach, the aggregation’s royalty stream for the journal should not be significantly affected. However, if the aggregation targets institutions in the society’s core market, then the issue will be the extent to which the version of the journal in the aggregation serves as a substitute for the primary journal (see “Online Access and Print Substitution” in Chapter Four). If the version in the aggregation is embargoed or if the content is incomplete, libraries may continue to subscribe to the primary journal online, in addition to gaining access through the aggregation. The journal will likely continue to receive usage through the aggregation, especially by undergraduates and non-specialists who will rely on the aggregation for convenience.


Online dissemination can also generate additional revenue through licensing at the article level.

The Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) http://www.copyright.com. operates licensing programs for both print and online content that facilitate compliance with copyright law. CCC’s services for academic publishers include online programs that automate the reprints and permissions process for using journal content in course packs, for electronic reserve, for institution-wide use, for use by individual researchers, for users outside of North America, and for a wide variety of other licensing programs. A society publisher can work with CCC directly, or a publishing service provider may handle registration and administration of the CCC relationship on the society’s behalf, managing payments and fielding rights queries (in the latter case, the provider may take a percentage of the fee as compensation).

Although the presence of images and other copyrighted media in an online journal will limit rights and permissions revenue for art history and other visually oriented disciplines, online processing of reprints and permissions will sometimes result in either lower processing costs or increased licensing revenue.

Grants and gifts

In some cases, a move to online distribution may occasion new grant seeking This was the case, for example, for caa.reviews and for JSAH , each of which applied technical innovations to expand the current conception of a art history journal. or philanthropic giving opportunities for the journal. For example, providing free online access to libraries in LDCs (as described in Chapter Four) may allow a publisher to ask a public or private foundation interested in the region to support the program. Such a sponsorship might be priced in terms of the financial value of (theoretically) forgone subscription revenue. Or a journal might seek sponsorships to make selected articles from the journal available to a wide audience on an open-access basis. Such a sponsorship program would expand access to the journal’s content and increase its visibility without affecting other revenue streams. The possible scope for such sponsorship programs is wide, and the low marginal cost of online dissemination increases their potential net income yield. See Crow (2005).

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Source:  OpenStax, Transitioning a society journal online: a guide to financial and strategic issues. OpenStax CNX. Aug 26, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11222/1.1
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