OA book business models

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  • This is a list of business models and revenue sources for OA books.
  • Some revenue sources are supplementary and not sufficient. We aim to include all the revenue sources actually used by OA books, even if they are small parts of larger business models.
  • For the time being, the major categories are in alphabetical order, which does not reflect their relative prevalence.


  • Description. The model is for a publisher to support the cost of OA titles by selling advertising space on or within the OA content.
    • Example. Bookboon offers 1500 gratis OA ebooks in seven languages, 800 of which are textbooks and the remainder of which are travel guides and "books for business professionals." PDFs are freely downloadable. The titles are financed with "a low number of high quality advertisements," which are capped at 15% per book. A Open Equal Free blog post by Jonathan Davidson describes the advertisements as being "targeted towards professional or student audiences," and further remarks that "Given the potential for employers to endorse some skill sets and knowledge bases through textbooks via this system, if it’s adopted on a large enough scale, the arrangement may have implications for the materials being taught."
    • Example. Eric Hellman, president of Gluejar, includes "promotional models" in his May 8, 2011 discussion of advertising as a business model: "OA E-books might also be supported by contextual links and/or product placement; imagine a story featuring a sports car where the brand and model of the car are chosen based on support from a car company."
    • Example. HarperCollins offers “Sneak Peek” and “Full Access” gratis OA of some titles through their “Browse Inside” web feature. Bookseller websites are linked with a “single-click shopping” option.
    • Example. Textbook Media Press, formerly Freeload Press, offers a tiered system where different versions of a work---online, PDF and online, paperback and online, and iPhone/iPod Touch---are priced by “media preference”. Details of the model are discussed by North Carolina State University's Jordan Frith. Textbook Media seems to have migrated from full OA versions of textbooks, which were supported by advertising, to the current OA model in which content is limited to previews of chapters or tables of contents. The online version of the textbooks is the least expensive.

Collaborative underwriting

  • Description. The model is for participating institutions to share production costs for forthcoming OA books or OA book collections. Print books would be available for purchase separately.


  • Description. The model is for the public to set a sum that an author would be paid to create content on a predefined topic. 
    • Example. Amedeo, a medical publisher, hosted the Amedeo Challenge, which commissioned OA medical books, paid with donations, to be written by experts in the field. Vaughan Bell discusses the implications of the Amedeo Challenge here.
    • Example. Larry Sanger, Wikipedia cofounder and Citizendium founder, proposed a commission-based model for OA publishing in which the "public" has an identified need for an authoritative work on a particular topic; the public presents an offer to the publisher (or "broker"), who selects an appropriate author for the task; that author then creates the work, which the broker publishes OA.

Cross subsidies

  • Description. The model is to fund OA publications with profits from non-OA publications. Sometimes more niche-oriented and specialized books are funded by the focus on trade and textbooks.
    • Example. Concord Free Press, a volunteer-run “limited edition” trade book publisher, is an anomaly in that their free content is the physical book, which as such falls outside the strict definition of an OA publisher. However, their publishing model is singular and does involve opening access to work: “We publish great books and give them away. All we ask is that you make a voluntary donation to a charity or someone in need. Tell us about it. Then pass your book along so others can give.” The Concord Free Press is supported by the Concord ePress, its ebook imprint. Sales from the ePress are divided evenly between the author and the publisher, with all ebook revenue being used to support the Free Press. Find a July 27, 2010 article by Anthony Brooks about Concord Free Press here.
    • Example. All publications by Polimetrica are available in two editions: a printed edition for sale and an electronic edition. Not all of their publications have OA editions, although the percentage is increasing. The TA editions cost between €15 and €30 per book.


  • Description. The model is for a publisher to pitch potential projects online; the broader community—the “crowd” —may then choose to fund the submitted work with financial donations, which cover production costs. With enough financial backing from the crowd, the project goes into production. Before crowdfunding was coined, John Kelsey and Bruce Schneier identified a similar model in their June 1999 First Monday article, as the “street performer protocol". Their model is one in which an author promises the delivery of a work for a specific sum; once private donations have filled the author’s goal, then the author creates the promised work, which is OA. Eric Hellman, president of Gluejar, has identified alternate names for this model: the threshold pledge system or ransom/bounty publishing.
    • Example. Crowdbooks is a photography book publisher. The Crowdbooks committee selects book submissions, which are then posted on the website for 90 days. If the work reaches its funding goal, then “Crowdbooks is committed to finalize the project and to market it.” Donors to the project receive a copy of the book and a print from the work once production is completed. If the fundraising goal is not reached, then the project is suspended and donations are returned to the donors.
    • Example. Kickstarter "is a new way to fund creative projects" by which the "[p]roject creators set a funding goal and deadline...[and] projects must reach their funding goals to receive any money." Kickstarter has a publishing projects section, and in 2012, 29% of the publishing projects were fully funded, details of which are discussed here. Sample OA projects include Public Access Poetry and The Open Utopia: A New Kind of Old Book.

Dual-edition publishing


  • Description. The model is for an OA publisher to build an endowment and use the annual interest to cover its expenses.
    • Example. The Ohio State University Press has an endowment fund. It also receives funds from the Ohio State University Libraries and other sources.
    • Example. In September 1995 the Center for the Study of Language and Information of Stanford University's Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy was created. The "dynamic reference work" received assistance from several organizations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; with support from the Byrne Foundation, the John Perry Fund was established with an endowment for continued funding of the OA work.


  • Description. The model is for the publisher to solicit donations, periodically or continuously.

Institutional subsidies

  • Description. The model is for an institution to subsidize OA publications, in whole or part, directly or indirectly. It may provide cash, facilities, equipment, or personnel. The institution may be of any kind, for example, a university, research center, library, learned society, for-profit corporation, non-profit organization, foundation, or government agency. Most of these publishers will also raise revenue by selling POD editions.
  1. Variant: university subsidies. There are several forms of university subsidies for OA books: in-house publication of OA books; provision of facilities, equipment, infrastructure, or personnel.
  2. Variant: government subsidies. There are many forms of government subsidies for OA books: direct grants to OA publishers; in-house publication of OA books; tax deductions for non-profit publishers of OA books; budgetary support for public universities, which the institutions may use to support the publication of OA books.
  3. Variant: foundation subsidies.
  4. Variant: corporate subsidies.
    • Example. ETC-Press has an agreement with Lulu, which handles all the finances on both sales and royalty payments.
    • Example. The London School of Economics and Political Science's Martin Weller proposes an alternative OA book publishing model in his 2012 blog post in response to both Flat World Knowledge's decision to suspend open access to their content, and interest on the part of his colleagues to publish books OA. The model suggests that the publisher "pays production costs, but claims a larger percentage of royalties." This publisher-pays model is a complement to his other suggestion, in which the author pays for production, but keeps the royalties from the work.
  5. Variant: private society subsidies.
    • Example. The National Academies Press (NAP), the oldest Open Access book publisher in the world, was established by the US National Academies to publish reports issued by their institutions. While it has other sources of revenue, it can still count on support by its parent institution.
    • Example. RAND Corporation, "a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis," publishes their research output since 1964, with much of their work from 1988 "available for purchase through our bookstore along with a free download option." Because of its mission, RAND publications, which are supported by overhead funding no deposit casino, are intended to be widely distributed, rather than revenue generating; details on their model are discussed in a March 2011 AAUP report, available here.
  6. Variant: subsidies from a variety of sources.


  • Description. The model is for sponsors (individuals, foundations, or governments) to buy the copyrights to existing works and then make them OA.
    • Example. Launched in January 2012, Gluejar's model uses crowdfunding to "unglue" previously published works, making them available libre OA. Details of the model, rebranded as "Unglue.it", and rights information are presented. P. J. Hane writes on the model and reactions to it in her January 30, 2012, Information Today article. A blog post by Eric Hellman provides details of the launch on May 17, 2012, and appeals for participation.
    • Example. The Maxfield Foundation bought the rights to a popular statistics textbook (Barbara Illowsky and Susan Dean, Collaborative Statistics) and transferred them to Rice University, which then published an OA edition through Connexions. This was the first in a planned series of Maxfield-Connexions collaborations on OA textbooks. For more details see this August 2008 article in Inside Higher Ed, or this December 2008 blog post from Creative Commons.
    • Example. Larry Sanger, Wikipedia cofounder and Citizendium founder, posed his liberation model in a March 22, 2008 Citizendium blog posting, using the example of buying (or commissioning) educational content to turn it OA. A petition was developed based on this concept.
    • Example. In February 8, 2008, the Indonesian government issued a press release in the Kompas Daily Edition indicating the Ministry of Education's plan to "[buy] the copyright and [give] the production rights to other publishers, so that the price of books can be reduced” (translation provided by Stian Håklev); this is a version of the liberation model. Details of this model are outlined by Stian Håklev, University of Toronto, in his blog.

Publication fees

  • Description. The model is to charge a fee upon acceptance of a book for publication. Much like with journal publication fees, the idea is for the fee to cover the costs of production, although in practice it might cover more or less. The bill may go to the author, but may be paid by the author's funder or employer rather than by the author out of pocket.
    • Example. The London School of Economics and Political Science's Martin Weller proposes an alternative OA book publishing model in his 2012 blog post in response to both Flat World Knowledge's decision to suspend open access to their content, and interest on the part of his colleagues to publish books OA. The model requires "authors [to] pay upfront the production costs...[for the work] but then keep a large proportion of profits." This author-pays model is a complement to his other suggestion, in which the publisher pays for production, but keeps the royalties from the work.
    • Example. SpringerOpen Books was launched in August 2012. The titles are available libre OA upon publication. Publication fees are determined by the total pages of a work, and institutions that have a Springer Open Access Membership receive a "15% discount on the publication fee" (see details here).

Temporary OA

  • Description. The model is for a publisher to offer free online access to a work for a restricted period, after which the work becomes toll access. The OA period may occur just once or periodically. Note: this is not "pure" OA, but represents a particular model that has been used by publishers to try OA.
    • Example. Berkshire Publishing, an independent academic publisher, partnered with Exact Editions in 2007 to provide free access to their reference collection: "The entire books are available and searchable for a limited period through this promotional service."
    • Example. The World Public Library, which digitizes books and publishes "online information systems, library research objects, [and] reference books," offers an "eBook Fair", which is one month of free access to their work per year; otherwise, the annual membership rate is $8.95.

Tiered quality

  • Description. The model is for a publisher to offer OA editions in a lower-quality format (e.g., HTML), with greater functionality and polish offered in toll-access editions, both electronic and print.
    • Example. Bloomsbury Academic hopes to recoup enough revenue by selling print and enhanced ebooks next to the free OA version, which is available in HTML; they predominantly publish hardback copies using POD. Frank Hellwig describes the tiered structure that Bloomsbury has constructed a for each title, where the work is available as gratis OA in Creative Commons–licensed HTML and PDF formats, or as priced print or ePub versions where “there will be…extra functionality, extra content and extra metadata.” Find a 2012 Martin Weller blog post detailing, among other things, his experience publishing with Bloomsbury Academic.

Value-added services

  • Description. The model is to offer extra services on top of OA content. A wide range of services is possible: royalties on print copy sales; full browsing functions and full-text search of a publication; navigation tools; enhanced, multimedia publications; connections to blogs, podcasts, and online resources and social media sites; consultancy services; web marketing, e-management.
    • Example. Athabasca University Press sees publishing formats such as XML and Epub as potential revenue opportunities.
    • Example. A libre OA textbook and academic publishing model proposed by Matt Jukes, based on the models used by Flat World Knowledge and Cory Doctorow. The publications would be vetted by social peer review. Once complete, free HTML and ePub versions of the title would be offered, which would be supported with a tiered pricing model for print-on-demand paperback, “premium hardcover,” and audiobook versions of the work. Titles would also be supported by donations (a la Cory Doctorow). By using open licensing, the content would be customizable.
    • Example. Ledizioni – LEDIpublishing offers various dissemination and marketing services services to other publishers, such as the e-commerce website Librishop, and marketing through blogs, forums, social networks, online magazines, and newsletters.
    • Example. Newfound Press offers advice to prospective authors on standards and best practices for digital production, usage statistics, and digital repository services.
    • Example. Open Edition, a humanities and social sciences portal, includes work from OpenEdition Books, Revues.org, Hypotheses, and Calenda. The work is available OA, but institutions may buy a subscription to Open Edition to receive six value-added services, including "unlimited, DRM-free download access to PDF, ePub files", technical support, customized alerts, COUNTER statistics on use, and participation in the user committee working group. See details of the model here, and a 2011 article in Information Service and Use on OpenEdition's freemium model by Pierre Mounier, OA through ELPUB here.
    • Example. OpenStax College, a Rice University initiative, offers free e-books, which are also available through Connexions, in partnership with "companies and foundations committed to reducing costs for students"; print editions of and online resources for the books may be purchased, with comparatively lower prices than standard textbooks (see details here). OpenStax currently solicits donations from users before directing the reader to the selected work. The current title list is available, and an August 14, 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education article by Angela Chen details the new venture.
    • Example. PaperC offers a gratis OA platform that hosts “academic, reference and technical texts” published by participating “renowned publishers” to registered users. “Premium” services, such as printing, saving, and annotating can be purchased by the page, chapter, or book. Details are available.
    • Example. Rice University's Moshe Vardi and Richard Baraniuk have proposed a "freemium model" for book publishing that would make an OA version of the work available through an institution's IR and "[a] premium version (ePub, pdf, or print-on-demand)" available from a traditional publisher at a lower price than that of standard textbooks. For example, they propose, "a soft-cover edition of a 300-page monograph can be priced around $15." First-copy costs of the title would be covered by the priced edition, and any additional revenue generated by the title would be shared by the author and publisher.
    • Example. The University of California Press offers additional services, such as: fully linked footnote and index references; the ability to search and browse by title, author, or subject; detailed bibliographic data for each book, including a one-paragraph summary and many subject terms describing the book's content, sales reports, and usage statistics.