The Open Access Network is made up of committed individuals, organizations, societies, publishers, libraries, and institutions working together to Make Knowledge Public.

Our plan is to tackle head-on the challenge of open access (OA) business models beginning with disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. The Open Access Network provides a broad and transformative solution for sustainable OA publishing and archiving that is complementary, not competitive, with other OA funding approaches.

The Open Access Network was co-founded by Rebecca Kennison and Lisa Norberg, the original Principals at K|N Consultants, a United States-registered not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides strategic and operational guidance to academic institutions, libraries, scholarly societies, and other mission-driven organizations.


What is open access?

Open access (OA) is free, immediate, unrestricted online access to digital research and scholarly work. OA does not in any way run contrary to conventional scholarly practice; it is compatible with copyright, peer review, print, preservation, prestige, quality, career advancement, indexing, and even revenue generation. The primary difference is that the costs of production are not paid by readers or other users of the work and all access barriers to that work have been removed.

What is the Open Access Network?

The Open Access Network is a transformative model of open access (OA) publishing and preservation that encourages partnerships among scholarly societies, research libraries, and other institutional partners (e.g., collaborative e-archives and university presses) who share a common mission to support the creation and distribution of research and scholarship and encourage affordable education.

The Open Access Network includes a plan to convert traditional subscription publication formats, including society- or university press–published journals and books or monographs, to OA; however, our ultimate goal is to provide an approach to funding that is fair and open and fully sustains the infrastructure needed to support the full life-cycle for communication of the scholarly record, including new and evolving forms of research output. Simply put, we intend to Make Knowledge Public.

Can open access help to reduce the high costs of education?


The rising costs of education are well documented, as are the reasons, among them: ready access by students to federal loans, expanded student services, the demands of information technology, expensive construction projects, increased administrative processes, an emphasis on research over teaching, and (in some cases) seemingly extravagant administrators’ salaries. At the same time that college tuitions have risen, so has the cost of educational materials, including textbooks and course reading assignments. While tuition rates in the United States have risen more than 25% in the last decade, during that same time textbook costs have doubled and journal prices have increased (on average) 9% per year. These increases have also contributed to the overall cost of education.

While producing books and journals does cost money, one of the substantive but often unacknowledged expenses is that of access management, i.e., the costs incurred by both publishers (and then passed along to their customers) and institutions (and then passed along to their students) to prevent access to content except by certain individuals and to limit reuse of publications as much as possible. In a fully open-access world, the costs of subscriptions would go away entirely and those for access management would be great reduced, thereby significantly lowering the overall costs to individual students, faculty, and researchers and to the institutions themselves.

Why should open access matter to administrators, faculty, and students?

In addition to its contribution in lowering some of the costs of education, open access can also help to address the challenges of lifelong learning.

One of the foremost goals of education is to create lifelong learners, those who value the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, whether for personal or professional reasons, understanding that acquisition of knowledge is not restricted to the classroom and application of that knowledge is not limited to the workplace. Institutions expend enormous resources to provide their students with a veritable cornucopia of content and the training to discover and use that content — access to which most of them lose immediately upon graduation.

Scholarly content is not created solely for use by the elite specialist; rather, it is meant to be read, considered, and discussed by those who have learned to appreciate the subject matter. The increase in opportunities for online learning and continuing adult education makes ready access to open educational resources a necessity.

Even more reason to support open access to scholarly output? Lifelong learners tend to enter and remain in higher-paying careers and have considerable monetary, cultural, and entrepreneurial impact on society. OA is not just a public good, but good for the public as well.

How is the Open Access Network different from all the other OA initiatives out there?

  • We are looking to academic and research institutions to fund this model, not solely to their libraries. The dollar amounts provided in the originally proposed model in our white paper may look large to a library, but are modest at an institutional scale.
  • We want full participation from the entire global higher education community, from small community colleges to large research universities alike.
  • Our plan is intentionally incremental, acknowledging the inherent conservatism of academia. It also suggests employing traditional roles in evolving ways.
  • Our model enables scholarly societies and university presses to develop the strategies they need to continue to provide their members with services that are useful and meaningful without reliance on subscription revenue.
  • Our plan allows all the partners in the scholarly communication ecosystem to begin to work together to agree on best practices, not only for infrastructure, metadata, etc., but for their business approaches as well.

For all that, we consider the Open Access Network to be complementary rather than competitive with other OA initiatives and models. Because our goal is to provide a financial mechanism to support sustainable infrastructure (from creation to preservation) for all the outputs of the scholarly endeavor, the projects supported by the Open Access Network can be as varied as the scholarly activities that produce them. Our emphasis at this time on societies and university presses as the linchpins of scholarly communication and our insistence on partnerships among stakeholders means that many independently produced products and projects would continue to develop outside the funding mechanism we propose.

Why start with humanities and social sciences?

The transition to open access from subscription-based publishing operations in the humanities and social sciences (HSS) has been particularly difficult, for reasons that expose the limitations of many current OA models: in HSS, articles are not the only publication type of value or even the most valued type of publication; external funding for research is minimal or non-existent; and HSS societies often consider their publications to be the primary benefit they offer their members, and many find it difficult to imagine how they would support their society’s activities if their current publishing operations were to change.

The OAN model tackles head-on the major drawback to the predominant OA business model at the heart of these complaints: that it is based on individual payments (known most often as article-processing charges [APCs]) made by researchers for only certain types of publications. Our model, in contrast, asks tertiary institutions to contribute to systemic support of the research process itself, including its entire scholarly output — whether article, monograph, dataset, conference presentation, multimodal Web site, or format not yet envisioned. With the rise of digital humanities and an increasing emphasis on open research data in the social sciences, disciplines within those fields are most in need of support for OA projects and products that cannot be paid for on a cost-per-unit basis.

Give me the elevator pitch.

The rapid changes in technology that affect the way research, scholarship, teaching, and learning are done, combined with the ever-increasing financial pressures on institutions of higher education and on their students, require collective and global support of the entire scholarly communication infrastructure and for all its participants, moving from the current cost-per-unit pricing model that works for only particular forms and formats of research output and for only particular stages in the communication workflow. It’s only by working together, with participation from all who contribute and from those who benefit, that we can hope to transform the system at scale.

How does the Open Access Network funding model work?

The funding model we propose is simple and straightforward, based on numbers that are publicly reported and therefore completely transparent:

  • Each tertiary institution of higher education pays an annual or multi-year payment based on the number of their FTE students and faculty on a sliding scale tied to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (or other standards used outside the United States, such as the European Classification of Higher Educational Institutions or International Standard Classification of Education), as well as on the number of researchers, scientists, or scholars at other types of institutions (e.g., medical research centers).
  • The institutional payment goes into a centrally managed fund. Institutions, scholarly societies, and their partners (e.g., publishers, digital preservation archives) come together in partnership to apply for funds through a competitive grant process; the funds dispensed are used to provide direct support for the distribution, access, and long-term archival preservation infrastructure of the partnerships.

The grant structure we have proposed is open, transparent, and familiar to those who have applied for other types of grants.

Funding is not based on the unit of production, such as an article- or data-processing charge or monograph first-copy costs. It is designed to support the broad and evolving scholarly record, however that is defined by the discipline.

How do we effect long-term change?

We know change is hard. While the Open Access Network represents a bold rethinking of the economics of OA, the plan for implementation is incremental, taking into consideration the time it will take for stakeholders to transition to their new roles and adjust to the new environment. The long-term change we desire is directly aligned to our stakeholders’ mission and values, that of serving the public good by maximizing access to the knowledge produced at colleges and universities to enhance the lifelong pursuit of education, learning, and research.

Your white paper presents an intriguing proposal in theory, but might be problematic in practice. How set in stone is the model you proposal?

Some elements of the model outlined in the white paper — the widespread adoption of a simple, fair, and transparent mechanism for funding sustainable open access scholarly communication to which all tertiary institutions contribute in some way and an insistence on partnerships among stakeholders in the scholarly endeavor — are core to the Open Access Network. Details such as the annual fee structure, mechanisms for reviewing proposals, disciplinary focus of the projects, tax status of the partners and constellation of those partnerships, accommodation of international differences in research funding practices, and so on, will be worked out in practice through conversations and practical input from stakeholders and other thought leaders and will undoubtedly change and evolve over time. The development of our membership program in response to community feedback urging us to adopt existing mechanisms that could be easily leveraged to provide seed funding indicates our complete willingness to incorporate practical suggestions that contribute to successful implementation.

How will my scholarly society survive without the money we get from library subscriptions?

Our model enables scholarly societies to have the financial freedom to develop the strategies they need to continue to provide their members with services that are useful and meaningful. While revenue neutral, the funding infrastructure is flexible and designed to enable societies to respond to and support new areas of research and expanding forms of the scholarly record.

Does your model also work for publications not associated with a society or a university press?

While our model focuses on partnerships between or among institutions, libraries, scholarly societies, and university presses, it does not exclude those publications that are independently led by scholars or editors. These individuals would require some kind of collective, stable organizational affiliation that could enter into partnership arrangements, but we would welcome conversations with such groups.

How much money is needed? What is the tipping point?

We believe that the route to successful adoption of the approach we are advocating is to demonstrate its attractiveness and sustainability through a stepwise implementation process.

To obtain initial seed funding, we established a membership program open to anyone and everyone who wishes td join the Open Access Network and contribute to the initial pilot projects that will demonstrate in practice how the Open Access Network works.

To fund the post-pilot implementation phase, we proposed in our white paper targeting 1,038 institutions concentrated in the United States and Canada, but with representation throughout the globe, resulting in $56,993,479 in annual revenue. If we go by the law of diffusion of innovation, when we are able to convince 167 (or roughly 16% of those 1,038 institutions) to agree to pay the annual fee, we will have reached a tipping point of institutions who believe in the plan. Critical mass, which indicates widespread adoption and ensures that innovation is now self-sustaining, would require 519 to adopt the model in an ongoing manner. Because of the evolving nature of scholarly publishing, the amount of money raised, while important, is not as critical as getting adopters on board in supporting changing the way the system is funded.

How long will it take to get to this new world order?

It might seem an inappropriate comparison, but let’s look at the evolution of two well-known corporations — Google and Apple. At the turn of the 21st century, Apple was hanging on by a financial thread and Google had just opened their New York office, which consisted of one employee working at a Starbucks on the corner of W. 86th St. and Columbus. Fifteen years later, Apple is the world’s largest company and Google’s New York office holds more that 4,000 employees and a full-sized dessert truck. Seriously. Need we say more?

While the Open Access Network is mission-driven rather than profit-driven, we do have something in common with these highly successful companies. We have a vision that is ambitious; some might even say audacious. We believe that it is possible to build on the excellent work of OA advocates over the last several decades to develop a scholarly communication infrastructure that is open, widely supported, and ever evolving. We realize it won’t happen overnight. But perhaps in as little as 15 years, you will find it hard to remember a time when you couldn’t access the latest research on a topic produced by a scholar or researcher at a college or university.

What about those “free-riders” who just reap the benefits of open access without contributing?

Our model provides a clear but ever-evolving and expanding roadmap to address concerns about “free riders,” including a campaign in a stepwise but nevertheless assertive way to persuade all tertiary academic institutions to participate financially, raise endowment funds from foundations, accept donations from the public, and otherwise engage all beneficiaries — very much in keeping with the core mission of academic institutions, societies, and libraries: the advancement of knowledge and learning and communication of the products of those efforts to the entire world. You can see the principle at work now in the broad membership of the OAN, which includes individuals, libraries, societies, and publishers. This type of broad-based support can scale infinitely.

How do we pay for the transition?

While we are currently seeking support from a wide array of institutions, organizations, foundations, and individuals, ultimately our model looks to academic and research institutions to fund the scholarly communications ecosystem, not just libraries. The dollar amounts we suggest for each institution may look large to a library, but are modest at an institutional scale.

While it may always make sense for the library to be the entity within the institution that manages Open Access Network funds, it is the institution itself that will be judged on its willingness to support the transition to a more open and equitable scholarly information infrastructure. There will be a time of transition when libraries still need to provide access to the subscription-based publications their scholars and researchers depend on. Moreover, library budgets are often tied up with multi-year subscription licenses and consortial commitments that make canceling individual journals or database subscriptions or packages impossible. Scholarly publishing models are in a period of flux, but we assert that over time, the money spent on ventures such as the OAN will replace significant costs per institution for scholarly publications.

How will the money be raised?

The financial model we propose is based on an annual or multi-year payment made by every institution of higher education, no matter what its size or classification, and by any institution that benefits from the research that is generated by those within the academy. For tertiary institutions, the payment is based on the number of students and full-time faculty on a sliding scale tied to the Carnegie classification (or, outside the United States, other standards in common use, such as European Classification of Higher Educational Institutions or International Standard Classification of Education), as well as on the number of researchers, scientists, or scholars at other types of institutions (e.g., medical research centers). The payment is modest relative to the overall budget of most institutions, but, when spread broadly across all institutions, results in a sum substantial enough to sustain a vibrant and open scholarly communication environment.

What are you doing now to raise money?

As it became clear that other initiatives had more potential traction with colleges and universities — although none (unfortunately) have found success either — we retired our fundraising efforts in direct support of the Open Access Network. Donations in support of the ongoing efforts of K|N Consultants to work on behalf of open access can be made on that site.

As we worked to establish the Open Access Network, we set up a membership program that any institution, library, university press or publisher, scholarly society, foundation, organization, or individual could join. Tiered ranges allowed for maximum flexibility within the levels of membership: Supporter ($10 – $999), Benefactor ($1,000 – $4,999), Collaborator ($5,000 – $9,999), Partner ($10,000 – $19,999), and Leader ($20,000 and above).

Members at whatever level demonstrated their support for a model for open access that is equitable, scalable, and sustainable. The monies raised went entirely to support the administrative and organizational infrastructure for the Open Access Network and to fund the pilot projects we hoped to use to test its model.

In our initial phase we wanted the Network to be seen for what it is: broad and inclusive, with members that include high schools, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, and universities. We also welcome libraries, societies and university presses and scholarly publishers of all sizes — and budgets. We pursued foundation funding and asked for-profit organizations to contribute as sponsors. And of course we welcomed grassroots support from individuals. Because the Open Access Network is a legal entity of K|N, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, any donations may qualify for an income tax deduction in accordance with Federal and/or State income tax laws. Please consult with your tax adviser to determine whether your donation is tax deductible, in whole or in part.

My research isn’t limited to the United States. My collaborators are all around the world and we publish in a number of international journals and work with international publishers. What does the Open Access Network do for us?

Just as research and scholarship are increasingly global and collaborative, our plan is not bound by national borders but can — and we hope will — be adapted by any country looking for an equitable and sustainable OA model. What the OAN funding model may look like in those countries will depend a great deal on the scholarly communication practices in place there, especially in those countries where the government plays an important role in directly funding the scholarly communication output of its academics.

How can I get involved?

  • Become an open-access advocate, personally and professionally: Read your author agreements and retain your rights. Publish in a reputable open-access journal or with an open-access-friendly publisher. And participate regularly in the scholarly conversation, both face to face and via social media.
  • Reach out to your colleagues and campus administrators. Help them better understand the issues. Coordinate messaging with us and with other local, national, and international OA advocates. Organize and participate in events.
  • We welcome your help! Contact us at any time via Twitter or email.