Lessons From an Early Adopter of the Open-Access Publishing Model

July 29, 2021 By: Nikki Golden, CAE

An early adopter of the open-access model for its premier journal, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine has seen its readership grow from 4,000 to 800,000. The change extended reach to nonmembers and increased frequency of access by members.

Academic associations and societies often publish journals to provide research to the widest audience possible. In the past, they have done this through publishing traditional print journals, but have moved to digital publications, and now are often turning to open-access publishing.

Open-access journals are freely available to the public online, rather than only available to members of the organization or those that work at an institution with a license for the specific journal. An open-access journal puts the emphasis on improving visibility and accessibility of research and provides more opportunity for an article to be cited. However, open-access journals still use a peer-reviewed process like a non-open access journal.

The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM), made the switch for its publication, the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, in 2015 to increase its reach and impact. As some organizations are still on the fence about open access, JVIM’s history with the process can add insight into those considering the move.

Access and Impact

Originally, JVIM measured its success on its “impact factor,” a calculation that reflects the yearly average number of citations of articles published in the last two years, said Ken Hinchcliff, BVSc, Ph.D, Diplomate (Large Animal Internal Medicine), coeditor-in-chief of JVIM. “But there was increasing recognition that science was paid for by the public, and it should be more accessible. The ACVIM’s role was to disseminate information on taking care of animals.”

Prior to the change of open access, the print run was 4,000, which was the membership of ACVIM at the time. Last year, JVIM had 4.2 million downloads by around 800,000 readers. This was a 28 percent increase from 2019, which saw 3.3 million downloads.

“The other issue of access, our circulation as a print journal was only the membership of the organization,” added Steve DiBartola, DVM, Diplomate (Small Animal Internal Medicine), coeditor-in-chief of JVIM. “If you’re a vet in general practice, they weren’t subscribing. The pet-owning public didn’t have access either.”

At the time they started to consider an open-access model, they were in negotiations with their journal publisher, so the timing was right to make a change.

Prior to the change of open access, the print run was 4,000, which was the membership of ACVIM at the time. Last year, JVIM had 4.2 million downloads by around 800,000 readers. This was a 28 percent increase from 2019, which saw 3.3 million downloads.

In addition, on a recent survey done as part of a larger membership value proposition project, ACVIM surveyed both members, as well as veterinarians who participated in ACVIM’s educational programs, about a number of programs offered by ACVIM. For the veterinarians who were not members, 92 percent responded that in the past 12 months, they had read JVIM. Members responded that 47 percent accessed JVIM several times a month, while 21 percent responded they accessed JVIM several times a week.

In terms of revenue, unlike other publishing models, open-access journals charge a higher author submission fee rather than charging a subscription fee. Before making the change, JVIM charged $50; now the article processing fee is around $2,000. ACVIM partially subsidizes members who submit to the journal. But the journal was also never looked at as a revenue source for ACVIM and has remained budgeted to break even.

Communication Is Key

As with most things, how you communicate the change to open access is key. For any organization that works in the scholarly journal space, open access will not be a new concept to key stakeholders. However, both JVIM co-editors stress that having a communication plan laid out ahead of time—planned by audience and communication type—would have made their rollout of the change much smoother. “We spent a lot of time on what we wanted to communicate, not how we wanted to communicate,” said DiBartola. “If you have some key people or key groups that could be contentious or crucial, you need to talk to them in person or over the phone.”

The other area of change with an open-access journal was that the workload for associate editors increased as the volume of submissions increased—in 2019, there were 435 submissions, and in 2020, there were 588. “Now we have a larger cohort of associate editors,” Hinchcliff says, “and we proactively talent manage the associate editors. If they don’t work out, we move them along.”

Nikki Golden, CAE

Nikki Golden, CAE, is a strategist with Association Laboratory in Chicago, and is a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.