In general (there are exceptions), scholarly societies are small publishers with one, two or a few journals in their portfolio. Originally the bedrock of scholarly publishing, for the last half-century society publishers have found it difficult to compete against the increasingly-powerful commercial publishers for a share of libraries' shrinking budgets. At the same time, societies have found their publishing operations have provided a useful - sometimes essential - revenue stream.
Society publishers have a strong mission to nurture and disseminate research in their discipline. Although the key journals in many fields are society publications, they are still very vulnerable to competitive pressure from larger, more powerful publishers who dominate the market. As the world's economic situation becomes tougher and more unpredictable, smaller publishers may feel that Open Access is the answer to this problem of fighting against powerful competitors for a share of library budgets and at the same time the chance to disseminate high quality research results optimally to their communities.
Many societies have already travelled this road already. The Suber & Sutton study carried out in 2007 found 428 societies active in Open Access publishing. Of these, Suber & Sutton found 425 societies publishing 450 fully Open Access journals and 21 societies publishing 73 'hybrid' Open Access journals (containing both Open Access and Toll Access articles). Three societies publish both types. The fully Open Access journals were in the following fields: STM (science, technology & medicine), 354; social sciences, 51; arts, 5; humanities, 38; multidisciplinary, 6. A few were unclassified.
The study published (under a Creative Commons licence) the full dataset for interested parties to consult. This dataset provides some details that help to elucidate the business models of many of these journals. For example, some elect to sell the print version on subscription, thus providing a revenue stream to cover costs. The authors of this study stated that "two goals of the project are to test the widespread impression that learned societies as such feel threatened by OA and to learn business details from the societies with gold OA experience that might help those without it. A third goal was to help societies find similarly situated, OA-friendly societies in the hopes that conversations with fellow society publishers might be more productive than conversations with OA advocates who are neither society officers nor publishers".
Society Open Access journals use all the same types of business model as non-society Open Access journals. See our section on Open Access journal business models for more on this.
Case studies: scholarly society Open Access journals
OSI Guide to Business Planning for Launching an Open Access Journal. www.soros.org/openaccess/oajguides/business_planning.pdf
OSI Guide to Business Planning for Converting a Subscription-Based Journal to Open Access. www.soros.org/openaccess/oajguides/business_converting.pdf
Solomon, D (2008) Developing Open Access journals: a practical guide (abridged version of David Solomon's book of the same title, published by Chandos, Oxford, in 2008. http://www.developing-oa-journals.org/Guide_to_developing_oa_journals.pdf
Walker, TJ (2005) Open access by the article: an idea whose time has come? Nature We Focus: Access to the literature. http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/accessdebate/13.html
Waltham, M (2005) Learned Society Open Access Business Models (report of a study for JISC). www.marywaltham.com/JISCReport.pdf
Willinsky, J (2003) Scholarly associations and the economic viability of open access publishing. Journal of Digital Information, Volume 4 Issue 2 Article No. 177, 2003-04-09