There is an interesting division in the ranks of publishers in their approach to double dipping. Many are engaging positively with the academic library community and accept that the increase in gold open access article processing charges (APCs) in hybrid journals means that they should adjust their subscription prices accordingly. Others, however, appear to feel that it should be business as usual.

Last year, RLUK published a paper setting out our view of double dipping. We gave a simple definition of double dipping as:

Double dipping arises if a publisher seeks an unwarrantable increase in revenues by levying article processing charges (APCs) for publication in a hybrid journal, while not providing a proportionate decrease in subscription costs.

and made the case that during the current transition period those institutions that spend the most in APCs should see the greatest reduction in their subscription spend.

Recently, Alicia Wise, Elsevier’s Director of Access and Policy, suggested that she was ‘not exactly clear what the term [double dipping] means in conversation any more’. She went further and claimed that double dipping was effectively impossible as subscriptions and APCs were ‘decoupled’ – the gold OA papers in hybrid journals are additional to the total number of papers published as part of the subscription and so not part of that subscription.

As the UK continues to invest in Gold OA it is interesting to look at the numbers and to see if we can identify cases that would fit the RLUK definition of double dipping. Stephen Pinfield, Jennifer Salter and Peter A Bath have published an analysis of scholarly communications spending by 23 UK institutions. Theirs is a fascinating paper describing a rich set of data, but I wish to focus on Table 8 which shows the total spend over 20 of the institutions on subscriptions and APCs across the largest publishers in 2013.

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Let’s take the first publisher listed: Elsevier. In 2013 the 20 institutions surveyed spent in total £14,259,959 on subscriptions and £937,531 on APCs in hybrid journals. It is clear that the UK’s embracing of gold OA brought to Elsevier an increase in their revenues from these institutions of over 6%. The ‘double dipping is impossible’ argument appears to be that these are two completely separate revenue streams. The OA papers are viewed by Elsevier as ‘additional’, over and above what a subscriber gets access to. However, if the UK had not gone for gold, these OA papers would still have been published as subscription-access papers, only available to subscribers. The payment of the APC takes the paper out of subscription-control. If no APC had been paid the total number of papers under subscription access would have been higher. And the subscription income? It would still have been £14,259,959. Without hybrid OA the total from these 20 institutions is £14,259,959. With hybrid OA it is £15,197,490. It is clear that this is additional revenue for the same content – i.e., double dipping!

Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that an adjustment of the subscription price would happen in 2013. A publisher with an anti-double dipping policy would take the proportion of papers being published as gold OA in one year into account when setting the subscription price in the next year. That appears perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, it does not reflect the reality of how libraries purchase big deals. For example, the UK is part way through a five-year deal with Elsevier for access to their journal package. The deal started in 2012 and an annual increase in the price was agreed. This was obviously before the Finch Report, RCUK’s provision of block grants and the UK’s commitment to fund gold OA. Despite the almost £1 million of extra revenue Elsevier received from the surveyed institutions in 2013, those institutions saw exactly the same increase in their big deal price in 2014 as if there had been no gold OA spend. And for 2015 the subscription price increase took no account of hybrid OA in 2014.

The effect of this is that the UK is seeing no change in the prices it pays Elsevier for big deals, despite spending ever-increasing sums on their hybrid OA options. That is the very definition of double dipping. Some funders worldwide are now refusing to pay APCs in hybrid journals. Perhaps the UK is not ready for that, but while a minority of publishers refuse to engage seriously with the library community on the issue, perhaps an option would be for funders to refuse to pay APCs for publishers who do not have an acceptable double dipping rebate mechanism in place.

David Prosser, Executive Director, RLUK


Pinfield, S., Salter, J., & Bath, P. A. (2015). The “total cost of publication” in a hybrid open-access environment: Institutional approaches to funding journal article-processing charges in combination with subscriptions. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, (In press). Retrieved from