Year 2003 was really the Jurassic age of publishing, because ipads did not arrive and researchers preferred to go to libraries for no reason other than failure of Windows to reliably open pdf files. Here is an old commentary published in Nature in 2003 arguing about why open-access cannot survive.
However, the main problem with maintaining a free online model is that it adds to the expenses of the journal, which are considerable for the JCI. In 2003, the total cost of publication was about $2,580,000. Producing, manufacturing and distributing the printed version are a significant, but not the biggest, part of that cost. Other expenses comprise, in descending order: staff salaries and benefits; compensation to members of the editorial board; delivery and hosting of the online journal; and general and administrative costs, such as travel and rental of office space.
The JCI of course generates revenue, and even a modest surplus. In 2003, the journal earned around $2,840,000 in revenue. Print subscriptions accounted for more than $1.5 million of the total; submission and publication fees, the next largest revenue block, were a little more than $950,000. The remainder came from reprints and royalties.
With the online version free, the fall in subscriptions to the print edition is, not surprisingly, a concern. I believe, however, that there is little most publishers can do about the long-term decline of institutional subscribers,such as libraries, the revenue from which constitutes most of total subscription income. In 1993, JCI fulfilled almost 3,600 institutional subscriptions, but by 2003 this number had fallen to 2,001 (Figure 1). The journal competes with others for a portion of already tight – and tightening – library budgets, and it competes with itself by offering, for free, not only a replica of its printed version online, but a version rich with capability for multimedia supplements, interlinking and interoperability.
Nature sticks to its guns and continues to charge authors, libraries and online readers premium prices to view the products of research paid by government grants and reviewed by another group of researchers for free in their spare time.
Is the business model sustainable?