Hybrid open access revenue

fifty-pound-notesPhoto courtesy of Images_of_Money

Over the last few weeks I’ve been preparing and reviewing various compliance and financial reports for funding agencies on their annual open access block grants awarded to our institution. One of the benefits of having sets of large data in front of you is that you start seeing trends and think of mildly* interesting things to do with it.

(* I say mildly because “The best thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else“, which is one of the many reasons it is important to make your data open.)

Sequentially issued invoices

One of the things I’ve noticed is that one of the larger publishers (Elsevier) issues sequential invoices of the form W1234567 and 12345CV0. If we had enough invoices spread over a reasonable period of time we could estimate what their hybrid open access revenue is during that time period, and potentially extrapolate further. Just to be clear I’ve only picked Elsevier because they are the publisher that we have gathered the most information about open access expenditure due to their large market share.

Invoices issued from the European office

I looked through our admin records and noted invoice # W1274177 was issued on 30 April 2015 whilst invoice # W1300445 was issued on 22 October 2015. During this 175 day period there appears to be 26,268 invoices issued by the publishers European Corporate Office, which works out at about 150 APCs per day for their portfolio of hybrid journals.

Our average APC in 2014/15 (n=65) for this publisher is £2066.81 so their revenue for this period was in the region of £54,290,965, or an APC daily revenue of £310,234.

Invoices issued from the North American office

The publishers also issues invoices of the form 12345CV0 from their North American Corporate Office. Noting that invoice 11795CV1 was issued on 19th May 2015 and invoice 12306CV0 was issued on 15th October 2015 this suggests that 511 APCs were charged over the 149 day period, or around 3 APCs per day.

Using the same average APC (£2066.81) as before this gives us an estimate revenue of £1,056,140 during the time period, or £7,088 per day.

Note that the invoices issued from the regional offices do not reflect the revenue generated in that geographical area.

Global APC revenue

The combined daily APC revenue from the European and North American offices is in the region of £317,322. If we upscale this to a full year we can infer an annual APC revenue in the region of £115,822,530. This sounds like a hell of a lot of money, but put into perspective against the company’s total 2014 revenue of £5,773M (figure from the RELX Group annual report) this represents only 2% of their business income.


These are rough and ready calculations and should be taken with a pinch of salt because I make a number of assumptions including:

  1. The invoices really are sequentially issued
  2. No other types of transactions (e.g. journal subscriptions) are included in the invoicing sequence
  3. We have large enough data set to infer an annual revenue
  4. Daily APC rate is a good enough estimate


Stuart Lawson pointed out on Twitter that this estimate is likely to be on the high side:

Screenshot - 30_10_2015 , 14_38_17