Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Freemium Really Open Access?

Should the term "Open Access" be restricted to materials with licenses that allow redistribution, like Creative Commons licenses? Or, as some advocate, only materials that allow remixing and commercial re-use, like CC-BY and CC-BY-SA?

I had lunch today with folks from OpenEditions, a French publishing organization whose ebook effort I've been admiring for a while. They're here in Las Vegas at the American Library Association Conference, hoping to get libraries interested in the 1,428 ebooks they have on their platform. (Booth 1437!)

Of those 1,076 books are in a program they call "Open Access Fremium". With these books, you can read them on the OpenEditions website for free, without having to register or anything. You can even embed them into your blog. So for example, here's Opinion Mining et Sentiment Analysis by Dominique Boullier and Audrey Lohard:

So is it OpenAccess™?

In this freemium model, the main product that's being sold is access to the downloadable ebook- whether PDF or EPUB. For libraries, a subscription allows for unlimited access with IP address authentication along with additional services. Creative Commons licenses, all of which allow for format conversion, wouldn't work for this business model because the free HTML could easily be converted into EPUB and PDF. They have their own license, you can read it here.

This is clearly not completely open, but there's no doubt that it's usefully open. For me, the biggest problem is that if OpenEditions goes away for some reason- business, politics, natural disaster, or stupidity, then the ebooks disappear. Similarly, if OpenEditions policies change or urls move, they could break the embed.

On the plus side, OpenEditions have convinced a group of normally conservative publishers of the advantages of creating usefully open versions of over a thousand books. It's a step in the right direction.


  1. It is good to see another Freemium OA publisher in action. Like us, Open Editions is seeing the potential for a different model of OA that is possibly fairer, more inclusive and sustainable that other models. Fairer and more inclusive? Unlike other models of OA, Freemium gives the reader an economic say in the final choice of services. More sustainable, by offering an economic say to both the author and reader-sides, the costs of publishing are shared across a larger set of budgets and are more likely to be met both in the short and the long-term - and no, this is not double-dipping because Freemium breaks the costs for the different value-points - for example, the author-side can pay for content capture and the free read-only value points, the readers can choose to pay for the ePub and other reader-facing services.
    Toby Green
    OECD Publishing

    1. Toby
      We worked briefly together on the freemium project last year.
      Interesting to see that you are still actively following the area.

      Since last year i have been developing a Freemium framework, which quickly can give a comprehensive overview of a freemium model. As well as being use to track ongoing developments and explore new potential.

      It would be very interesting to write a case audit around the OECD publishing freemium model.

      Since the case audit would be for my website, it would be free of charge for you. Yet it would provide a valuable framework for your ongoing developments in this area.
      Of cause it would not contain any confidential information and you would have final approval in order to secure this.

      I hope you could be interested in this.


  2. Interesting post, It is good to see the increasing interest for freemium in the publishing world.

    Personally i would say that their model is certainly open access, according to the gratis open access definition. While they do not grant rights similar to those in the open source license. The access is open and people are free to read it.
    As you mentioned, then this limited open license has probably helped convincing the publishers to take part.

    That being said, I don't necessarily think a free pdf, or even a CC license would hurt their business. There certainly are examples of successful commercial business models using Creative Commons.

    It all depend on how the business model is set up and what the market is like.
    Because it intuitively makes sense, a lot of those venturing into freemium have a tendency to limit the free. While this is sometimes the case, it is not always true.

    Instead of the intuitive approach, it usually creates better results to work rigorously with the strategy, based in the specific conditions that apply to freemium.

    Peter Froberg
    Freemium Consultant