American Publishers Join Chorus of Criticism of Europe’s Plan S

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The Association of American Publishers enumerates complaints about the European Research Council’s much derided open access plan.

Image – iStockphoto: Sean Kuma

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Pallante: Plan S ‘Devalues and Disrespects’ Publishing
As Publishing Perspectives reported from the Frankfurter Buchmesse last month, Plan S is an open access plan announced in early September by the European Research Council.

As we wrote on October 12 in our Frankfurter Buchmesse Show Daily, the plan was created by about a dozen of the leading funders of research in Europe responsible for €7.6 billion (US$8.6 billion). It says that all papers that are the product of research funded by them be free to read as soon as possible.

“No science should be locked behind paywalls,” is the declaration in the preamble to the plan.

The S is said to stand for “science, speed, solution, and shock,” that last s-word referring for many in publishing to the January 1, 2020, deadline by which the plan is meant to be implemented.

The initiative still lacks detail, but it’s clear that it’s meant to stamp out hybrid open access business models which will be declared “non-compliant.” Hybrid models of publishing typically make papers immediately free to read if a scientist wishes, but keep most studies behind paywalls.

An open letter appeared last week, signed by a large group of international researchers—1,039 at this writing—all of whom have misgivings about the approach.

Calling Plan S “a serious violation of academic freedom,” the researchers write, “Plan S, as currently presented by the EU (and several national funding agencies) goes too far, is unfair for the scientists involved and is too risky for science in general. Plan S has far-reaching consequences, takes insufficient care of the desires and wishes of the individual scientists, and creates a range of unworkable and undesirable situations.”

Among those “unworkable and undesirable situations” the letter lists:

  • “The complete ban on hybrid (society) journals of high quality is a big problem, especially for chemistry.
  • “We expect that a large part of the world will not (fully) tie in with Plan S.
  • “With its strong focus on the ‘gold open access’ publication model, in which researchers pay high APCs for each publication, the total costs of scholarly dissemination will likely rise instead of reduce under Plan S.
  • “Plan S ignores the existence of large differences between different research fields.”

And on Thursday (November 8), the Association of American Publishers (AAP) issued its own statement about Plan S, prompted by the objections of the signatories to the researchers’ letter. In a prepared statement, AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante is quoted, saying:

Maria A. Pallante

“It is the strong view of the US publishing industry that Plan S is ill-conceived and unsustainable.

“Plan S is a violation of academic freedom to publish and is a disservice to all who rely on credible research literature.

“Plan S devalues and disrespects the publishing industry threefold: it imposes strict regulations on an innovative private sector marketplace; it creates market access barriers for American publishers; and it places unreasonable constraints on individual researchers.”

In addition to the main problems cited by the researchers, the AAP staff writes, “Policymakers have long understood the essential link between IP protection and the advancement of science.

“Copyright enables publishers to invest in high-quality scientific journals and related information products as well as innovative ways to disseminate content. Plan S would effectively set the incentives and protections of copyright aside by imposing ‘open’ licensing requirements on scientific publications, which means that anyone could access and reuse a publication free, without permission from the copyright owner.

“Instead of harnessing IP to encourage private sector investment that builds upon research and develops high-quality products and services, Plan S would undermine IP and discourage private sector investment.”

Barblan: ‘Respect Academic Freedom’

Matthew Barblan

Pointing out that much has been done for more than 10 years to create public-private partnerships that expand free access to publications which report on publicly funded research, AAP public policy vice president Matthew Barblan is quoted, saying, “These partnerships respect academic freedom, allowing researchers to publish in whichever journals best suit their needs.

“Furthermore, these partnerships are flexible enough to accommodate a variety of business models, allowing publishers to adopt sustainable approaches to open access in their particular field or market.”

The AAP expresses its regret that Plan S “was developed without formal impact assessments, notice-and-comment opportunities, or other procedures characteristic of good regulatory practice.”

It also criticizes “elements of Plan S—such as picking winners and losers between business models, imposing price caps, and undermining IP—[which] run counter to sound economic policy that has fostered growth, innovation, and commercialization for decades.”

Finally, the AAP writes, “Plan S would also negatively impact American investment in high-quality scientific journals and cutting-edge distribution platforms,” warning of an international rift that would quickly open with Plan S’ implementation:

“Plan S could effectively shut out thousands of American journals from the European market by preventing European researchers from publishing in American journals that operate on subscription models. As a result, Plan S would put American investments and jobs at risk and create new market access barriers at the same time that the US, EU, and UK are exploring ways to reduce barriers.

“Even where American journals are able to work with European researchers under Plan S, government-imposed price caps and standardized pricing would undercut their ability to continue to operate while maintaining innovation, sustainability, and quality.”

Plan S, the AAP concludes, “risks substantial harm to researchers, publishers, and everyone that relies on high-quality scientific publications.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Association of American Publishers is here. And more on open access is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.