By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘The Narrative Must Be Broader’As complex and layered as the scholarly publishing world is at any time, few things have triggered such debate in recent years as the so-called “Plan S” initiative announced by the European Research Council in September 2018.
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall from our Frankfurter Buchmesse coverage, Plan S was created by about a dozen of the leading funders of research in Europe responsible for €7.6 billion (US$8.6 billion). Plan S says that all papers that are the product of research funded by them be free to read as soon as possible. Resistance has come from many quarters, including, most recently, from the Association of American Publishers.
“No science should be locked behind paywalls,” is the declaration in the preamble to the plan and the deadline for implementation—January 1, 2020—is almost as much of a shock as is the aggressive nature of the program’s requirement.
During London Book Fair, Copyright Clearance Center and data-analysis company Outsell will stage an invitational workshop on the afternoon of March 14 (12:30 to 5 p.m.) at London’s RSA House in John Adam Street.
Advancing Open Scholarly Communications Through Open Dialogue is the event’s title, and its intent is to make a wider embrace of the Plan S debate than some discussions do, factoring such topics as libraries’ changing roles today and the kind of infrastructure and workflow that’s needed for the Open Access (OA) future.
Speakers confirmed at press time for the event include:
- Diego Baptista, Wellcome
- Olivier Dumon, Elsevier
- Danny Kingsley, Cambridge University Library
- Petra Labriga, Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB)
- Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Microbiology Society
- Brandon Nordin, American Chemical Society
- Annette Thomas, Clarivate
- David Worlock, co-chair, Outsell’s leadership program
Publishing Perspectives has had a chance to put some questions to CCC’s lead on developing the March 14 program, business development managing director Roy Kaufman. We’ve started by asking him about the description of the program as a workshop.
Roy Kaufman: Copyright Clearance Center organizes a lot of types of events, and our choice of the word “workshop” is intentional. There have been times in the past when a topic of extreme importance to the industry emerges, and when we at CCC believe we can help by organizing an event for people to listen, talk, and try to find workable solutions. For example, we sponsored a workshop around text and data mining after the Hargreaves report, and another on scientific social networks.
We believe Open Access is at a similar inflection point.
Publishing Perspectives: Can you give us an update on where things stand with Plan S? Is implementation still required by some point in 2020?
“Plan S should not be viewed as an end in itself, but as part of a process of gradually increasing open access. Otherwise the details of Plan S threaten to overwhelm debate.”Roy Kaufman
RK: The short answer is that the Plan S implementation comments period has closed, and we have yet to see how—and if—the policy can be implemented on that timeframe.
A longer answer is that Plan S should not be viewed as an end in itself, but as part of a process of gradually increasing open access. Otherwise the details of Plan S threaten to overwhelm debate.
Plan S does seem to favor subscription publishers over pure OA publishers, and commercial over society publishers. When you fight over details such as those, you miss the larger picture, which is that institutions and publishers are collaborating on some really innovative models, by choice.
For example, Germany has not embraced Plan S, but Wiley’s Projekt DEAL with 700 German academic institutions is groundbreaking. The narrative must be broader.
PP: Your speakers bring a broad round of inputs to the table. I think that many in publishing haven’t had a chance yet to hear Diego Baptista from Wellcome, Danny Kingsley from Cambridge, or Tasha Mellins-Cohen from the Microbiology group.
RK: There are too many great speakers for me to call any out, and frankly the attendees are all people who could otherwise present. What I’ll say is that those three, along with researchers, governmental representatives and others, will be at the event to present critical viewpoints.
Open Access is disrupting for all stakeholders in scholarly communications. Like any business model, it has advantages and disadvantages, and we need to be honest about this. Even where there’s a will, many deals are hard to implement. Surveys show that Open Access is less important to most authors than issues such as prestige, speed of publication, and ease of publication.
Unless we collaborate to make things easier for authors as well as institutions, OA will never reach its full potential.
PP: And is the Brexit confusion making things extra complicated? Or is it understood that the UK will follow the European pathway no matter what, so that the Continent remains open as a market to the presses and scholars of Britain?
RK: The UK has been the leader in the push to shift to Open Access, especially including funders such as the Wellcome Trust, but other countries have their own plans now.
It’s hard to imagine Brexit not negatively impacting collaboration and funding of science and publishing, as well as the free movement of goods and people. In regard to where people publish, if they can collaborate and do have funding, I don’t think it will make much difference given the highly global nature of science authorship.
PP: Finally, we’ve noted Jeffrey Brainard at ScienceMag quoting some research that indicates, “The required technical fixes may be too expensive for some smaller open-access journals unless Plan S provides them deadline extensions, exempts them, or helps them develop open-source publishing software that meets the requirements.” Does this align with your understanding?
“It’s hard to imagine Brexit not negatively impacting collaboration and funding of science and publishing, as well as the free movement of goods and people.”Roy Kaufman
RK: Yes, and it’s not just about technical fixes. Let’s get past rhetoric and into economics.
The Article Processing Charges (APCs) to publish in so-called “hybrid journals” (i.e. publications that blend subscription and OA business models) are typically higher than in fully OA “Gold” journals, and especially those APC fees for articles published by smaller prestige societies.
However, for many societies, the economic value of the article and the cost to produce it are both greater than the APC. In other words, even at the “higher” rates, publishers can only offer the APCs at the current prices because APCs are underwritten through subscriptions. With the Plan S talk about a fee cap, this could become an existential challenge.
Larger publishers, on the other hand, can amortize costs against a greater number of titles. If Plan S goes forward as written, we’ll see greater consolidation as a result, which cannot be the original goal.
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Get the jump on the issues and players important at LBF and other major fairs of the season this year, plus an early look at key points interest about the coming Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 16 to 20).