Open access, a scientist’s opinion
Interview with Colleen Campbell, Co-Director of Egenis, the Exeter Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences.
Are you involved with PlanS directly and if so, how?
I have no official role in PlanS, but I coordinate the global Open Access 2020 (OA2020) Initiative and our objectives for achieving full and immediate open access are closely aligned with the Plan S Principles. Whereas Plan S is promoted by Coalition S, an alliance of research funding organisations from around the world looking to accelerate the transition to open access through strategic policies around open dissemination of research (scholarly articles) they fund, OA2020 is an alliance of research organisations that, similarly, aims to accelerate the transition of today’s scholarly journals to open access by repurposing funds currently expended on subscription paywalls to support open access publishing. One key strategy of participants in OA2020 is to negotiate Transformative Agreements. To quote the Joint Statement of OA2020 and cOAlition S, “this approach enables a swift and efficient transition to open access, in which ‘hybrid’ publishing models can be included to increase the proportion of articles published open access – without paying twice for services relating to one piece of content. With their common strategy aimed at removing paywalls from published research articles, cOAlition S and OA2020 work in synergy on both sides of the scholarly publishing chain to achieve open access for scholarly journals and alternative publishing venues.”.
Open Access is not new. How has it evolved over the last few years?
Open access is a mode of publishing scholarly articles and other research outputs, and the concept has been around for decades – since the start of the digital era, during which the limitations on the dissemination of research that characterised the print era have fallen away as publishing moves online. In the past 15 years, different strategies to increase openness around scholarly publishing have been initiated, for example “green” open access in which versions of an author’s accepted manuscript are made openly available via their institutional repository after a certain embargo period – even up to 24 months – as opposed to the final published version, or “gold” open access, which offers immediate publication in new, fully open access journals and platforms (PLOS is one example). However, while the validity and purpose of these two strategies lie in the broader landscape of scholarly communication, both have failed to change the nature of the subscription paywall system, which continues to thrive. Indeed, many commercial publishers are not only resisting the open access transition but have actually found a way to cash in on the demand for more openness, offering “hybrid” open access publishing opportunities to authors in subscription journals for a fee – on top of the subscription revenues they receive for those same journals. This duplicate revenue stream has grown in recent years as authors have found themselves in a conflicting position: on one hand motivated to publish in high‑impact, paywalled journals in order to advance in their career and, on the other, required to publish open access to satisfy their funder mandates. To relieve this tension, the approach of participants in OA2020 is to negotiate “transformative agreements” in which hybrid publishing fees previously paid “in the wild” by authors are reined in and institutions leverage the funds previously spent on subscriptions to remunerate publishers for their open access publishing services.
With the Plan S Principles, the funding community is also hoping to rein in previously uncontrolled spending on hybrid publishing, legitimised in the past, for instance in the UK by the Finch report. By designating hybrid publishing as one of three compliant modes of open access publishing under transformative agreements, cOAlition S works in synergy with the research communities negotiating transformative agreements, turning the screw on the uncontrolled and unmonitored hybrid models of the past while still ensuring authors can publish in the journals of their choice.
What do you think of Plan S’s progress so far?
The initial plan was very ambitious in terms of target and timing and, after the initial release of the principles last autumn, cOAlition S ran a worldwide consultation and revised the implementation guidance. Some communities felt the original implementation guidance was too stringent in some aspects, for example in the technical requirements of compliant open access repositories, which would have been a challenge in some contexts – even within Europe. The greatest achievement of Plan S so far has been its immediate impact in terms of attention from the publishing community, which is now, finally, motivated to rethink its business models.
How do you see publishers reacting to OA?
Some are adapting very rapidly and are now actively seeking to engage in transformative agreements. Wiley, for example, is the world’s third‑largest scientific publisher and, through the transformative agreement negotiated with Germany’s Projekt DEAL, and Springer Nature, seems to not be far behind. In other parts of the world, the University of California reached an agreement with Cambridge University Press, and even Elsevier has begun to show signs that they, too, will soon abandon their paywalls and embrace open access publishing on a large scale.