More open access – but who is to pay?

There is a global trend that open access publishing is increasing year by year, at the expense of subscription-based (non-open access) publishing. At KI, the paid-for open access part of the KI publishing was 36% in 2017.

More open access it is a good thing, research funders and policy-makers argue: science that’s publicly financed should be as openly accessible as possible to the public.

But, this transition has a consequence of shifting the money streams for published science - from paying for access to paying to get published. Traditionally, the access to scientific journals is taken out of the university library budget, but now the cost to get published lands on the researcher.

Some research funders offer targeted money for publishing fees, but most often, researchers have to prioritize between other expenses to pay for the open access publishing of an article.

But even with the increasing trend, a transition towards more open access has been quite slow so far – it has been pointed out that for the big traditional publishers there’s no real incentive to shift from the well-established and profitable business model of subscription-based journals. One answer from the publisher-side to this has been the hybrid model of open access, where publishers give the opportunity to publish open access in an otherwise subscription-based journal. This, on the other hand, leads to that the publisher gets payed double – for the journal subscription, but also for fees for the open access articles in the same journal.

So, there’s a push from funders and policy-makers for a movement towards more open access, but the financing is problematic, and the transition is slow.

Plan S

In September, a possible answer to this was launched: cOAlition S (S for science, presumably). It is a group of European national research funding organisations, supported by the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC), with the aim to speed up a transition towards more open access and to offer a solution to a part of the “who-is-to-pay”-problem. Their way of doing this is by what they call Plan S.

Plan S has the target that by 2020 all research funded by public grants provided by European research councils and funding bodies must be published open access. And, one of the principles is that the open access publication fees will be covered by funders or universities, not by individual researchers. Another principle is that the open access publishing must be in fully open access journals, hybrid journals are not compliant.

As can be seen, the timetable for implementing Plan S is tight. This has led the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) not to join cOAlition S so far, even if they are positive to the target and principles of Plan S.

If Plan S comes to reality, what could the implications for a KI researcher be? The EU (with the ERC and the EC) is one of the largest sources of funding for KI. All research coming out of EU funding would have to apply to the principles above: published in fully open access journals or platforms, but paid directly by the funder or the university. A long time effect would probably be that the traditional publishers would shift more of their journals to total open access; this in turn would mean more journals to choose from to publish open access.

If this is the future, maybe there is a way to tackle the “who-is-to-pay”-problem of open access?

This said, other things are happening in the area of financing of open access. Check out the blog post Publish open access without fees

Fully open access journals

Fully open access journals
All content in fully open access journals is freely available and accessible for anyone, no subscriptions needed. These journals are mostly published by open access publishers such as PLoS (Public Library of Science), BioMed Central or Frontiers.

Subscription-based journals
Journals where a subscription fee has to be payed to access the articles. The subscription fee is traditionally paid by the university library.

Hybrid journals
Hybrid journals are subscription-based journals where individual articles can be open access. These journals are published by traditional publishers such as Elsevier, Springer and Taylor & Francis.

Lars Nordesjö

Librarian working with research support, Open Access and teaching about scientific publishing.