Open access for scholarly publications, part 6 – Funding

The National Library of Sweden has held the appropriation directive from the Swedish Government to produce recommendations for the change to an open access scholarly publication system. These recommendations are presented by Henrik Schmidt, librarian here at KIB, in a series of blog posts.

A transformation is underway in the scientific publication system. From a situation where the content of the scientific journals was locked behind high, subscription-based, pay walls to a situation where research results are open to everyone. Some questions regarding financing and payment streams remain to be resolved. The transition to open access publishing is based on a business model where the reverse relationship applies. Instead of the reader assuming the costs associated with publication, authors, institutions, societies, funding agencies or other parties pay the publication fee. Cost of publishing, in other words, instead of cost of reading.

From an economic perspective, an essential starting point for this transition is that the money already invested in the publishing system is sufficient. Without having to increase, these funds can be redirected from subscriptions to publication fees. A review from Max Planck Institute shows and concludes that there is enough money to enable a transformation that will be sustainable for the future. One of the background factors for the transition is the price increases associated with subscriptions in recent years. (This is true in Europe including Sweden.) The price increases, combined with reduced funding, have led to a reduction in the holdings of research literature for university libraries and other paying customers. It is therefore important that the total publication costs do not increase.

A prerequisite for a successful transformation, given the international character of research, is the coordination of activities; that a kind of consensus among research organizations, financiers and (thus) publishers is established. A part of Plan S entails following cost development in a coordinated way and eventually introducing a price cap if costs increase exorbitantly. Another part of Plan S is not to impose an increased financial or administrative burden on individual researchers but on higher education institutions and/or research funders. (“… Publication fees are covered by the Funders or research institutions, not by individual researchers.”)

An example of a new kind of compensation for publishers is the agreement signed between Springer Nature and a number of Swedish educational institutions, among them Karolinska Institutet. The agreement means that research funding agencies will finance 50 percent of a the publishing fee, while the remaining 50 percent is paid by each university. A number of similar agreements have been signed.

Yet another important aspect of the reverse business model is ensuring that researchers are not prevented from publishing their work as a result of high publishing costs. At universities with few resources, there is a risk that researchers can access open research publications, but not contribute. The theme of the international open access week 2019 was precisely this: ”Open for whom?” Whose interests are prioritised? Are certain voices excluded? As open science becomes standardised, we need to ensure that the systems are inclusive, equitable and genuinely meet the needs of a multicultural, global society.

It is thus of great importance that all parties involved, primarily educational institutions and research funding agencies, consult each other about the redirection of the payment streams so that this is done in a cost-effective manner. This is suggested in the investigation into the transition to an open access scientific publication system presented by the National Library of Sweden in the spring of 2019. The investigation was commissioned by the government and contains sixteen recommendations. The sixth concerns funding.

Recommendation 6 reads as follows: That research funding agencies and educational institutions share responsibility for financing of publication costs.

Find out more about the description of and argument in favour of this recommendation in the report: Finansiering av omställningen från ett prenumerationsbaserat till ett öppet tillgängligt publiceringssystem (only in Swedish).

All blog posts in this series.

Henrik Schmidt

Librarian engaged in research support in various forms. Teaches doctoral students and researchers in areas related to literature search, publishing strategies and publication analysis.