Research Councils UK
Research Councils UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every scholarly publisher in the world suddenly has less that a year to decide what to do with article submissions from the UK. The new Research Council UK (RCUK) mandate applies to all articles submitted beginning April 1, 2013.

Do they not have April fool’s Day in the UK?

As a consultant, I think of blogging as consulting for the entire industry, so here is my first take on a rough issue analysis. Regulatory issue analysis and compliance planning have been my field, off and on, for 30-something years. The time for abstract argument is over. This is now a compliance issue.

The RCUK mandate may be summarized as follows:

The mandate offers two options, green and gold. On the green side, it requires that articles be made available after a maximum of six months embargo. The exception is 12 months for economics and social sciences, also for humanities. It appears that this includes continuing a repository submission requirement for two of the Research Councils — medicine and economics — but not for the rest, where the vague requirement is simply availability, whatever that means. On the gold side, it merely says that author charges are allowable. For now these are charges not regulated, but that may come later, an important consideration.

Capability comes first. Publishers need to consider what their present OA capabilities are, both technical and administrative. Green OA requires keeping track of submission dates, Web access changes, repository liaison, etc. Gold OA is a very different business model from subscription sales. If you have no OA capability, it will probably be difficult and expensive to develop it. If you have multiple journals, some with OA capability and some not, it can get very complicated.

There are several basic options.

  • Opt Out. The first may be to simply opt out of the program. This means declining to take submissions that bring a RCUK mandate with them. The world’s publishers do not have to accommodate this mandate, especially when doing so may bring on a rash of other mandates. For those publishers with multiple journals in the same field, a variant of this option is to refer all UK submissions to your gold journals, which you may have to first create.
  • Ignore It. Even simpler is simply ignoring the mandate. What can RCUK do, except perhaps ban submissions to non-complying journals? If British submissions are not that important to your journal, who cares?
  • Hybridize the Green Option. By the same token, if British content is a small fraction of your content, a 6 month green embargo on it may not matter, except for the admin cost. This assumes that the rest of the world is not going to follow the RCUK’s lead, the Euros for example. If they do you may slowly be eaten alive.
  • Go Gold. This seems like an obvious solution, but transitioning a subscription journal to gold OA is going to be expensive, difficult and risky. Transitioning packages of subscription journals will be even more so. If the RCUK decides to regulate payments it might be deadly.

The bottom line is that it may be better to “quarantine” RCUK funded articles, treating them separately, then to let them dictate your business model.

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24 Thoughts on "Complying with the RCUK Mandate . . . Or Not"

Wouldn’t quarantining UK articles be somewhat like trying to be “a little bit OA,” which is somewhat like being “a little bit pregnant”?

I do not see the pregnancy analog. For example, gold hybrids like PNAS are common. My point is that there are several was to respond to the mandate without going OA. The industry has flexibility.

Thanks for clarifying with the PNAS example. I misread the quarantine as geographically limiting OA access to the UK authors’ papers.

I can anticipate that your first option might well lead some journal editors to tender their resignations.

I imagine that is true, Sandy, but restructuring is a bloody business. RCUK started this fight. As I see it there is no benign option.

David, can you think of any publishers that decided it wasn’t worth accepting NIH, Wellcome Trust or HHMI-funded papers? I can’t.

No, but issue analysis is about defining the options, not endorsing them. Re NIH, I am assuming that a 6 month embargo is not as acceptable as a 12 month embargo. I could be wrong.

An additional twist to the RCUK options is that if a journal accepts payment from RCUK funds for an article to be published as OA, the article must be published under a CC-BY licence. Currently, the majority of publishers that offer the hybrid gold option do not use this level of licence – most include the non-commercial and share-alike components as well. Wholly OA journals or publishers, like BMC, PLoS, etc, have gone for the simpler CC licence. The Wellcome Trust has also stated that it will change to this requirement from the beginning of next year. If the bulk of a (hybrid) journal or publisher’s OA APCs are derived from the WT and RCUK funds, the decision for them then becomes one of either changing the CC licence or declining articles from authors funded by these bodies, thus further restricting academic freedom of where to publish.

Good point. Compliance decisions regarding major new rules are always complex. Not getting lost in the issue tree of options, sub-options, sub-sub, etc., is the challenge. Time is short.

I don’t actually agree with David’s more aggressive suggestions, but if the main point is that there will be options/variety of solutions then I do. There are many publishers that have green models (small g)already and have had for many years even if they don’t call them that, and there are even more publishers that have platforms that could easily handle hybrid options. The whole process will no doubt get refined and altered in the next year or two, but the trend is there to see, so ignoring RCUK content, followed by ignoring Euro content, followed by ignoring Federally funded content might not be the right path for your longevity (not forgetting that UK members of SSP probably couldn’t afford to ignore RCUK anyway). Restructuring can indeed be “a bloody business” and there is little value in diving in without thought, but some degree of restructuring is going to be necessary, no point kidding ourselves about that.

Opting out is standard practice in other industries. If I have a product that is just 2% of sales and the regulators hammer it I can drop it. A brave publisher may well say that these two mandate options are not acceptable. It is a global power play by the Brits. But the scholarly publishing industry thinks of itself as good guys. The Brits have certified them as otherwise, as people who need to be brought to heel. Interesting times indeed.

I really don’t think this is about bringing publishers to heel. Having worked in a UK university for the past 5 years before moving back to Australia its more about proving the social worth of UK academic research. When the GFC hit, university and science funding was ring fenced after a case was made that university research led to innovation, which then boosted the economy. As such, there is now a major government pushed agenda in the UK for scientists (and those in the arts) to demonstrate the impact and social application of their research. The push to have all research papers freely accessible is therefore all about trying to engage with society and industry by making the research freely available to them. Whether this impact agenda is right or wrong is debatable but one of the reasons I left the UK. But its not about trying to control the publishing industry.

I have no doubt that the global innovation frenzy is a primary motivation for this policy. Every country Is supposed to out innovate everyone else, as though that were possible. Sad really. But it is pretty clear that RCUK knows exactly what it is trying to do to the publishers, which is a forced restructuring of the industry. The question is what the publishers will do about it?

Or, allow authors to post their manuscripts after a 6 month embargo and do nothing. Did I read the policy correctly? Isn’t this an option? I think the NIH found that when they asked the authors to plunk their paper in PMC voluntarily, it did not work. Even as a requirement, many don’t bother. If you have a small percentage of papers that fit in this category, it seems that would be the best option. It requires very little work by the publisher, though does set a precedent that I am not comrotable with.

No, the policy requires publishers to make the papers “available” after 6 months. There is no posting requirement on authors per se, except as may arise by incorporating existing RC posting requirements by reference, or by new RC requirements make under this mandate. The mandate is on the publishers.

Not sure this is the correct interpretation David – while “allow deposit of accepted manuscripts” applies to the publisher, it’s not specified who does the deposit. I think it’s actually a hole in the policy as written, but as the funders’ contract is with the researcher, it will be the authors who get chased come their next grant application.

The big question for me is whether and, if so, how quickly the rest of the world will follow the UK’s example…

That is certainly a big question for publishers. But the basic decisions have to be made very quickly, so there is probably no answer in time. This is what makes business a crap shoot. The USA is not going to follow suit in the next 8 months, due to the election, and it may never follow. As I read the Euro statement it is up to the separate member states. This will probably take a decade to sort out.

The RCUK has required a six-month embargo since 2005-2006 for content it funds. The Gold OA option with a CC-BY license was not available previously. Otherwise, this is not terribly different from the rules many publishers have been complying with for several years.

There is a troubling sentence in the Research Councils UK Policy on Access to Research Outputs (see that I had not noticed before:

“RCUK recognises the historical right and tradition of authors to publish online manuscript versions of their papers even before submission, and that this will continue.”

This may work for physics papers, but many publishers do not allow prior publication online or anywhere else.

The existing UK situation is not quite that simple. I studied it a year or so ago and found a confusing mishmash of vague rules and practices. The 2005 RCUK statement was a draft for consultation. In 2006 they issued an “updated position statement” that did not include many specifics. It basically said that it was up to the individual RC’s to make the rules for their grantees. These range from depositing in PubMedCentral UK to submitting biblio data, to almost nothing. It does allow for Gold OA, but no licence is mentioned.

Apparently there has been little or no enforcement. But times have changed and the new RCUK policy coincides with the strengthening OA movement. Moreover, the UK has said that they will try to enlist global partners, including the USA, and apparently the Euros. This is a new push.

The physical sciences RC has consistently had the vaguest OA rules. Here is their present FAQ. There is no 6 month mandate, for example. Note too that Gold fees cannot be paid from a grant after the grant period ends. The grantee’s institution will have to pay them, from an indirect cost fund, if it has one. I think this is true for all RC’s. Gold OA is going to be very complex, especially given the rise of multiple institution collaborations.

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