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.