OSI logoA couple of weeks ago, I attended the inaugural Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) conference at George Mason University – along with fellow chefs Rick Anderson, Todd Carpenter, Angela Cochran, and Judy Luther. OSI is a new, collaborative effort that brings together major stakeholders in scholarly publishing with the goal of improving the ways in which research information gets published, shared and accessed. With nearly 200 invited leaders from 12 countries, this forum was unique in that it was the first and only meeting to bring together publishers (of all kinds), scholarly societies, funders, librarians, and university administrators to talk about increasing openness and transparency globally. Did it live up to its billing? In this post, we share our perspectives on the discussions, successes and unanswered questions. (With thanks to Angela, Judy and Rick for their contributions to this piece.)

Did the meeting live up to expectations? What was most valuable?

We, like pretty much all of the delegates, approached this meeting with some degree of trepidation and uncertainly about goals and process, but ended up pleasantly surprised. As Judy noted, the end result was a remarkably civil discourse on the topic of open access to advance the thinking of all participants.

Rick: The meeting did live up to expectations for me, and actually exceeded them. I was afraid it might devolve into tribal shouting matches, but all of the conversations to which I was privy were constructive and collegial — which is not to say that there was universal agreement on how the issues should be addressed, or even as to what the issues were.

Angela: Nothing groundbreaking came out of the meeting, other than acknowledging that this diverse group of people, all with different ideas of what might work, seemed to talk to each other instead of at each other. The greatest value of the meeting for me was that everyone had an opportunity to learn from someone by being in the same space talking about a common end goal.

Were you surprised by anything in particular? Did your perceptions change at all from the discussions?

 Angela: I was surprised to hear that there were people there who questioned the premise that “all OA” is the “best” option for humanity. I do think that is a very viable question. You could tell who had a science background by the way they asked about making evidence-based decisions and questioned the idea that all variables (open data, open publishing, open peer review, etc.) should change at once. The theory was that you would never change all variables at once in an experiment because you would not know how to evaluate successes or failures. My interest is in ensuring that an open process be fair and sustainable and I am not sure those questions have been answered yet.

Judy: No real surprises.  It was useful to hear many topics discussed in the aggregate.  Discussions about OA as the moral high ground miss the opportunity for a deeper explanation as to how we can achieve it. The real opportunity is to envision a world with OA on a global scale, including developing countries and possible paths to get there. Links to economic impact would help advance the conversation.

What/who was missing?

There was pretty clear consensus among the Chefs and many other delegates that our discussions would have benefited from stronger representation from two key groups:

  • Actively publishing academics and researchers from across a range of disciplines. There were some in attendance, but often in their “other” roles (librarians, administrators, publishers, etc.). More on this below.
  • Greater representation from developing countries in all stakeholder groups. Similarly, it was difficult to make assumptions about the needs and challenges of less well-funded parts of the globe, whether addressing issues of access or participation.

What are your top 2 or 3 key takeaways?

Angela: From the presentations of the different workgroups, almost all criticized the current incentive program and the university tenure and promotion process. Some groups clearly see this as the impediment to any real change in the scholarly publishing ecosystem. I have no idea if that is a true statement and I don’t know what this group assembled at OSI could actually do about it. Another interesting thing to watch was which stakeholders were “thrown off the island,” as one participant said. There was a recognition that collateral damage will happen in a move to all things open, but little consensus on how much is acceptable.

Judy: The inevitability of open access and that there can be creative ways to work towards it. It would have been interesting to hear more from the UNESCO sponsor in terms of the relationship between research and the economy since that was part of the EU’s rationale in supporting open access and wide distribution of research.

Which key issues remain unresolved in your mind?

Clearly, one meeting cannot answer all of the questions about such complex and wide-ranging issues, and the first OSI played a valuable role in creating a forum for discussion of heated and controversial topics. That said, in follow-up discussions we’ve identified a handful of critical problems that were not adequately addressed.

  1. The role of scholarly and scientific societies: Judy reminded us of the core roles that societies play. The society is central to the academic research framework – its members are the faculty who conduct the research, serve as editors, and lead the development of the discipline globally. And societies play a crucial role in publishing. As journal publishing has transitioned from print through print + electronic to primarily e-only, many societies have become dependent upon greater revenue and greater visibility of their publications in a global digital environment. Twenty years ago societies could rely on three relatively balanced revenue streams – membership, meetings and publications – but today publications frequently comprise the largest source of income that supports other society functions such as mentoring young scholars and advocacy. The idea that societies’ publishing operations should only break even comes at a time when societies are also faced with a dramatic shift in demographics as the boomer generation retires and the next generation is not necessarily replacing them. As Judy notes, while there was a general recognition among participants that the move to open would result in collateral damage, there was no real discussion of what kind or level of damage would be acceptable – a particularly pertinent concern for societies.
  1. The role of researchers/authors: As noted above, almost all of the working groups encountered critical questions about author needs, concerns and behavior and while adding more academics would still be anecdotal, they are critical to moving these issues forward. These discussions have rumbled on via email since the meeting and it is clear that there are entrenched positions centered around some of the most vexing issues in scholarly communication: choice, power and money. As has often been recognized, the underlying economics of the system are rarely a primary concern for authors. But to what extent can and should other stakeholders exert power over their options in order to effect change?
  1. Business models: Overall, there was a wide recognition that it costs money to create, review, and publish scholarly works; that the transition period to OA will be more expensive than the current system (even if the desired future state is cost-neutral or cheaper); and that there is unlikely to be any new money going into the system. Given these conflicting realities, it is still unclear who will pay, even in the world of science journals – let alone how that transition would work for other types of content or in fields that don’t have research funding. There are some thoughtful and well-argued cases for the economics of “the flip” , but many still doubt that the resolution is a simple case of economics and the redistribution of scholarly communication spend. It seems likely that the business models are a whole lot more complex – especially as one starts thinking beyond STM journals – to say nothing of the entrenched culture and values that would also need to change.
  1. Morality: This is a tricky and highly-charged issue, but one that was addressed in a thoughtful way across the workgroups. That said, it’s not clear if and how we can move this forward, given the wide variety of opinions as to what practices and behaviors are morally justified in the scholarly communication ecosystem. Diversity is a great benefit — if everyone believed the same things the conversation would be pretty boring and might not produce anything new or newly useful — but diversity of this particular type also a great barrier, in that we can never safely assume that we are discussing the relevant issues from a shared set of assumptions about which options are off the table and which ones are worthy of consideration.
  1. What is OSI trying to achieve, and what comes next?: This is perhaps the million dollar question. OSI was a step in the right direction, bringing groups together that don’t typically meet on these issues. But the ultimate goals of OSI remain somewhat vague. Is it simply “more OA”? How do we measure progress? And indeed, what do we mean by OA? As might have been predicted, recent email threads have found familiar ground in the polarized responses to Sci-Hub and Alexandra Elbakyan as hero or villain. But perhaps this misses the point, in that all we know conclusively from Sci-Hub is that researchers have enormous problems as consumers of content. It is not a solution in itself, and nor does it even point the way to sustainable solutions. And it remains unclear if there is indeed any way to develop mutually acceptable, sustainable solutions in an area where both economic interests and rewards are not easily aligned. That, for now, remains the elusive Holy Grail.

(Note: each of the Working Groups is preparing a paper on their discussions and recommendations, and these will be available later this month on the Mason Press platform.)



Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt joined PLOS as CEO in 2017, having previously served as Director of the University of California Press and Executive Vice President at SAGE Publications. Her 30 years in publishing also include leadership positions at Blackwell and Taylor & Francis. Alison also serves on the Board of Directors of SSP and the Center for Open Science.


29 Thoughts on "The Open Scholarship Initiative: Talking a Good Game, But Can We Deliver?"

The future is never clear but at present we seem to be converging on the following global OA journal system:
1. Every journal will at least offer an APC hybrid option. APC articles will be immediately available.
2. Non APC articles will be publicly available after a 12 month embargo period.
3. Access will be technologically integrated, we know not how.

If so then the OA revolution is over. The US has taken the lead here, because this is basicly the US Public Access program. We now have the much more interesting problem of designing the new system. What it looks like, or will do, is far from clear.

I’m not sure this is correct, particularly once one ventures outside of the sciences.

1) Many Humanities and Social Sciences journals are still on the fence about this. There is little to no funding for authors, so uptake is minimal, and there are strong objections to CC licenses in these areas, so what’s offered for an APC may be fairly different than what’s seen in the sciences.

2) No. The 12 month embargo seems to have become a default standard for science research that is funded. Many policies offer different embargoes (some as short as 6 months, others allowing 24 or 36 months). Embargoes are often different between Science and Hum/Soc research. Many policies offer an easy opt-out for the author, and a great deal of the literature is not covered by any such policy (no funding or not at an institution with such a policy).

3) I have no idea what this means.

Indeed, I am only talking about STM because that is where the economic value of OA is said to lie and where the pressure to change is. If STM stabilizes, as I think it will, then I doubt there will be much action in HSS.

Re #3, here is what I said to Todd a few days ago, when he suggested that there were no outstanding OA technology issues:

“Actually, on the OA front the US Public Access program is leading to the development of some remarkable technologies. For example, CHORUS and Crossref are working to integrate publisher websites with the emerging federal Funding Agency repositories. Much of this technology has yet to be developed. What the final system will look like, or do, is far from clear.

In this context The Optical Society has developed an interesting artificial intelligence approach to help solve the vexing “funder identification problem.” See their recent paper at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK350153/

Then too, SHARE is doing some very promising software development for its emerging “research event notification” system.

All of this and more are on an exciting timeframe of around five years.”

We are on the way to a whole new integrated scientific communication system, spawned by the US Public Access program. This will dwarf PubMed Central, which is dominant in its field.

Actually, I think this comment misses the many important nuances of the discussions that took place at OSI and have continued since then (and which are of course impossible to summarize in one blog post!). The global OA journal system you describe above may be emerging as dominant in the global north for STM journals (though actually, there is still plenty of debate about that), but it does not meet the needs of communities beyond this (HSS disciplines, the global south, monographs and so on). If there was one thing that emerged with pretty much unanimous consensus, it was that these are incredibly complex issues and there is most definitely no single answer or model.

I disagree, Allison. I am sure OSI was a lot of fun and I am sorry that I was not invited, even though I played a role in its origin. But when one looks at what is actually happening, nuance is not an issue. I think the system is stabilizing along the lines that I have described. See my reply to David C above.

Nor is there anything north looking about it, quite the contrary. If every article is available either immediately via APC or within 12 months via mandate then that is a global OA solution.

What is “north looking” is the assumption that an APC-based solution can work. An increasing amount of scholarship is produced in the global south, where resources are scarce, and authors have neither cash on hand nor access to APC subventions. These are much more readily available to researchers and scholars in the north.

So what is the “south looking” model, Rick? The two leading possibilities are government or institutional sponsorship of journals. Neither is making much, if any, headway in the industry. I am describing what is actually happening, not academic discourse. What I am describing is the solution that is emerging and it is global.

I am curious as to what you mean by an increasing amount (I assume you mean percentage) of scholarship being produced in the global south? If you mean China and India, etc., they are increasing precisely because of their increasing wealth, hence their increasing investment in research, which is wonderful. But as the OA advocates like to point out, APCs are a small fraction of research funding. If they can afford the research then they can probably afford the APCs.

As I see it the north-south distinction is breaking down. I would not use it.

I haven’t proposed or referred to a “south-looking model,” David. I was explaining why you were mistaken to say that there’s nothing “north-looking” about APC-based models.

As for what I mean by “an increasing amount of scholarship (being) produced in the global south”: I think I expressed myself pretty clearly. I mean that a growing amount (and yes, I meant “amount”) of scholarship is being produced in the global south. For one example of data to this effect, see this report produced jointly by Elsevier and the World Bank a couple of years ago. (Pull quote: “All three Sub-Saharan African regions more than doubled their research output from 2003 to 2012.”) I don’t know whether those regions are increasing in wealth, but I’d be very surprised if their wealth has doubled since 2003.

How very strange, Rick. I do not see how you can refer to an approach as north looking, with no concept of what south looking is. Nor do I think that the publishing industry can be restructured based on the (wonderful) growth of output from three Sub-Saharan African regions.

Am I the only one who is looking at this as case of industrial dynamics? It sometimes seems like it. We are talking about a $10 billion a year industry, and how it is or is not changing. Wishes are not horses.

Are we to infer from your comments, David, that you think commercial STM publishers are going to be satisfied with the level of profit margin that they can gain from a hybrid TA/OA business model? I’ve always wondered at what point commercial entities, which after all have many alternative opportunities for investment, will begin to desert publishing if their profit margins cannot be sustained at the levels they are now, say, if they begin to fall below 20%. Is there anything about what is happening now that ensures the profit margins in the hybrid world will continue to be at the levels attained in the print only world?

Once again, Sandy, mine is a description not a forecast. There is still a lot of flexibility in the dynamics, especially now that governments are increasingly calling the shots. In any case the profit issue is indeed interesting.

On the one hand there is no reason why the hybrid model should not maintain profitability. It might even increase it for the higher ranked journals. On the other hand we might see APC price competition, leading to the low cost journals that many OA advocates advocate, with APCs in the hundreds of dollars. If we are heading for a new economic order there is no way to tell where we are going. (You can see why few want to hire me to hear this. There is no money in uncertainty, so only gurus get paid.)

But I think these purported high profit margins may be an OA myth. Awhile back here we looked closely at Elsevier and their supposed profits were simply a misreading of the financial reports. These were the profits of an operating division, lacking the costs of the parent company, such as facilities and especially debt service. The actual profit rate was a modest 12% or so.

Well, I too disagree, as I’m sure would many other OSI delegates (politely, of course). There actually IS a lot of nuance. Even if the system for STM journals is stabilizing on the model you describe, it most definitely is not for HSS journals, monographs and many other forms of publications (which are also very interested in the potential of OA, even if the economics are less clear). And your point about APCs is missing a clear concern in developing nations and the global south – while an APC model addresses issues of access, it does nothing to address issues of participation

Once again, Allison, as an industry analyst I am interested in actual action, not discussion. (In this context experiments are irrelevant, no matter how interesting.) To the extent that OA is being driven by funder mandates, it is largely confined to STEM journals, which have now responded accordingly. I see very little prospect for additional change, certainly nothing revolutionary.

I also see very little actual change beyond this sphere, and STEM is stabilizing along the lines I describe, so if the other industry segments were actually to change it would likely be along the same lines. Talk does not count. Speculation is not change.

But the future is unpredictable, so this is an observation, not a prediction.

David, this will be my last comment on this thread. But given that you are clearly less familiar with developments beyond STM journals, I would ask you to accept that you do not speak with authority for this community about what may change and how.

Okay Allison, but please understand that I am not speaking about what may change, only about what is actually changing. I am an industry analyst, not a futurist.

Hi David,

Alas, you were definitely invited but you replied to me on August 11, 2015 that you wouldn’t be able to attend. You were indeed a major contributor to the origin of this effort and I hope you might be willing/able to attend the next meeting.



My mistake, Glenn, but it was almost a year ago. It sounds like this was a pro-OA meeting. You might try a more balanced approach.

Hi David,

Everyone’s input is welcome in this effort—from pro to anti to everywhere in between. I’m not sure what you mean by “pro-OA” since as you well know, there are many different variants on what is meant by open, open access, etc. But in terms of exploring the dimensions and foundations of open and discussing how to get to a world with more open (whatever this means in practice) together (or even whether we can), then yes—the common thread connecting this effort and the 196 high-level participants from 15 different stakeholder groups is “open.” I can’t even imagine what a more balanced approach than this looks like, so If you have any specific criticisms or recommendations, please let ’em fly (but please take a look at the OSI website first—osinitiative.org—to make sure you’re up-to-date on what transpired; this effort definitely evolved from where you left off in February of 2015).

Thanks as always,


Thanks for the very thoughtful summary. You captured well both the takeaways and the lacks/gaps that were not addressed at this inaugural meeting. The attendees at OSI 2016 did well in wrestling in a (mostly) civil manner with the important issues, but — as you note — there is still much work to be done, especially in the area of policy and academic practice (e.g., reward structures for tenure and promotion). What is lacking most is a cohesive strategy to achieve “complete open access,” should we even be able to come up with some kind of general agreement as to what is meant by “complete” or “open” or even “access,” much less what those words mean as a phrase. This inaugural OSI conference did not move us any further either toward agreement on terminology nor toward such a strategy for achieving the goal of complete open access, but that would have been an impossible task for a few days’ conversation. What it did do was create an environment for education and dialog that hopefully will continue in other venues — such as this one.

OAN: When you talk about the “area of policy and academic practice” you are talking about systems (institutional and governmental) that are vastly larger than scholarly publishing, orders of magnitude larger. Angela reported that “From the presentations of the different workgroups, almost all criticized the current incentive program and the university tenure and promotion process.”

I submit that the scholarly publishing industry is in no position to change these huge external systems. Realism suggests that we think about what we can do, not that we wait for the world to change around us.

I am indeed talking about the importance of P&T in shifting the academic culture toward one that embraces openness, which, as Angela accurately reported, was one of the unifying themes coming out of the discussions that were had by many different teams. I am not remotely suggesting that such a shift would be driven by the publishing industry, but merely that the publishing industry will need to be responsive to changes that are already underway that expand the idea of what should be rewarded when it comes to decisions for hiring, tenure, and promotion. (The revised P&T guidelines adopted by Indiana last year are particularly eloquent on the importance for review committees to reward interdisciplinarity, new modes of scholarly communication, and “public scholarship”: http://vpfaa.indiana.edu/docs/promotion_tenure_reappointment/pt-revised-review-guidelines.pdf.) Open access is not only about publishing; it is about the communication of research and scholarship in all its varieties. Publishers are only one part of that system.

OSI was definitely not a publishing meeting, which is why I appreciated the diversity of discussions. Any analysis of discussions or summary papers that result need to be viewed from that lens. My group, Peer Review, most definitely talked about the entire life-cycle of scholarly output from idea to post-publication review. As more recommendations come trickling out from the various workgroups, I think it’s important to know that the context seemed very broad, which feels appropriate for the topic.

And likewise why I appreciated the meeting as well.

There is a lot of nuance and there are plenty of options well outside open access as it is practiced today. If we introduce more shared infrastructure into the system and lower the cost of publishing research, we may be able to support existing society budgets and even leave some left over for innovation. If instead of calculating the costs based on individual APCs we look at reducing overhead through either bulk APCs or institutional payments for OA on a global scale, it would change the economics significantly. I don’t think that the jury is out yet on the costs being higher.

Also, there a lot of room for experimentation still in terms of how researchers will share their work in the future. Will it all take the form of journals? Will there be more sharing earlier and therefore without the costs and delays we see now with traditional scholarly publishing?

I’m really happy to hear that the dialog was broad-reaching and civil. Thanks for the report out, Alison!

The absence of faculty at such meetings, speaking in their capacity as faculty, has always been a problem. Since everything talked about at such meetings involves them in crucial ways, it is a shame that so few of them ever show up to voice their opinions and concerns.

As for morality, I think the core of OA is less about morality than about efficiency and goal achievement. As print publishers, we eventually felt the urge to expand dissemination of scholarly works through paperback editions. In a way, OA is simply a further extension of this basic mission of scholarly publishers (at least the non-profits). As we have witnessed the sale of monographs dropping from around 3,000 in the mid-1960s to just a few hundred four decades later, we all have to wonder how much our mission of “disseminating knowledge–far and wide” is being frustrated by the economics of print publishing. OA offers the opportunity, if it can be sustained, of widening the dissemination manyfold. Whether one speaks about that imperative as a moral one or not, it does cut to the core of what scholarly publishing is all about.

Alison et al.,

I agree with the sum-up that you’ve provided. Both the meetings themselves and the prior and continued discussion on the list serve have covered a lot of ground from many vantage points. I learned a great deal and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to attend and contribute.

However, I didn’t come away from the meetings with a clear sense of what meaningful steps were now going to be taken that weren’t already going to happen. Perhaps I came into the meetings with unrealistic expectations, but I was hoping that there would emerge more of an action-plan that would accelerate the efforts towards an open access world.

To me it seems obvious that each major discipline will achieve the major milestones towards an open world in its own way. The different disciplines have major differences in the ways that scholarly communication works, differences in funding, and different factors pushing toward OA and factors/actors standing in opposition. I also think that the action-plans by discipline will have some medium term milestones along the path towards open access. In my own view a most important interim goal will be that point at which a scholar or institution can reasonably say, “In this discipline I can get by with just what’s free on the Internet”. There are certainly other interim goals worth pressing for as well, but this one stands out in my mind as one of the first to shoot for.

I hope that between now and OSI-2017 we can have some of the disciplines start laying out an action plan that gets that discipline to an important milestone like that in short order. I think having the OSI-2017 meeting be structured in a way that puts emphasis on discipline by discipline plans will the put real stakes in the ground for making meaningful progress.

Hi John,

I’m glad you were able to participate. With regard to plans for moving forward, it would have been presumptuous and disrespectful to lay these out in advance in too much detail. Step one was to see how everyone felt about this endeavor. Step two is currently underway, with groups of delegates discussing (not too actively yet but soon) the future of OSI and the more nitty gritty details of OSI2017. We really don’t know yet what we don’t know: The opportunity to work together as a group toward collaborative solutions has never existed before on this scale, so we don’t know yet what kind of actions and plans will emerge (or not). The initial outlines of an action plan, however, will emerge within the next few months, so stay tuned.



In devising a plan for OA monograph publishing back in the early 1990s, the CIC universities were very conscious about disciplinary differences and chose three quite different disciplines on which to initially focus their joint effort.

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