Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Emma Wilson. Emma is the Director of Publishing at the Royal Society of Chemistry. She has responsibility for editorial, product and policy development across the Royal Society of Chemistry’s portfolio of journals, books and databases.
Read & Publish models have been in the spotlight for some time in Europe, and in July they arrived in the US with MIT signing the first such deal with us, the Royal Society of Chemistry. This is significant as it signals the model has appeal to research intensive universities outside of Europe, and global uptake is needed for the model to impact the open access (OA) landscape. Our deal with MIT attracted much attention and comment. Unlike other Read & Publish models, the “Read” component is directly linked to changes in the amount of paywalled content, allowing for a smooth transition toward more OA content in future.
I provide our perspective and some details of our model.
Read & Publish models
Read & Publish models (which have evolved from earlier off-setting models) come in lots of different flavors (and often the devil is in the detail, as pointed out by Paul Peters CEO of Hindawi), but the basic premise is that the buying (and negotiation) power of the university/consortia is leveraged to allow a transition from a subscription payment toward an OA author-pays model, using the hybrid journals that are well-recognized and popular with authors – although less so with funders – as a mechanism to increase the speed of this transition. The model is not without its critics, and the pros and cons of the approach have been thoughtfully covered by Richard Poynder, Liam Earney, and Roger Schonfeld.
Until the recent cOAlition S announcements (see below), Read & Publish models had been widely championed by European universities and research institutions, driven by an increasingly assertive political and policy environment frustrated with what they see as both a slow and costly transition to OA. As a result, university content negotiations in Europe are increasingly politically charged. University leaders are asking for Read & Publish models as they facilitate compliance with OA mandates, centralize and streamline the administrative burden, and allow authors to publish in the journal of their choice.
There is interest in the US but the drivers are different and not as strong as in Europe. It is still unclear how much traction they will have.
But it is even more complex than this, as it is not just Europe and the US who will contribute to the future of OA and scholarly communications. China has emerged as a dominant research nation and now publishes more research articles than any other country in the world. Like many other countries, China is experimenting with OA, however, for a variety of reasons Chinese authors appear to favor pure Gold OA journals rather than the hybrid route. India is growing its scientific base and infrastructure, but its journey with OA has only just started and the perception of OA in India has been heavily dented by predatory publishers. It is therefore viewed with much suspicion within parts of the research community, as well as by government and funding agencies.
Ultimately the global uptake of Read & Publish will depend on the political, policy, and market force drivers at play, the pricing structure that is negotiated, and how this compares with the current spend the customer has with the publisher. This is multi-variant and depends on many factors including historical spend and research intensity of the university.
Royal Society of Chemistry’s Read & Publish model
The Royal Society of Chemistry is a single subject publisher – we publish 45 journals across the chemical sciences. However our output is significant – around 35,000 articles a year – which is a sizable chunk of the “quality” end of chemical sciences research output. We self-publish and our authors and audience are global. Around 22% of our articles are published Gold OA, the majority of this is via our two Gold OA journals (Chemical Science and RSC Advances) and just over 5% of the content in our hybrid journals is published via the Gold OA route.
After some experimentation and listening to and working with our customers, we have found a consistent model that is straightforward and comprises two aspects: a fee for subscription content (the read fee), and a fee that allows authors at the institute with the deal to publish open access in our hybrid journals (the publish fee).
The publish fee is based on a discounted APC price and historical data for the publication output of the institution in our journals. The discount is applied to the APC to manage the cost implications of the model.
The read fee is calculated on a per article basis – so is directly linked to the actual amount of content behind our paywall. Therefore, there is a linear decrease of the read fee if the percentage of OA content in our journal package increases, facilitating a smooth transition to OA. To my knowledge, we are the only publisher that bakes this transition explicitly into the model.
However, given that we are very much in a shifting environment, we have built in a flexible approach to working with our customers, therefore we will continue to learn from our experiences and stakeholder’s feedback. For example, if enough new customers do not take up the model, our license agreements with our existing Read & Publish customers include options to revert back to a subscription model, based on their needs and preferences. There are also contingencies built in in general the model includes a minimum and maximum number of articles and the renewal price is calculated based on the former years article output, so any fluctuation upwards or downwards is reflected in the following year.
The more Read & Publish customers we have, the higher the number of OA articles we will publish, and the ‘Read’ fee decreases for every Read & Publish customer. At the same time the transition discount on the publishing fee decreases so the publication fee increases. Therefore, ‘trailblazers’ who take up the deal first will only see the benefit if other institutions come on board – the benefit is most when the model is taken up by many, and our aim is to work with our librarian stakeholders to encourage uptake. If customers like it, then our OA content will increase. As Joe Esposito has emphasized, this has implications for less intensive research institutes that have a traditional package subscription (read-only) deal with us. If there is an increase in the number of OA articles in our hybrid journals this will be taken into account when we assess the pricing for those staying on the subscription-only model. In this way, we would hope to keep them as customers subscribing to a smaller corpus on pay walled content.
For customers who buy single journals and do not buy via discounted subscription packages their prices will decrease if the percentage of OA content increases. This is because our formula for setting journal list prices is linked directly to the number of articles in each journal that are not published through the Gold OA route. Our goal is to find a sustainable way for all parties to transition to OA. In this we seek to maintain our surplus levels to ensure that we can continue to deliver our purpose.
Why is a society publisher is interested is this sort of experimentation?
There are three main reasons that we are moving towards a Read & Publish model. First, access to research and the dissemination of knowledge is integral to our purpose – to advance excellence in the chemical sciences, and to everything we do. We believe the model furthers our aims of being at the forefront of knowledge dissemination, being an active part of the scholarly communications ecosystem, and leading the development of OA within the chemical sciences.
Second, many of our customers are asking for it – we want to work with them and give them what they want. Finally, our authors have a strong preference for hybrid journals. It retains their choice – allowing them to comply with OA mandates while continuing to publish in the journals they love, with strong academic reputations built up over many years.
Authors also like the idea of a hybrid model where they are not involved in the administration and payment processes, which we cater to with our newly-developed a system that on acceptance of the article automatically knows if an author is from Read & Publish institution.
Sustainability and transparency
We were formed 176 years ago and have been promoting and celebrating our discipline and upholding the standards of our profession ever since. We want to remain a thriving, relevant, and valuable organization for our community for another 176 years (at least!).
The Royal Society of Chemistry is dependent on the surplus generated from our publishing operations to fund the delivery of our purpose – for example inspiring the next generation of chemists via our educational resources and outreach work, providing support for students and early career researchers, delivering a program of scientific workshops and conferences, and ensuring the long-term health of the discipline via our policy work.
This means that along with our customers, we need to consider the long term sustainability of any pricing model we use. The finances have to be fair for both parties and the model needs to be as transparent as possible.
The question of academic freedom is close to the heart of any learned society, and in my experience, is also important to librarians. Where to publish should remain the author’s choice (although clearly the funder has a say in this now as well).
We have mechanisms in place to ensure academic freedom and choice is not compromised. It is only at the point of acceptance and when a license needs to be selected that the author is advised that their institute has a Read & Publish deal with us, and therefore there will be no fee to pay to publish their article as in an OA manner. Even then the author can still choose not to publish OA if they wish.
Read and Publish is an experiment for both our customers and us, and we are approaching the advancement of this model with an open mind. We believe that in our Read and Publish offer we have a realistic model that responds to customer feedback, is fair and flexible, and could be replicated across the scholarly publishing industry.
However, this future of the model and its success will depend not only on the views of librarians and publishers but also how funding agencies view the model. The cOAlition S announcement has thrown into sharp relief the uncertain status of hybrid journals. The ten principles announced by this group explicitly do not support hybrid journals, and Read & Publish models are only deemed acceptable for a short term transition. It remains unclear how the cOAlition S plan will be implemented, and what it will mean across the broader OA landscape, particularly for Read & Publish models, which, in our eyes, offer a valuable mechanism to achieve the desired OA transition.