Last week Wiley and Projekt DEAL announced a transformative Publish-and-Read agreement that will, by a conservative estimate, giving the world at least 30,000 additional open access articles over the next three years. Under this agreement, articles by authors from participating institutions will be published open access in Wiley journals and everyone at those institutions will be able to access all Wiley content at no additional cost. The agreement was announced at the Academic Publishing in Europe conference and a copy of the agreement FAQ in German is available in the Internet Archive.
This agreement is a significant development. To my knowledge it is the first and currently only publish-and-read agreement between libraries and a publisher. A publish-and-read (PAR) agreement is one in which fees are paid only for publishing and reading is provided at no additional cost to consortium members. This is in contrast to a read-and-publish (RAP) agreement, in which there is a fee for reading and additional fees for publishing, which are then bundled together, which is the kind of agreement that the University of California System is pursuing.
Given the significant milestone that the Wiley/DEAL PAR agreement represents, it is not surprising that it garnered a lot of attention both at the conference and online. The news ricocheted across Twitter and prompted intense discussions of how the agreement would be seen relative to the requirements of Plan S, a topic of focus for the conference, as well as the implications for negotiations with other publishers and the like.
The Inevitability of Open Access
Before I start to examine the detailed implications of this PAR agreement, let me state clearly that I believe that 30,000 articles being open for reading is inherently a good thing. In and of itself, there is no question that everyone having access to this content is better than only some people having access to the content. To borrow the words of Micah Vandegrift, “a global transition to 100% open access has the potential to make our world a better place to live.”
I also believe we are in a time of transition to full open access. It appears this will most likely be funded primarily by read-and-publish/publish-and-read contracts and individual article processing fees though with Diamond open access and a variety of other business models in niche areas. Every year we have more and more open access content and a steady movement in that direction through government policy, funder mandates, campus directives, and researcher choice. I’m on record predicting a flip timeframe for Elsevier’s journals. I believe that the subscription model for access to scholarly content will recede, certainly in what remains of the lifetime of my career. You might even call me an open access optimist!
The questions that face us at this point are less related to whether we will transition to predominantly open access for the scholarly literature but rather to how will it come about, how fast, and at what costs paid by whom. Agreeing that open access is a good end, an analysis of the means for achieving that end is crucial to ensuring that the open access world is equitable and sustainable. Critical to engaging these questions relates to the means of achieving open access is analysis of the costs (financial, political capital, etc.) and the possibilities of unintended consequences. The greatest challenge in the transition to open access is not open access per se but rather the negotiations around how much it should and/or will cost. And, of course, these negotiations take place against a backdrop of the reality of open shadow libraries anchored by Sci-Hub.
In my own mind, I think about the challenges of this transition time through the metaphor of pathways. Some pathways are direct and paved smooth. Other pathways are winding rock-strewn mazes, with dead ends and flooding rivers to forge. You can likely get to the destination through either pathway but the expenditures of time, resources, etc. will vary greatly and, if you don’t make it, you may start your next attempt injured or hampered in other ways. Determining whether a given path is smooth or rough is strategically important in deciding whether to take it, preparing for it, and thinking through what recovery will demand if things don’t work out as hoped.
The Wiley/DEAL Agreement
So, with that framing of how I am thinking about the transition to open access for the scholarly literature, let me turn to the Wiley/DEAL deal and some of the questions I’ve been pondering. The primary characteristics of the Wiley/DEAL agreement are (these are numbered for ease of referencing not to indicate priority or order of implementation):
- At the core is a three-year publish-and-read (PAR) fee that is set at €2,750 per article for the estimated 10,000 articles annually published by covered corresponding authors in Wiley hybrid journals.
- A discount of 20% off the individual article processing charge (APC) fees for articles published in Wiley Gold OA journals.
- Both PAR and APC payments will be made to Wiley by the newly established MPDL Services GmbH. Wiley will no longer have to bill separately to individual German institutions. MPDL Services GmbH is essentially functioning as a “reseller” in this scenario; it will pay Wiley and then bill German institutions, which will pay MPDL.
- PAR costs charged to participating institutions will be calculated based on previous subscription costs and the publishing volume of the institution. APC fees are in addition to the PAR costs.
- Authors retain their copyright and articles are published under a Creative Commons (CC) license. CC-BY is recommended but not required.
- Authors are not mandated to publish open access; they may choose to publish a subscription article. This choice, however, will not decrease the PAR payment required of the participating institution as the PAR will still be paid for all articles published.
- Compliant with Plan S (falling under the draft cOAlition S guidelines for pre-2020 agreements for the transition period – see 11. Transformative Agreements).
- Commitment to collaborative projects in addition to the payment terms for PAR and APC fees:
- publish a new open access journal from Wiley/DEAL;
- establish an open science and author services joint development group to investigate and develop infrastructures and workflows for open access publishing generally and PAR agreements specifically; and
- institute an early career researchers symposium to gather input and feedback from participants about their needs and how rewards and incentives affect their careers.
Considerations for Open Access Pathways
If the conversations on Twitter and immediate coverage in the press are any indication, there is both great interest in this agreement as well as many questions about it and how it will impact pathways to open access. Here are a few and my thoughts at the moment.
Does this agreement remove barriers to publishing open access?
Yes. For scholars who would like to publish open access, an APC fee is often the barrier to do so. Though no author is mandated to publish open access in a hybrid journal under this agreement, the financial barrier to doing so is eliminated by the institutional payment and the workflows for doing so are streamlined. As Judy Verses, Executive Vice President of Research at Wiley, characterized it to me, the agreement presents authors with a “simple funded solution.”
Does this agreement incentivize publishing in Wiley Gold journals over Wiley hybrid?
No. And, it is possible that it might incentivize publishing in hybrid journals, depending how an individual institution handles Gold APC fees. If the Gold APC fees are covered by the institution, the author will have no financial incentive for one or the other. If the institution charges back the Gold APC fee, that may be a fiscal incentive to publish in hybrid journals.
Does this agreement encourage publishing in Wiley journals?
The agreement being the first of its kind it is difficult to predict how authors will respond but one can imagine authors will be attracted to the centralized funding support. Wiley may also see some first-mover advantage here from those authors who want to publish open access, particularly if those same authors are intentionally disengaging from Elsevier, as well as access advantage for early career researchers who are engaged in the symposium when it is established.
Will this agreement flip Wiley hybrid journals to Gold?
In and of itself, no. This agreement does not require Wiley to convert hybrid journals to gold, which is a requirement for Plan S transformative agreements starting in 2020. Nonetheless, as Joe Esposito has observed, a program that increases the number of open access articles significantly means that “smaller institutions are then in a position to respond by cancelling subscriptions because they can get most of the material they want through OA.” This particular agreement probably isn’t of a sufficient substantial percentage of the overall of articles in most journals to drive off significant subscription business for those titles; however, if there are additional PAR (or RAP) agreements or if there are other forces that increase the number of individual authors paying APCs for publishing in these hybrid journals, one can imagine Wiley choosing to flip titles. Indeed, this later scenario is the strategy being pursued by many open access advocates and library negotiators, i.e., to create so much open access content in titles that subscriptions are no longer financially useful.
Is this agreement cost containing?
As Roger Schonfeld asked last fall, “don’t we face a fork in the road, speeding towards OA [open access] or finding ways to contain publishing expenditures?” The Wiley/DEAL agreement definitely speeds towards open access. It isn’t clear to me that it contains expenditures; nonetheless, it may not worsen the situation either.
Using the financial information released about the terms of the agreement, Marcel Knöchelmann has estimated the cost of the agreement at €27.9 million (note: this does not include in this the one time payment to close the gap in the archive). Gerard Meijer, a member of the DEAL negotiation team and Director of the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, confirmed for me that payment to Wiley for the PAR fees should be roughly what German institutions have been paying in subscription fees. For this payment, German institutions — in addition to publishing open access — will collectively have greatly expanded access to Wiley content, as all institutions will have full access to the current and backfile content, which was not the case under subscriptions.
So, on one hand, costs are contained in that the PAR fee per article is set by the contract and the initial spend will be roughly the same as the subscription spend, but for greater access. On the other hand, if there is an annual increase in publishing in Wiley hybrid journals, the total spend will increase annually with no contractual limit established. Of course, there could also be a decrease in publishing in Wiley journals but it is difficult to imagine that being able to publish open access would drive authors away from Wiley! So, it seems likely that the total PAR spend will increase over time.
Finally, Gold APC payments are discounted but also without any contractual limit so there is no cost containment for APCs either. It also does not appear that Wiley has made any commitments to keep Gold APC fees at the levels currently set. There are other forces that would temper Gold APC fee increases but fee increases are still possible.
How does this agreement impact Wiley’s relationship with its partner societies?
Wiley has been in discussions with its society partners for quite some time about building a sustainable approach to an open access future. Societies have asked for Wiley’s help in positioning their journals for success with open access. According to Judy Verses, the overall feedback from partner societies to the Wiley/DEAL agreement has been strongly positive and some self-published societies have reached out to Wiley since the announcement at APE.
Does this de facto establish a baseline minimum PAR fee per article for the industry?
It seems likely that any other major publisher in negotiations for a similar agreement will expect to be paid no less that the PAR fee ( €2,750 per article) being paid to Wiley. However, given the PAR fee is intended to be cost-neutral to institutions and thus considers past subscription spend, it may be overly optimistic (or pessimistic!) to assume that this is a baseline.
What are the implications for cOalition S funded authors that the Wiley/DEAL agreement is Plan S compliant?
Does the agreement being compliant mean that any cOalition S funded author is now free to publish in any Wiley hybrid or Gold journal (as long as, of course, the article meets the other requirements for an article to be Plan S compliant)? Or, that only those authors who are cOalition S funded and employed at a Wiley/DEAL participating institution can do so? Given that no German funders are part of cOalition S, that latter group is likely very small. If the former, this means a much larger portfolio of journals for cOalition S funded authors has opened up. Or, does the agreement being compliant just mean that the Wiley Gold OA journals are temporarily reprieved from meeting the full Gold OA journal mandatory criteria for cOalition S funded authors? On this question, I think I’m just going to have to wait for more definitive guidance from cOalition S as I honestly can’t analyze my way to a guess.
As I conclude, let me also add one final question: What are the implications of this agreement for DEAL negotiations with Springer Nature and Elsevier? According to Gerarld Meijer, DEAL offered all three publishers the same agreement. (Note: this does not mean the specific PAR fees would be the same for each publisher necessarily, remembering that the PAR calculation is based on subscription spend and intended to be cost-neutral for German institutions.) Negotiations between DEAL and Springer Nature are continuing; the parties have agreed to a cost-neutral extension of the existing contracts with a new agreement expected in mid-2019.
In contrast, while the DEAL website says that negotiations with Elsevier are underway, Elsevier has cut off all institutions without contract from latest issues and Meijer shared that, though there are still bilateral conversations, the last time the negotiation teams met was last summer. DEAL is seeking a PAR and Elsevier has offered a RAP; DEAL is seeking a cost-neutral solution to replace subscriptions and Elsevier is expecting higher payments for RAP than for subscriptions alone.
So, it seems likely that Springer Nature will be the second publisher to sign a PAR with DEAL rather than the first. If authors shift to Wiley and Springer Nature, will Elsevier be the third or will Elsevier continue to hold out? And, as we await news of the outcome of the University of California System and Elsevier negotiations, one wonders if will we soon see the emergence of the first large-scale North American agreement in this space, but as a RAP rather than a PAR?