Feedback from the larger publishers on the Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S reflects many of the themes seen in the feedback overall, including support for open access and concern for diversity and inclusion in publishing. Notable, however, is their commentary on the current range hybrid models for journal publishing. Their feedback indicates no intention of abandoning hybrid models, a pathway they characterize as successfully meeting market demands and fostering growth in open access publishing.

Image of the painting The Chess Players by Thomas Eakins
The Chess Players, Thomas Eakins, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I wrote “Taking Stock of the Feedback on Plan S Implementation Guidance” last week, none of the largest publishers had made their feedback on the Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S public and so my only peek into what they might be thinking was the commentary made by the STM association. That response is necessarily broad and non-specific, of course, in order to represent the varied interests of STM members as well as to avoid running afoul of antitrust regulations.

As one might expect, STM observed that:

In our view, and in the view of many in the research community, several of the publishing models that do not appear to be supported by the guidance are in fact legitimate approaches to Open Access, such as hybrid Open Access, green Open Access and mirror journals.

The statement argues that these models — in addition to those that are supported in the guidance — are presented as responding to diverse global needs, providing flexibility in meeting those needs, and respecting researcher freedom of choice. (That last item is, by the way, the primary topic that readers told me they believed I had failed to note among the themes I identified in the feedback on the guidance last week.)

Publisher Feedback

All of the “big five” publishers, except Elsevier, have since posted their feedback on the guidance:

As each document came online, I was eager to take a look at what they had to say, engage with company representatives, and see whether the comments from the big publishers reflected or diverged from the themes I had seen in the guidance feedback more generally. I also looked into whether I was just not finding Elsevier’s response. Tom Reller, Elsevier’s spokesperson, confirmed for me that Elsevier did not submit its own feedback and is deferring to STM to speak on its behalf.

Overall, the themes I saw in the general feedback are indeed reflected in the comments from these publishers, although they place greater emphasis on the components of the guidance that relate to journals and journal business models rather than on requirements for repositories or other kinds of platforms. The four companies offer unqualified support for open access and universal commitment to finding sustainable pathways that respond to demand for open access.

Open Access and Related Activities

Nonetheless, one also gets a sense of some frustration from the publishers that their past efforts are being cast as barriers to open access rather than enablers of progress.The opportunity to provide feedback on the guidance is uniformly used as a mechanism to put each publisher’s open access and related activities on record for consideration by the cOAlition. As examples:


The subscription offsetting policy we developed in 2015 provides a mechanism for journals to fully transition as the proportion of OA increases to a critical volume.

SAGE policy has been to allow authors to deposit AAMs in Institutional Repositories (IRs) with no embargo.

We have developed a portfolio of over 180 pure Gold OA titles – 53 transitioned from the subscription model – to provide pure gold options across virtually all of the disciplines we publish in.

Springer Nature

Each year we already publish around 30% of all immediately accessible OA articles in the world and in addition to our 1900-strong hybrid portfolio offer close to 600 pure-OA journal.

Pioneering offsetting agreements… have enabled over 70% of Springer Nature authors in four European countries where we have such agreements to publish open access and make their research available immediately on publication… The number of these deals has recently been increased to nine.

Our preferred OA user licence already is the Creative Commons Attribution v4.0 International licence (CC BY). 

We have a comprehensive waiver programme in place and offer APC waivers and discounts for papers published in our fully open access journals whose corresponding authors are based in the world’s lowest income countries.

Taylor & Francis

95% of Taylor & Francis journals offer an APC Open Access (OA) option; 280 are fully OA with no subscription content.

APC OA continues to grow as a share of the 130,000 articles we publish annually. In 2012, Gold OA made up c.1% of UK content published in Taylor & Francis’ journals; in 2017 it was over 13%.

All Taylor & Francis journals allow authors to archive earlier versions of their work, as well as enabling authors to deposit accepted manuscripts.


Over 90% of Wiley-published journals enable immediate open access, including through 100+ fully open access journals and 1400+ hybrid journals.

Many of the manuscripts we accept are made freely available under green open access policies.

We are also excited to have entered into transformative agreements that have the potential to accelerate progress towards open access… we were the first publisher to reach a groundbreaking agreement with Projekt DEAL that will allow authors at more than 700 academic institutions in Germany to publish open access articles.

I imagine similar comments were made at the reported December meeting between STM and cOAlition S members. More than one publisher has also shared with me that it appears that some cOAlition S members seem to have different interpretations of certain terms and practices than those more common in the industry. Regardless of whether one would judge these publishers as good actors on open access because of these activities or not, one would presume all would prefer to make evidence-based evaluations relying on as much data as possible.

Will Publishers Comply?

All of the information about open access activities and commitments is interesting, but does not answer the question “will publishers comply?”

In his interview with Richard Poynder, Robert-Jan Smits stated that “we expect publishers to come forward with offerings which comply with the principles outlined in Plan S.” He continues on later stating that “it is for publishers to provide Plan S-compliant routes to publication in their journals so that researchers can choose where to publish when accepting funding from those who sign Plan S.”

There is still some confusion around the multiple routes to compliance in the guidance. Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer have detailed nine possible compliance scenarios — four potential gold routes, one (temporary) hybrid route, one hybrid/green route and three potential green routes. Each of the publishers arguably already offers researchers a pathway to compliance under one or more of these routes.

None of the publishers, however, have an entire portfolio of compliant journals nor do they express any intention of being fully compliant by 2020, or by any particular date at all. Politely, but firmly, the publishers express a commitment to continuing to publish hybrid journals with acknowledgment that “cOAlition-S funded researchers may be left without a suitable journal for their work.

Echoing the STM association feedback on the compliance guidance, the publishers clearly dissent from Plan S’s assertion that “there is no valid reason to maintain any kind of subscription-based business model for scientific publishing in the digital world.” Publishers observe that hybrid is bringing about a transition to open access, though that transition may be slower than some would like.

Article-by-article APC fees, mirror and sister journals, read and publish agreements, and publish and read agreements — these are all hybrid models under which scholarship is currently and increasingly made open access. Hybrid meets the market demand for open access publishing, particularly in Europe, while also meeting the market demand for no-fee publishing from other regions of the world. It is also a responsive model because it can adjust easily to accommodate expanding demand for open access publishing without forcing it on others.

While Smits is seeking to make good on his intention to hit the system with a bulldozer, the publishers are seeing the sustainability in what I have come to think of not as “swiss cheese” but rather as a “controlled burn” approach. (No doubt my metaphor is influenced by living in Illinois where one regularly sees fields burning as part of an intentional prairie restoration strategy!)  

By removing value from subscriptions over time, all hybrid models eventually give way to full open access. But this is not where Plan S incentives lead. The Plan S prohibition on publishing in a hybrid journal could instead cause a researcher to choose a green route for the author manuscript while publishing closed in a hybrid journal. This would shore up the value of subscriptions and slow the conversion of journals from hybrid to fully open. 

There is a bit of a chess game being played. It is clear that these largest publishers will not abandon the hybrid pathway for open access. What will be the next move from cOAlition S?

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Research Professional Development in the University Library and affiliate faculty in the School of Information Sciences, European Union Center, and Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


11 Thoughts on "Is Hybrid a Valid Pathway to Open Access? Publishers Argue Yes, in Response to Plan S"

By removing value from subscriptions over time, all hybrid models eventually give way to full open access.

It seems to me that, if this were the case, journals using a hybrid model can simply sign a transformative agreement, committing to this being the case by 2025.

If 2025 is too short a term -in other words, if nearly two decades of APCs has not been enough to transition to full open access- then I really wonder in which term publishers would expect this to happen. Unfortunately, I have not seen any commentary on that from any of them.

I’m pretty sure the publishers would say it will happen when the market demands it. As I mention near the end of this piece, this is not where the incentives of Plan S lead. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Springer Nature’s response’s comments on stimulating demand.

I would have thought this question has a simple answer – no.
Some publishers do offset the revenue they get from APCs against their subscriptions, but this is a drop in the ocean. 95% of their papers are not OA and this percentage has not changed.

Now delayed open access on the other hand. That’s a hybrid model that I can live with even if I don’t love it.

It would seem to me that the proverbial elephant in the room is what happens if a large funding body decides to endorse Plan S and insist that all work that is funded (including that of graduate students, postdocs and visiting scientists) comply? While publishers may want to maintain their current publishing models, or sustain them for as long as possible, it seems that it is the funding agencies that underwrite the work of the authors and pay for the library subscriptions that will ultimately call the shots.

“More than one publisher has also shared with me that it appears that some cOAlition S members seem to have different interpretations of certain terms and practices than those more common in the industry. Regardless of whether one would judge these publishers as good actors on open access because of these activities or not, one would presume all would prefer to make evidence-based evaluations relying on as much data as possible.”

This is an extremely convoluted and maddeningly vague statement. What does it mean, more specifically?

I can’t speak for the author, but my read on it is that it increasingly looks like Plan S isn’t going to be one common policy but instead a series of individual policies from signatories, each somewhat different. Publishers are going to want to set up their reactions based on the actual policies that are put into place, and right now, we really don’t know what those are.

Apologies for being obtuse. Not my intention so thanks for asking. It means that when terms are used by different groups to mean different things, misunderstandings arise about what is happening in reality. Clarifying the specific meanings allows accurate assessment of what is happening. So, for example, the status of preprints and deposit. If one party means the post-peer review author manuscript and the other means pre-peer review manuscript, there can be confusion about what percent of journals allow preprint deposits. So, clarifying what is meant by preprint (pre or post peer review) enables assessment of what is really happening with preprints and deposit.

Request to the Chefs: while many of us appreciate this kind of strategic articles, and it does bring in lively discussion, most of these articles refer to company or community strategy and fights.
It will also be great to bring an article on a missing element: potential job losses. let’s say Plan S goes ahead and really puts established journals in jeopardy subsequently leading to cost-cutting by publishers, meaning people losing jobs. In this scenario, what should the thousands of editorial and production talent in those situations do? Should we approach Plan S propagators, University libraries for jobs?

Hi Desieditor. I’ve noticed several of your comments express concerns and fears about potential future job losses. I know how you feel. As an early career researcher in my 30s, I have maybe a 10% chance of succeeding in my field. I work 7 days a week and I have spent the majority of my professional life with an income that places me in the bottom 25% of households. My employment is precarious and dependent on 1-2 year fixed-term contracts. Since my previous contract expired, I am moving to a new contract that pays me 15% less.

Everyone is being squeezed, including the university libraries that you think are threatening your livelihood. No one is having a good time here.

Thank you, Early Career Researcher. This is exactly the point, neither side is really speaking towards the concerns of grassroots employees and researchers. There is no guarantee that PlanS will solve your issues either, but the immediate effect will most definitely be job cuts. All that is asked for is to be considered. To be mindful that when people are sabre rattling with emotional outbursts, that jobs (both sides) are also to be considered. Publishing industry professionals (lower mid-manager level) have least mobility (due to rigid skill applicability) and don’t have influence on any of their company policies. EU should also represent their interests.

I have maybe a 10% chance of succeeding in my field.

I find this statement to be really distressing. Haven’t we reached a point where we’ve gone past the brainwashing that a career in academia is the only way to succeed? There’s a whole world out there — doing an advanced degree in research gives you all kinds of valuable skills and knowledge that can lead to success in a huge number of areas and a rewarding career. Don’t let the limited prospects of academia slow you down!

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