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.
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.)
All of the “big five” publishers, except Elsevier, have since posted their feedback on the guidance:
- SAGE Publishing Statement on Plan S
- Plan S Implementation Guidance: Submission From Springer Nature
- Taylor & Francis Group: Feedback on Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S
- Wiley Response to Coalition S on Plan S
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.
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?