Since early February, the scholarly communications community has been waiting (somewhat anxiously it seems) for the final version of the Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S. In the hallways at conferences, on Twitter, and elsewhere, there been a fair bit of chatter about what might be revised, what should be, what shouldn’t be, what won’t be, etc.
It seems that Springer Nature has heard a bit more directly from the leaders of cOAlition S. Earlier this week, Springer Nature published a A Faster Path to an Open Future, responding to Plan S again, revealing that their first set of recommendations had not been uniformly positively received, and proposing that publishers “move from being an enabler to being a driver of the OA [open access] transition.”
I was intrigued that Springer Nature would be making yet another response to the cOAlition given the rather substantial commentary it submitted in response to the draft implementation guidance. Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature, provided answers to my questions. Like Steven, I’m interested in others’ reactions to these ideas. If past experience is any predictor, I imagine we’ll see some engaged debate in the comments on this post.
I myself am a bit skeptical about the distinction being argued around the difference between transformative journals and hybrid journals. But, I appreciate the clarion call that publishers should work to accelerate — not just tolerate (or worse) — OA publishing. While the cOAlition rebuffed Springer Nature’s recommendations in their first response to the draft guidance, perhaps this second attempt will find a receptive audience? I imagine not, given the “no hybrid” principle of Plan S. But, we find out at the end of May?
What can you share about the genesis of A Faster Path to an Open Future and what would you highlight as the key points?
You can track the genesis of A Faster Path to an Open Future back twenty years. Both Springer and Nature Publishing Group individually and later together as Springer Nature have been strong proponents of OA publishing, investing in new ways for research to be made open, so it can be read, used, and built upon as quickly as possible. This commitment has seen us grow into the world’s largest OA publisher with authors able to publish immediate OA in over 2500 of our journals.
That’s why we share Plan S’s goal of accelerating the adoption of OA publishing and the transition to a full primary research OA world.
We are also aware of the many challenges that need to be overcome: a lack of global coordination from funders, the need for changes in researcher assessment, academic disciplines that lack funding to enable an OA transition, geographic differences in levels of research output and usage, and – critically – an author community that does not yet collectively view publishing OA as a priority.
A Faster Path to an Open Future sets out a proposed new commitment from publishers about which we are seeking views from all relevant stakeholders – researchers, institutions, funding bodies, and other publishers. “Transformative Publishing” would see publishers put transparency and promotion of the benefits of OA publishing at the heart of their publishing operations. It places documenting and demonstrating the benefits of OA to authors, institutions, and research funding bodies as a key responsibility of research publishers.
A “Transformative Publisher” would need to commit to continuously increasing the average level of OA uptake across its transformative journal portfolio, at least at the rate permitted by the commitments of research funding bodies, institutions, and consortia.
It would do this, firstly, by increasing read and publish transformative deals as they are proven to speed up the transition to OA by significantly increasing OA uptake. Secondly, and fundamental to how this approach would grow supply and increase demand, publishers would leverage their journals portfolio into a catalyst for change. This would apply equally to existing hybrid and subscription journals, including highly selective journals, putting all journals on the road to OA as opposed to the current situation where some can’t even get started.
Springer Nature submitted a fairly substantial response to the draft of the Plan S Implementation Guidelines. Do you have any sense of how the cOAlition viewed those ideas (e.g., the concept of sister journals)? How does this notion of “transformative publisher” relate to your previous comments?
Our idea of conceptualizing the “Transformative Publisher” was born out of both positive and negative reaction to our response to Plan S. It talks directly to our first recommendation which focuses on the need to increase demand from authors and funders for OA and the need for all participants to better communicate the benefits of publishing OA. This was received positively and A Faster Path to an Open Future seeks to detail how this might be achieved.
It is also a response to our third recommendation which asked Plan S participants to think again on their opposition to hybrid journals. It’s fair to say that this, and our alternative suggestion of sister journals, was not received positively. So we decided we needed to take a step back and consider whether another alternative approach existed.
You know that I myself couldn’t see how sister journal wasn’t another name for mirror journal. Now I’m wondering if “transformative journal” isn’t just another name for “hybrid journal”? What turns a hybrid journal into a transformative journal in your model?
The difference is less with construct of the journal but with the intent that sits behind it and, as a result, the related commitments. Hybrids were great at rapidly increasing the number of journals in which an author could publish OA (the “supply”), but publishers saw that as the end of their responsibility. This is why I say in my blog that we were too passive.
Transformative journals, and transformative publishing, is about not only growing the supply but increasing the demand – and quickly! Specifically:
- Promoting the benefits of OA by providing comprehensive OA-option metrics to authors of primary research articles prior to submission, at submission, and during the peer-review process to maximize the uptake of the OA option. This promotion would be via online reports, seminars, and webinars.
- Updating authors regularly on their articles’ usage, citations, and references in order to showcase the advantages of OA publishing and encourage uptake of the OA option in future submissions to that transformative journal.
- Providing annual public reports on the greater benefits of OA article usage and citations compared with other content published in these transformative journals and utilizing this data in wider promotion of OA benefits.
If we are to genuinely speed up the transition and ensure there are enough journals to meet what we hope will be a significantly increased demand, then repurposing existing journals is the most cost-effective and time-efficient solution. To properly explain it we need to move away from how we are used to categorizing journals. The transformative journal concept is one which could, and we would argue should, apply to all journals in a publishers’ portfolio that have yet to become fully OA. Yes, it would include what are currently hybrid journals, but could also include highly selective subscription journals. This is about getting all journals actively on the path to OA at a time when the current framework is making it difficult for some to get started, such as Nature.
A key component of the draft Implementation Guidelines is that transformative agreements, from 2020 onward, must include a date definite conversion of journals to open access. This framework does not include date definite conversion. Why not?
Simply because too many of the factors needed to achieve full transition to OA are out of our control and, for that matter, outside of anyone’s control, including the members of cOAlition S. The proposal on which we are seeking comment will, we think, significantly speed up OA but does not require firm commitments from other funding bodies globally as to when they plan to fund OA, if indeed if they do plan to. As a global publisher we need to ensure all researchers, no matter who they are funded by or what academic discipline they are in, are able to be published.
Especially given the lack of time definite conversion of titles, some might suggest that you are seeking to derail Plan S with this proposal; however, I suspect you would say you are attempting to illustrate a possible path forward for implementing the principles that is operationally feasible. How would you respond to your critics?
We are looking to do the exact opposite. Currently, we seem to be in a log jam.
We think that some of Plan S’s original principles and requirements are incompatible with a faster, sustainable move to OA. They also risk undermining a healthy and diverse research publishing system where learned societies and university presses have successfully competed against commercial publishers of all sizes.
With this proposal we are seeking to break this log jam and address three main issues that we believe are holding back the transition to OA:
- Speed. The transition to OA needs to move faster.
- Demand. Authors have to want to publish OA, funders have to want to fund it, and institutions and consortia have to be willing to adapt their spending to enable it.
- Supply. There must be enough journals that publish OA across all the academic disciplines that are trusted by authors.
For competition reasons, we can’t convene a meeting with other publishers about this directly as it could be seen as collusion but we are hoping that by publicly sharing our proposals we surface the views and concerns of others.
What is your motivation for putting out these developing/nascent ideas to the community for comment?
If you believe, as we do, that primary research should be open to all as soon as possible so others can read it, use it, and build on it to accelerate future discoveries and, if you believe, as we do, that the bigger prize for scientific endeavor is open science and open research, then it is in all our interests to move as quickly as possible towards full open access. We hope that by putting out our thinking others will be encouraged to help improve it and ultimately commit with us to make it happen.