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.”

Cantley: Wherries Waiting for the Turn of the Tide, Art Institute of Chicago

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 While the cOAlition rebuffed Springer Nature’s recommendations in their first response to the draft guidance, perhaps this second attempt will find a receptive audience?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.

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.


13 Thoughts on "If At First You Don’t Succeed … Make Another Response to Plan S?"

I skimmed the document “Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S.” I’m not clear on the economic mechanisms that are supposed to underlie this plan. There are of course major differences between the European and American environments. OA discussions have been going on for, what, two decades? What is special or more promising about Plan S than the many other schemes that have been proposed?
Btw, there is intriguing, late-breaking comment to yesterday’s posting concerning the UC system.
“Apparently Elsevier now has begun limiting access by German universities that have canceled their subscriptions the last few years as part of Project Deal, many of which have been without a contract with Elsevier for quite some time now, but Elsevier has kept the access open for.
That is likely a dry run on what is to happen with UC, too.”
Fascinating. To repeat here my reply to that posting: why not use this as a test case to discern how a deliberate contraction of journal access would play out? Perhaps this will provide a useful laboratory to test how well researchers can find alternative means of accessing research.
Are there potentials here for coordinated, active efforts to contract the journals market? This may be a much more promising route than OA efforts that have been going on for years, without impacting the price regime.
Hopefully German universities will actively discourage reliance on SciHub and support legal and ethical ways to find alternative modes of distributing and access research. If the news about Germany is correct, universities there can play a leadership role in promoting access without reliance on SciHub.
Maybe the market will contract the journals market anyhow, given the inability of university budgets to continue bankrolling subscriptions to so many journals, and given the great unknowns associated with continued schemes for shifting the burden of high pricing to APCs and funding agencies. That seems more likely than any other scenario at this point.
In relation to all this, I’m curious how this is playing out:
…or similar experiences, in terms of burdening interlibrary loan or in researcher ability to find surrogate, legally accessible OA versions of research.
In any event, we may be entering a salutary phase of Schumpeterian creative destruction, precipitated by inability of universities to continue sustaining the current system, economically speaking.
Maybe it won’t require coordinated action and maybe the market will take care of the situation. But it will happen quite incrementally.
“May you live in interesting times”.

I have published with Springer Nature before. The Nature branded journals in particular have better copyright terms than most publishers – 6 month self-archiving and automatic permission to reuse your figures (yes, it’s still crazy that we need permission to reuse our own work). And they provide a link that authors can use to give anyone access to the work. So as far as the major publishers go, I like their OA credentials.

But their plan to push hybrid journals faster is rubbish and they should know it. There have been papers on how basically no one pays hybrid open access fees. Publishers who offset their subscription fees based on hybrid OA uptake report maybe 5% of OA uptake. It just doesn’t happen.

There’s a very simple reason. Almost all of the value we derive from the publication is the fact we have gotten the publication in that particular journal. The journal’s prestige and IF can now be added to our CV. If we want to boost the paper’s citations, we can self-archive or promote the paper on social media, but most of us don’t try very hard with that – less than 30% of papers are self-archived even though it costs between 15 minutes and an hour to self-archive. Does anyone really expect authors to start paying $3000 to do something we can’t even be bothered spending an hour on?

These comments by “Springer Author” raise questions about the reliance on APCs present in yesterday’s posting about the Berkeley stance on these issues.

“Transformative journals” seems a synonym for “hybrid journals,” which have already shown intent by creating, providing and promoting the hybrid model. This model is particularly important for disciplines without significant funding within the discipline. Is “transformative” the Emperor’s new clothes? What am I missing here?

Carolyn, I don’t know for sure what you might be missing but perhaps that the Plan S creators have said that they will not provide funding for publications in hybrid journals?

Just who is going to pay OA charges? Surely, not the person who penned the paper!

Regarding copyright. Publishers have been willing to let the author have it because they realize there is little value in it! Now it is the responsibility of the author to defend the copyright or as many have acknowledged not to do so because there is no value in it! Thus, has the copyright clause become an artifact which will just be removed from contracts!

JRS said that it stands for nothing and then also that it stood for shock etc. Some people think it might stand for Smits. I don’t think it really matters.

In a way I’d argue that it does matter. After all, if it means “shock”, this possibly describes something telling about the expectations, wishes, or modus operandi of the originators of the plan.

Ok. You’ll just have to find someone else to argue with. I think there is plenty of other data on expectations, wishes etc to rely on without worrying about whether the S stands for something literally, metaphorically, or whatever.

It is absolutely clear to state that the most major actors which call themselves as a popular promoters of OA, do not have a clear vision of the future of OA publishing. For example, DOAJ recently made a statement as a response to the Royal History Society. The RHS paper states that ‘relatively low quality standards of the OA journals in DOAJ suggest that these outlets lack staff, expertise and/or funding to undertake essential editorial work (of which English prose enhancement forms only one example)’ (page 20). What does it mean? It means that DOAJ should provide more solid structure of Editors and process of reviewing the journals for inclusion journals in DOAJ. Who are these Editors of DOAJ (and reviewers too)? What is their background? What is their reputation? What are their prof. achievements? If all the scholarly journal should disclose this info about their Editorial Boards to be called responsible and reputable, why DOAJ does not follow the same behaviour? I expect that the major problem is a lack of competent experts in this context to review the new journals to be included in DOAJ. Probably, this is the major concern of the Royal History Society and others. To be turstworthy in this way, an actor should be absolutely competent, and a clear vision of the furture of OA is one of the keys of such competence.

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