Four Chefs were in attendance at last week’s Academic Publishing in Europe meeting in Berlin, and at least one other Chef was following the proceedings via Twitter. What follow are brief impressions, take-aways, and notable points from the perspective of each.
In the few years that I have been attending APE it has not failed to bring together people with varying opinions and perspectives that are not afraid to share them. While that was true to some extent this year, there was also a noticeable change in tenor. In many ways commercial publishers were singing a very similar tune, all in support of Open Access.
This was certainly the case during the session on Driving Research Data. The panelists included Grace Baynes from Springer Nature, Chris Graf from Wiley, Joris van Rossum representing the STM Association, and Niamh O’Connor from PLOS, and it was chaired by Eefke Smit.
After a robust session discussing the value of having policies requiring data sharing, which included an increase in data statements, data availability, and data citation, Roger Schonfeld asked the panelists what the business case was for pursuing research data at all. The panelists offered very thoughtful responses on the value of data sharing to researchers and to research at large. Every respondent (commercial or not for profit) also spoke of mission alignment.
While mission alignment is critical, my view is that publishers cannot afford NOT to pursue research data, since it is a crucial part of the research process and scholarly communication overall. As Roger pointed out, much more precisely than I did, it’s also a matter of determining what business you’re in. And, I would add, what impact you hope to have.
There’s an infamous story about the failure of the American Locomotive Company (ALCo), one of the 200 largest companies in the US in 1945. It was so wedded to steam locomotion that it had great difficulty evolving to support the growth of diesel locomotives. It was a steam locomotive producer culturally, not a transportation provider!
The two questions this case requires us to ask ourselves are:
- What business are we in? Are we defining our business by our current product? Or do we focus on a core mission/business and create products and services to support that?
- Is our internal culture wedded to our current products? If so, how can we shift that culture?
If our objective is to advance scholarly communication, research data cannot be ignored. Of course, our investments and efforts need to be commensurate with our current and potential capabilities (and/or those whom we may partner), but it’s a rung on the ladder that we must climb.
While there were many wonderful presentations at APE, touching on everything from open science and open data to China and Projekt Deal, the presentation that will be most lasting came from EU open access envoy Jean-Claude Burgelman. He spoke in deeply competitive terms about Europe’s scientific sector. Specifically, he spoke about China and the US as competitors (also collaborators), and the need for Europe to avoid “hesitation” and transform to stay in the competition.
Burgelman’s reflections on failed nationally supported champion services and companies, such as Minitel and Nokia, provided a window into the anxiety that can be felt in understanding the success of the US and China — but not Europe – in much of the consumer internet sector. While there are smaller European players, there is nothing on the scale of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, or Facebook — not to mention tencent, Baidu, or Alibaba.
Burgelman’s proposed solution is a “pan European effort” on scientific innovation. He proposes a single platform containing free access to scientific information with funded fees for “value added services.” And he believes that the current revenues devoted to scholarly publishing are reasonable and should simply be reallocated. Whether such a solution is realistic in the market — yet alone the best way to keep Europe competitive — is far from clear to me.
But his talk was eye-opening in its combination of competitive geopolitical influence with entirely non-market thinking. While this EU perspective is hardly reflective of the European publishing sector, it is a force with which the sector surely wrestles.
[Note: Roger also wrote a more in-depth piece in response to the APE meeting in the Kitchen a few days ago.]
The most notable presentation for me at APE this year was that of Dr. Frank Sander, Managing Director of MPDL Services. MPDL is a new organization operating under the broad umbrella of the Max Planck Society for managing Projekt DEAL (The “MP” in “MPDL”is for “Max Planck”). Max Planck, via MPDL, has taken on the administration of the consortium. The amount of administration required on the consortium side (which is separate from, and additive to, the administration required on the publisher’s side) to manage such a deal is truly staggering. MPDL is responsible for tracking which institutions authors are affiliated with and then invoicing institutions accordingly. Institutions both contribute to the MPDL pot of funds at the beginning of the year and then at the end of the year there is a true-up process described by Dr. Sander.
Two things struck me about this arrangement, neither of which was actually part of Dr. Sander’s presentation. The first is that Projekt DEAL may not as yet have solved the “buckets of money” problem (which is my term for money for a deal being in the wrong places). The true-up process described by Dr. Sander has not yet happened (the first such true-up will take place at the end of 2020) and the research-intensive universities in the consortium have already voiced concerns. This press release from the German U15, for example, notes that (translation):
…we are concerned that the change in the cost calculation from subscription to publications can result in considerable additional financial burdens for universities with a high level of research and publication. We therefore need a new and fair financing solution in the future that will allow scientists at universities with strong research to continue to publish at the highest, internationally competitive level.
The second thing that struck me is that MPDL must be staffed with professional accountants and other administrators. While Dr. Sander did not discuss the number of staff being hired, I have heard it is several dozen. These staff must, of course, be funded. In addition to paychecks and benefits, they require office space, computers, coffee machines, and so forth. The costs for staff and overheads associated with MPDL are not trivial. Whether these costs (which cannot yet be fully known as it is early days for the consortium and Publish and Read) are paid via levying an additional administrative fee on to each published paper or some other mechanism, they add substantively to the overall costs of the program – above and beyond any fees paid to publishers.
Institutions rushing to Publish and Read deals may wish to pause to study Projekt DEAL (among other consortia) in the fullness of time as the full costs become better known and the challenge of allocating funds between research intensive universities and other institutions with less research intensity plays out via several “true-up” cycles.
During a conference that was unusually dense in its offerings — and I mean that in an entirely positive sense, in that good and complex ideas flowed in unusual profusion — I found myself writing ideas, responses, and private follow-up questions furiously. Questions I wrote to myself, for possible follow-up later, included:
- How will we reconcile the need to account for regional economic variation with our general antipathy towards price discrimination?
- Given the vanishingly small number of business innovations that succeed, isn’t the “H factor” (hesitation, much derided by one of the APE presenters) more of a feature than a bug?
- Does everyone (especially scientists) agree that “integrity, reproducibility, openness, and public engagement” constitute “the fundamental values of science”?
But among all of the stimulating and fascinating ideas that were mooted during the APE meeting, two in particular really struck me. One was a bit of statistical data that came during the talk by Lin Peng, in which he shared some basic data about publishing in China that took me by surprise (probably because I haven’t been paying sufficient attention to that sector up until now). He showed us a slide that gave a rough breakdown of some Chinese publishing data, including the facts that there are now over 5,000 Chinese STM journals, 31% of which publish in basic science, 45% in applied technology, and 24% in medicine and healthcare. How many of them are published in English? 330. That’s worth thinking about for any number of reasons — one of them being our tendency, in the global West, to talk and think as if English-language STM publishing is all that matters.
Also striking, to me, was an assertion made by Richard Horton, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Lancet. In the course of a bracing and inspiring talk, he said the following: “The debate about Plan S is actually a debate about the very future of scientific publication, and we should be much clearer about that.” I couldn’t agree more.
The last word goes to a Chef who wasn’t able to attend in person, but who was carefully following the discussion on Twitter — thus giving her a somewhat different perspective on the proceedings:
With limited travel funds but expansive interests, I’m always grateful when there is a robust hashtag feed for a conference that I was unable to attend though it was of great interest. Following along on Twitter, of course, has the potential to skew one’s sense of an event as what gets Tweeted is necessarily filtered through the attention of those who are Tweeting and missing out on the nonverbal communication that happens onsite is also a limitation. Nonetheless, with these caveats, I can say that the APE 2020 meeting covered fascinating and timely topics, presented by exactly the leaders one would want to hear from. Given my own essays posted here on The Scholarly Kitchen, no one will be surprised to hear I was particularly interested in those sessions on transformative agreements and Plan S.
Transformative agreements have definitely come into their own in the past year after a many-year lead up of work by those associated with the OA2020 initiative among others. I believe those agreements were given a boost by the opportunity for publishers to rehabilitate hybrid journals into compliance with Plan S, in spite of its “no hybrid” dictate, by signing such deals.
Alicia Wise’s talk on the pricing transparency project also caught my attention, though Plan S leadership has not endorsed the frameworks.
What I did not hear is any interest in Europe in wresting away control of the scholarly publishing system from the existing commercial leaders and there is relatively little attention to containing prices, given Plan S is no longer seeking to cap APCs. This comment from Ralf Schimmer is particularly striking: “we want to destroy the subscription system, but I’ve never said we want to destroy the publishers.” This perspective seems to me significantly different than the dialogue I hear in the United States where open access is often hoped to be a mechanism for weakening the hold that large publishing houses have on the market.
I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to browse the hashtag for APE 2020: #AcadAPE (and also the one that emerged by popular use: #APE2020).
13 Thoughts on "The Kitchen at the APE: Five Chefs Share Takeaways from the 2020 Academic Publishing in Europe Conference"
Please note that edited video recordings of all APE 2020 sessions are being produced. We are hindered by the fact that a production computer as well as several laptops on Tuesday afternoon were stolen. But photographer Edwin de Kemp used three digital camera’s and he was able to archive most of what was recorded.
Responding on behalf of cOAlition S, we are pleased with progress on the price transparency project that Alicia Wise spoke about at APE and delighted to see all stakeholders engage in the development of this transparency pricing framework.
A pilot of the framework is underway with the following publishers: Annual Reviews, Brill, The Company of Biologists, EMBO Press, European Respiratory Society, F1000 Research, Hindawi, IOP Press, PLOS, and SpringerNature.
We would also like to understand from librarians how they will use more transparent OA price data when available, and a workshop focused on this will take place at the Researcher to Reader conference in London on February 24 & 25.
Based on the outcome of this pilot, cOAlition S will decide how to use this framework, or a refinement of it, together with other models for inclusion in the requirement for those journals where Plan S requirements apply.
But it it correct that you are not seeking to limit APCs? I read some of the earlier press, eg https://forbetterscience.com/2019/06/11/researchers-reject-apc-based-oa-publishing-as-promoted-by-plan-s/
That was a big shift, and researchers will not be be happy with at all [I am one, as well as an editor of a free journal]. It also leave the big five publishers able to dominate as before. I though the whole point of Plan S was to bring about change: not shift commercial profits from subscription journals to high APCs charged by the same players. This actually makes researchers worse off financially, and university library budgets perhaps a little better off.
Reminder that to have no university support for publishing charges, and no grant money for publishing, is the norm rather the exception.
Here my comment to Rick Anderson’s part on China’s publishing industry:
Please refer to Xu Jie et al. in Learned Publishing, 2018, doi: 10.1002/leap.1198. Some interesting views and data are given there. Also see my own contribution on Nov 19, 2019 on TSK!
“Chinese evaluation metrics and systems” seem to be in the make, too, which will harm the current US-controlled SCI / SSCI metrics as the (only?) key measure to evaluate scientific impact of the researchers, we publishers do serve. Certainly in China it will! One can only speculate on the future of these 5000 Chinese language STM journals (plus all those 1000s in H-SS as well). I believe translating at least the most relevant ones may become less evident, from the Chinese perspective. Are there any bets out there about the status of English as the lingua franca in science?
The price transparency project will be explored further in a 3-part workshop led by Alicia Wise at the upcoming Researcher to Reader Conference in London on 24-25 February. (Disclosure, I lead this event.)
Great to hear. Will there be a report out of the workshop at R2R?
Each of the 5 parallel R2R workshops delivers a very brief verbal report to the plenary session toward the end of the 2nd day. Whether a more complete report is produced is up to the workshop facilitators and participants. We are always very pleased when an R2R workshop results in practical outcomes, whether those are blog posts, reports or follow-up meetings, all of which have occurred in the past.
I hope you can encourage a full report but … will there be a livestream or recording of the plenary at the end to at least share out the verbal report?
Hi Lisa – Chris Banks and I are facilitating the workshop at R2R. It forms part of the price transparency framework pilot, and there will be a report and recommendations to cOAlition S flowing from the workshop as part of the project. With best wishes, Alicia
While it is exciting to see such keen interest around the transformative agreements of Projekt DEAL, some fact checking of Michael’s report is in order.
To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be clarified that the Max Planck Society, as a member of the Alliance of Science Organisations behind Projekt DEAL, instituted MPDL Services GmbH, an affiliate of the Max Planck Digital Library, as a 100% subsidiary of the Society to act as the contracting party for the DEAL agreements and to manage its implementation.
As the contracting party, MPDL Services GmbH is managing all of the invoicing and payment streams between the institutions and the publisher, as is customary for many national-level licensing consortia.
MPDL Services GmbH is also responsible for operations related to institutional onboarding and workflow set-up. While a number of German libraries have extensive experience in managing central agreements and workflows with fully OA publishers, the DEAL agreement represents a unique opportunity for others to become acclimated to this new environment. Workflows are streamlined to enable MPDL Services GmbH or the relevant librarians of the author’s institution to verify author affiliations in the publishing process via publisher dashboards.
As for overhead and administration, readers can be reassured that Michael’s assumptions grossly overestimate the true entity. MPDL Services GmbH operates within a tiny fraction of the standard overhead allowances of other projects, such as DFG-funded national licensing or open access initiatives.
Thank you for this additional background context Colleen. Though nothing you have said contradicts anything I wrote. If I have overestimated the overheads, perhaps you can provide accurate information about the number of people that MPDL employs, including any planned hires in 2020? It would also be helpful to better understand how MPDL will be funded and what administrative fees might be levied by MPDL.
Michael, my comment was meant to provide more factual grounding and preciseness around some of the conjecture presented in your coverage. MPDL Services GmbH, as the operating entity for the DEAL agreements, is accountable to the Alliance of German Research Organizations and German research institutions at large, and there is a proper governance and accounting structure in place for all DEAL operations. The books for 2019 have not yet been closed, and once this is done, there will be accurate reporting in the appropriate formats and venues, also for public consumption.
For the time being, let me just reiterate that your speculation of “several dozen” is grossly exaggerated. As I pointed out before, the operations related to implementing the DEAL agreements are not unlike the processes and transactions of any other very large consortium, where a handful of professionals can make all the difference.