“After 2024, we will be encouraging institutional libraries and large consortia to switch from ‘read and publish’ agreements with publishers to ‘pure publish’ deals for portfolios of subscription journals that have become open-access journals.”
And, with that, a new term found its way into the lexicon of open access (OA) vocabulary: pure publish.
Whether it is optimistic to look forward to pure publish agreements in 2024 that are comprised of subscription journals that have been flipped to open, the concept is a useful one. Though not defined by Røttingen and Sweeney, by the context provided, it would seem that a contract is a pure publish agreement if the agreed payment enables an institution’s authors to publish in fully open access journals. Such journals are also known as Gold journals, perhaps because all articles in such journals are Gold open access articles.
The notion of a pure publish agreement has been emerging for some time even if it hadn’t been named previously. Some of the transformative agreements that have been discussed as read and publish (or publish and read) in actuality also include a pure publish component. For example, the Wiley/DEAL agreement includes both a publish and read component for hybrid titles as well as a pure publish component for Wiley’s fully open journals. The Springer/DEAL agreement has the same component for Springer journals that are fully open. In both cases, DEAL authors are entitled to a 20% discount on APCs in fully open access journals. Stockholm University is particularly notable for the number of pure publish agreements it has made.
Yesterday’s announcement of a new PLOS/University of California agreement and the recent agreement between Frontiers/Duke University have brought further attention to the notion of pure publish contracts and raised awareness that pure publish agreements are already possible. Instead of shifting existing payments to a publisher away from subscription-based reading and towards open access publishing, as is done in a transformative agreement, a library can allocate funds directly to pure open access publishing. It is not necessary to wait for the subscription publishers to change their business model or to pair a pure publish component with a read and publish component in a transformative agreement. Fully open access publishers exist and are prepared to make pure publish agreements with libraries.
For a fully open access publisher, such as PLOS, moving to pure publish agreements represents the opportunity to evolve away from the individual payment APC model and address at least some of the inequities inherent in that model. Sara Rouhi, Director of Strategic Partnerships at PLOS, explained to me:
“The new models we’re developing are intended to move us towards our ultimate vision of a fully open research ecosystem in which APCs are not a barrier to publishing for anyone, anywhere. As one of the original founders on the APC-model we recognize how important they have been, but also that this vision is impossible with APCs alone.”
Additionally, pure publish agreements, whether through discounting APCs or by implementing a flat fee that enables unlimited publishing over a particular time period, offer the chance to improve payment management and smooth administrative workflows by centralizing processes within a university or consortia.
Ivy Anderson, Director for the Collection Development and Management Program of the California Digital Library, shared that,
“we think it’s mission-critical to support a diverse range of open access publishing choices, both to support our public mission and to encourage a healthy and diverse publishing ecosystem that creates competition and can ultimately help to restrain or even reduce costs over time.”
She went on to say that,
“native open access publishers have led the OA revolution, but they risk being negatively impacted by a focus on large scale OA agreements with the big publishers … we hope this will serve as a signal to all stakeholders in the scholarly publishing community that we are not privileging large subscription publishers in our approach to open access transformation.”
Of course, these pure publish agreements do present a financial challenge. Unlike read and publish/publish and read transformative agreements, in which existing subscription spend is re-allocated to support publishing with the same publishers, with a pure publish agreement a library is taking on an additional contract and an additional financial obligation.
Libraries have employed a variety of different strategies to address this situation. Jeff Kosokoff, Assistant University Librarian for Collection Strategy at the Duke University Libraries, annually allocates funds off the top of the collections budget for open access support and so was able to use those funds when researchers suggested the Frontiers contract to the libraries. Wilhelm Widmark, Library Director of Stockholm University, shared with me that he uses savings created by making process improvements that reduce the need for staff expenditures in order to fund publishing payments through reallocation. Similarly, Anderson indicated that UC libraries have identified funding for the PLOS agreement within existing budgets but also added that the “longer term plan is to use redirected subscription funds for this kind of OA publishing support.”
There is also the question for libraries of how to determine which pure publish contracts to pursue. Fully open access publishers have not developed a library sales division in their organizations and, in most cases, rely on researchers advocating for such contracts with their libraries. The Frontiers/Duke contract was the result of a researcher’s recommendation as was the JMIR Publications/UC agreement.
Libraries will need to develop strategies that are less opportunistic and more intentional. Widmark reports that Stockholm University has indeed done so by pursuing arrangements with the publishers with whom their researchers publish most frequently, specifically MDPI, PLOS, Copernicus and Frontiers. As pure publish agreements specifically and library-funded open access publishing more generally continues to grow, one can imagine that the criteria for determining which publishers to pursue for contracts will become more complex and include metrics related to quality and responsiveness. Perhaps such open access publishing services will eventually be acquired through tendering processes.
As pure publish agreements specifically and library-funded open access publishing more generally continues to grow, one can imagine that the criteria for determining which publishers to pursue for contracts will become more complex and include metrics related to quality and responsiveness.
For open access publishers, pure publish agreements with libraries also create new expectations not only for workflow management but also for new kinds of reports. PLOS, for example, is currently investing in the creating anew or upgrading and rightsizing existing systems, processes, and infrastructure to support library customers as their internal systems and processes were currently developed around a different kind of business model — one that focused entirely on authors and micropayments. PLOS plans to roll out more streamlined and automated library invoicing and reporting (including COUNTER-compliant usage stats) and is building custom reporting and dedicated consultation time with consortia that require more in-depth analysis of how their authors are submitting and publishing, how much they’re spending, etc. In this effort, Rouhi observed, “partners across the industry have been invaluable, particularly our library collaborators.” Other open access publishers can anticipate facing similar demands from libraries as part of pure publish agreements.
Whether subscription publishers flip their journals to open access by 2024, at which point “Coalition S funders will contribute to financing such deals,” or not, libraries are already pursuing pure publish agreements that enable scholars to publish in fully open access journals. Whether through full author subvention (as is the case with Stockholm University) or though a multi-payer model (as implemented by the University of California), pure publish agreements provide library support for publishing in fully open access journals and with fully open access publishers. How these pure publish agreements evolve in the coming years will be an important component of the development of sustainable business models for open access. I’ll be tracking these developments and writing more about their strategic implications in the coming year.