Last August, John-Arne Røttingen and David Sweeney, co-leads of the task force that developed the Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S, published a letter in Nature that stated: 

“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. 

Painting: A Path Among The Rocks
A Path Among the Rocks by Théodore Rousseau, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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. 

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library and affiliate faculty in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. lisahinchliffe.com

Discussion

6 Thoughts on "The “Pure Publish” Agreement"

Thanks for another great post, Lisa. The first thing that struck me as I read it is that similar support already exists on a much smaller scale in at least some libraries — i.e., those that have open access publishing funds available to their faculty and students, as we do at Emory. Like many libraries, we only support articles that will be published in fully OA journals that are indexed in DOAJ or meet similar quality standards, and our fund will pay one APC per faculty member or student per fiscal year up to $1500. If the APC exceeds that amount, it’s up to the applicant to find funding to cover the difference. We have no requirement in place that the applicant be the first author on the article, and the vast majority of articles that we fund have two or more authors, often with one or more outside Emory. This last statement gets to the point of my post: How will these new pure publish agreements deal with articles with several authors across several institutions? Have you heard anything about this very common situation?

So far, in both Pure Publish and Transformative Agreements, the model seems to be that the institutional support follows on a person being the corresponding author. And, of course, the corresponding author may or may not be the first author. This is, it seems, because that is how the publisher can then route the request for payment (or report the publication under an “all you can publish” approach). Needless to say, one can immediately imagine many scenarios under which is this complicated and perhaps even problematic. I would note, however, that this approach has been in place even under the offsetting agreements that preceded the current generation of Transformative and Pure Publish agreements and so I suspect it has been found to work “well enough” (at least for the time being). I am certain, however, we will see more complex schemes emerge over time re partial payments, multi-institution payment, etc. And, I suspect authors will be very confused and frustrated if they perceive that such are delaying the time to publication. Great questions!

Thanks Lisa, I have been waiting for this topic! I have some questions for librarians:

1. For John-Arne Røttingen and David Sweeney and regarding their quote ““After 2024, we will be encouraging institutional libraries and large consortia to switch .. to ‘pure publish’ deals“: Why “pure publishing” agreements only in 2024 and not start with them NOW? Why is the Coalition S debate – which has a clear policy objective of 100% open access -, centered around transformative agreements for the next 4 years, rather than starting with pure publishing agreements as the logical first step? Why not encourage pure OA deals first, by funding innovative and disruptive OA publishers first, creating frameworks, best practices, selection criteria, model contracts for these pure OA deals and pure OA publishers NOW, to complement transformative agreements with “pure” OA agreements? (I am using the hashtag #OAfirst to campaign for that).

2. For Wilhelm Widmark regarding the quote “Stockholm University has ..[been] pursuing arrangements with the publishers with whom their researchers publish most frequently” : Why is your criterion “quantity” rather than “quality” to pick your publishers/journals? Why not use quality metrics to decide which OA publishers or journals you support? Isn’t that what you also do when you pick subscription journals? Isn’t that a classic role for librarians?

3. For Lisa: I couldn’t agree more when you write “Libraries will need to develop strategies that are less opportunistic and more intentional. ” – but do you have any suggestions for how to achieve this? Is the Stockholm model (“let’s support the big OA publishers first”) any less opportunistic than making TA deals with the big legacy publishers? Do you now understand better where I am coming from when I am arguing that the procurement practices of libraries supporting open access seem to violate procurement laws as well as laws of common sense? (I was “ranting” on that at http://gunther-eysenbach.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-insanity-and-probably-illegality-of.html)). The post triggered your Scholarly Kitchen blog about bidding at https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2020/01/28/transformative-agreements-violate-procurement-requirements/) – but to clarify, I do not necessarily think that bidding is the answer, given the immense burden this would put on smaller publishers. Rather, I am proposing to put that burden indeed back on the librarians’ shoulder. Isn’t that the core of the librarian role, to be the arbiter for information quality? Shouldn’t then quality be the main criterion, not quantity? And I am saying that with first-hand knowledge of a small publisher who has been starving to make such agreements for years (because we hate the APC model, which rewards open access publishers for quantity and wrongly implies low quality), and the first and only question from libraries we usually received so far are “how many articles are you publishing?” (and when we don’t publish enough we are rewarded by not being deemed big and worthy enough to make a deal with). Ahh, this would have been such a good debate at SSP… Especially because we have ideas how to solve them..

G. Eysenbach
Publisher @ JMIR Publications

Conflict of interests: Too many to list here (search Scholarly Kitchen for my name, Phil Davis loves to write about my inventions and conflicts such as open access citation advantage, JMIR, TwimpactFactor, TrendMD), but among the most significant are: I am OA pioneer with 20 years of OA publishing experience, a cofounder of OASPA (currently also on the OA Switchboard advisory board), I am publisher at JMIR Publications – we are lucky enough having to made the very first deal with the University of California, as you mentioned. And I believe this was a rare decision to prioritize quality over quantity. Will other libraries follow? My COI is that I hope they do!

I wish I could see in this correspondence any concern with the wishes of the researcher community. They are obviously – I would have thought – the most important stakeholder. Is Gunther saying that in medicine his journals are “quality” comparing them with the many excellent journals owned by learned societies. Is this on the basis of his high impact factors?(https://www.jmir.org/announcement/view/161). I am not criticising Lisa because once again she has highlighted an important development.

What researchers most frequently mention when discussing “journal quality” is impact, fast turnaround, and a constructive review and editing processes, as confirmed in many studies – and we know from our author feedback that we are doing something right if we get consistent 5-star ratings on these dimensions (see SciRev or Google ratings https://www.google.ca/search?q=JMIR+Publications,+130+Queens+Quay+E+Suite+1100,+Toronto,+ON+M5A+0P6&ludocid=13285601727994265851#lrd=0x882b34c9e7c8ab21:0xb85ff061a86a00fb,1). I didn’t mention the journal impact factor specifically in my response, but this metric (while I don’t endorse its’ misuse for research assessment of individual researchers) remains (I assume) a valuable tool for librarians to make purchasing decisions – be it subscriptions or APC funding decisions [if Clarivate would only get its’ act together and index new journals in a more timely manner!]. Regardless, what criteria librarians should use (vs currently using) when selecting OA journals/publishers is exactly the question, and my point is that I don’t see much discussion on that (Coalition S apparently being all focussed on “transformative agreements”) and some librarians using “publishers with whom their researchers publish most frequently” as a metric, which is problematic as well, as it is confounded by the size of the publisher, creating yet another unfair advantage for big publishers and facilitating consolidation of the publishing landscape.

Gunther Eysenbach
publisher @ jmirpublications.com

So, it takes libraries time and resources to enter into a contract. There is only so much time available to do this work. If the same amount of effort means that 500 articles are covered per year vs another agreement that would only cover 50 per year, that has to enter into a library’s consideration of where it spends its time. Every strategy/criteria is problematic in some way. That’s why this requires careful thought and intetionality. I would doubt that we will see every library adopting the same approach and I doubt every publisher will be happy with every approach.

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