Back in January, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced a pilot to allow authors funded by cOAlition S organizations that have adopted the Plan S Rights Retention Strategy to place a CC BY or a CC BY-ND license on their accepted manuscripts and to share them without embargo.
Specifically, the AAAS License to Publish states that
“AAAS licenses back the following rights to the Author in the version of the cOAlition S Funded Work that has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication, (the “Accepted Version”) but not the final, copyedited and proofed version published by AAAS (the “Final Published Version”): The right to self-archive and distribute the Accepted Version under either a CC BY 4.0 license or a CC BY-ND license, including on the Author’s personal website, in the Author’s company/institutional repository or archive, and in not for profit subject-based repositories such as PubMed Central, without embargo but only following publication of the Final Published Version.”
This policy applies across all of the AAAS journals, one of which is a fully gold open access journal (which was thus already a compliant outlet for Plan S) and five that are are subscription only (which therefore offered no compliant pathway for Plan S prior to the policy). The pilot policy does not move the five journals into hybrid status as no gold open access option is offered. AAAS is sticking with the subscription model.
The announcement of the pilot policy was widely reported on and was welcomed by cOAlition S in a special statement. Since that time, representatives of cOAlition S have repeatedly praised the AAAS policy in webinars and the like. This celebratory response has been a bit puzzling to me. Plan S aims to flip the publishing system to gold open access, with its various leaders often decrying the lack of progress in the two decades since the Budapest Open Access Initiative statement. Specifically, Plan S states that, “the subscription-based model of scientific publishing, including its so-called ‘hybrid’ variants, should therefore be terminated.”
Yet in this case, cOAlition S is praising a publisher that is holding fast to the subscription-based model of closed publishing. And doing so even though this AAAS pilot policy is not a comprehensive route to compliance for Plan S since not all funders in the coalition have adopted the Rights Retention Strategy. Elsewhere I’ve observed that, over time, the implementation of Plan S has been marked by policies that “rehabilitate” journals into compliance. Is this another case of rehabilitation?
I had the opportunity to talk with Bill Moran, AAAS Publisher, about the strategy being pursued with this pilot policy. He explained to me that AAAS is staying committed to the subscription model and supporting green open access, which it has done for quite some time. He pointed out that all authors of articles in AAAS journals already retain their copyright and have many use rights of the accepted manuscript and final published versions. Any author may post their author manuscript on their personal website or in their institutional repository. Any author with a funder mandate to deposit in the funder’s archive or designated repository can do so after a six month embargo.
Under the announced pilot policy, an author funded by a cOAlition S organization that has mandated the Plan S Rights Retention Strategy gains the ability to apply one of the CC licenses specified by Plan S to their author manuscript and has the embargo restriction lifted. Though significant, these are less dramatic expansions of author rights via the Rights Retention Strategy than would be seen in other contexts.
AAAS will be evaluating this pilot policy to ensure that it does not have a negative impact on revenue or traffic to their platform. According to Moran, if the community supports the pilot by continuing subscriptions and engagement, it will be judged sustainable. If the pilot policy has negative impacts on revenue or traffic, it will be reconsidered.
With respect to the possibility of a hybrid future for these subscription titles, Moran expressed concern that gold open access fees would concentrate the cost burden on few authors relative to the distribution of the costs spread across the broad readership of the titles through subscriptions. In addition, moving to a hybrid model would increase their costs for managing the journals, including managing demand for offsetting agreements or more complex subscription pricing calculations in order to avoid double dipping, which is also complicated due to the amount of news and other non-research article content included in AAAS journals.
Via email, Johan Rooryck and Sally Rumsey, cOAlition S Executive Director and OA Expert respectively, acknowledged the concerns, writing: “Our enthusiasm for AAAS’s policy stems from the fact that they have been clear to authors, accepting submissions (and thereby AAMs) with a CC BY (or CC BY-ND) license, and recognizing that authors should retain their rights.”
They go on to state: “We also recognize it may be difficult for some publishers to flip to full Gold OA, and the RRS is a good way to test the waters and provide a Plan S compliant route without radically changing their business model. cOAlition S recognizes AAAS’s concern about inequities in ability to pay ‘gold’ OA fees, and its trial of the ‘green’ route as a realistic alternative for such authors – their ‘green’ trial thereby assisting their search for workable and equitable solutions to OA for all authors.”
Readers will recognize a far more conciliatory tone here than that of Robert Jan-Smits, original architect of Plan S, who somewhat famously said “Ik ga er als een bulldozer tegenaan.”*
Considerations for Other Publishers
The biggest take-away here is that relatively little accommodation of the multiple demands of cOAlition S may be required to be considered a good actor. AAAS is supporting only one of the three routes — Route 2: Subscription venues (repository route) — in the Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S and then only for authors funded by the cOAlition S organizations that have adopted the Rights Retention Strategy (currently 13 of the 25).
Authors funded by cOAlition S members that have not adopted the Rights Retention Strategy who check the AAAS journals in the Journal Checker Tool will see the message: “No, this combination is not compliant” and receive the advice to check an alternative journal, funder, or institution. This really comes down to “check an alternative journal” as the funder of the research cannot be changed for completed research and the institutional parameter does not come into play with the AAAS policy because there are no transformative arrangements for AAAS subscription journals as they do not offer gold open access publishing.
But, is there another important aspect of the AAAS strategy to consider if a publisher wants to garner such a positive response for relatively little accommodation of Plan S? It seems at least possible that this is a case of “catching more flies with honey than vinegar.” AAAS has notably stayed out of the fray of public critique of the Rights Retention Strategy or Plan S more generally. For example, AAAS is not a signatory to the STM statement of concern about the Rights Retention Strategy.
In contrast to the “negative” and “pessimistic” responses — as Rumsey terms them in her remarks in the Hive Seminar (timestamp 1:17:34 – note: the onscreen video captioning is more accurate than the transcript on the right) — she sees the AAAS pilot as “a really positive way forward because they are going to actually see how it works in practice.” Rumsey continues on saying that “this is really to be commended” and “I would say to any publisher out there ‘please, you know, think about doing that’ … it’s goodwill to authors.”
The prestige of one’s journals likely also impacts the Plan S pathways a publisher will pursue. AAAS journals are typically considered among the more prestigious. Science is in the trio of what are often characterized as tenure-making journals (Science, Nature, and Cell). Authors may be more likely to seek forgiveness for non-compliance with a funder mandate if they can publish in such a prestigious journal and some funders might be more likely to be understanding of this as well, regardless of their commitment to DORA in the context of researcher evaluation.
One can also imagine that journals with significant income from content aggregators (e.g., library full text databases) may choose the green route rather than enabling gold open access publishing as green does not carve out revenue from the aggregator stream in the way that gold may, though this may be less certain with author manuscripts licensed CC BY or CC BY-ND rather than CC BY-NC.
Additional dynamics for AAAS exist. Their flagship journal, Science, has almost 130,000 subscribers to the print edition. As such, Subscribe to Open, which is “another route to OA which Plan S supports” according to Rooryck and Rumsey, would be a significantly more complicated endeavor for AAAS journals than for those journals which have primarily institutional subscribers.
Any publisher seeking to create compliance routes for Plan S will do well to assess the business risks of any new policies and identify metrics to monitor. For AAAS, as Moran explained, the key indicators for their pilot are no change in revenue or platform traffic attributable to authors depositing their author manuscripts with no embargo and with CC BY or CC BY-ND licenses. For other publishers with a greater proportion of their articles coming from Plan S authors whose funders have not adopted the Rights Retention Strategy, the loss of those manuscripts may be too great a risk to take in competing for authors. They may thus choose to take on the added expense of negotiating transformative agreements with libraries and/or applying for transformative journal status with cOAlition S.
*Via Google Translate: “I’m going to hit it like a bulldozer.”