Plan S must consider researcher demand for OA

Springer Nature is passionate about and committed to Open Access (OA) publishing and the greater use of Open Science techniques because of the benefits they bring to the advancement of science and research. Our data shows OA articles attract greater citations, higher numbers of downloads, and increased wider impact.  This really matters and is why we agree with, and share, Plan S’ stated goal of accelerating the transition to full OA.

As an OA first mover who has been publishing more OA articles for longer and in more diverse ways than any other organisation in the world, we know the (multiple) challenges that need to be overcome to accelerate the take up of OA. We have tried many approaches, not all have worked, but through continued commitment and investment we have found a range of approaches that together are already supporting the growth of OA.

That is why the Plan S consultation which closed on Friday (8th February) has been so important. It has enabled us to really look at our business, properly reflect on our role as a global publisher committed to meeting the needs of all research, all researchers and all funders, and propose a set of recommendations, backed by extensive experience and hard data that we strongly believe will help everyone to deliver on this joint goal.

For example, the Plan S implementation guidance calls for publishers to flip 100% of their hybrid journals to fully OA once current Read and Publish deals come to an end.  As The Bookseller highlights, we think this is unacceptable as it ignores the role hybrids have played in the advancement of OA and fundamentally ignores the data. With OA penetration rates of between 73-90% being achieved in the four countries where our deals are most mature, and the fact that such rates are only being achieved because of the flexibility hybrid journals offer, we simply do not understand the desire to scrap mechanisms that are actually accelerating the take-up of open access. Let’s not abandon them or commit to abandon them without very good reasons.

This recommendation should also not be taken insolation. It is one of six, all underpinned by evidence, that we have put forward to Plan S participates that we hope they consider as they move forward.  The first, from which the success of the others flow, focuses on the demand-side (i.e. researchers and other research funders, something we think is missing from Plan S today), the remaining five, issues around supply.

Let me explain. We are concerned that researchers have been rather lost in Plan S’ approach thus far, something that the wider STM industry has also highlighted. OA publishing is a dynamic market comprising researchers and funders on the demand side and publishers on the supply side. For it to change we need to stimulate the growth of both supply and demand. This is essential if we are to go as fast as possible. Otherwise markets distort and energy is lost addressing the symptoms of these distortions rather than ensuring we all work together in achieving accelerated change towards OA.

Currently almost all of Plan S focuses on the supply side (i.e. publishers and more particularly on OA journals at the expense of other OA publication mechanisms). While we agree that further change is needed here, change is also needed on the demand side – encouraging more authors to choose to publish OA and more funders to help them do this by demonstrating and promoting the benefits of OA to them. There seems to be an assumption in the Plan S document that there is a ready demand of authors waiting and wanting to publish OA. But we know from our own research and experience that this is not yet the case. We run a continuous journal author satisfaction survey (last year completed by over 70,000 authors across all research disciplines worldwide) where we ask authors to indicate which were the three most important reasons for choosing to submit to the particular journal.  What this survey tells is that, for authors, Open Access comes eighth out of the top 10. This has changed from five years ago when it was ninth but there is still a long way to go.

We are not seeking to delay progress. We are not seeking to avoid change. Research and science is evidence based and therefore our submission is evidence based. With support from cOAlition S funders for better promotion of OA benefits to all, long-term transformative arrangements, utilisation of hybrid and sister journals, green OA/sister journal solutions for highly selective journals, sustainable and variable APCs and support for innovative platforms built around providing early access to primary research, we believe we would be able to help the community to significantly increase take-up of OA and see its benefits more widely felt. And move on to the bigger prize of Open Science.

Steven Inchcoombe is chief publishing officer of Springer Nature.