PA Open Access report highlights concerns on Plan S timeframe, Green OA

PA Open Access report highlights concerns on Plan S timeframe, Green OA

So-called "transformative" deals, also known as "read and publish" deals, are seen by many as an effective way to achieve a widespread transition to Open Access, but the Plan S timescales for reaching these deals and achieving a full transition to OA are seen by publishers as unrealistic, a report for the Publishers Association has said.

The report, "Evidence to Inform a Response to the UKRI review of Open Access Policies" by Dr Michael Jubb, is published today (Tuesday 3rd December). It will be submitted to UK Research and Innovation for its forthcoming consultation on UK OA policy, and also reflects on the Plan S initiative (UKRI is a member of cOAlition S, the funder consortium behind the Plan).

Transformative deals shift payment from a library or library consortium to a publisher away from subscription-based reading and towards OA publishing. One of the key requirements of Plan S is that such transformative agreements must be implemented by 1st January 2021 and that funding for publication fees covered by them will cease at the end of 2024. “The expectation, though not explicitly stated, seems to be that all journals covered by such arrangements should have become fully OA by that date,” Jubb's report notes. “But none of those [publishers] to whom we have spoken believes that it is feasible to flip all their subscription-based and hybrid journals to full OA within five years.”

The report also highlights the impact of this requirement on learned societies, saying: “They lack the administrative resources available to large publishers, and.. they find it hard to get a seat at the table when policies and agreements are being negotiated. This makes for especial difficulties when they are being asked to consider experimental and yet-to-be-defined agreements, with attendant risks to their revenues, and to a highly-constrained timetable.”

The PA report also notes key concerns around Green OA, saying it “is simply not sustainable as a mechanism for transition to a fully-OA world”. The Plan S requirement that subscription-based articles should be made freely accessible with no embargo and with a CCBY licence is “unacceptable”, the report says, because “it amounts to a requirement that publishers should make freely available some version of an article in which they had made a considerable investment – crucially via peer review and other services which validate articles as worthy of entry in the scholarly record. Requiring publishers to forego the fruits of that investment would threaten the viability of most journals.”   

Jubb writes in the report’s conclusions: “There has been a noticeable change in the tone of publishers’ discussions about the future of scholarly publishing. Publishers want to make the transition to OA a reality as comprehensively and rapidly as possible; and they see the transformation of hybrid journals through the kinds of agreements now being put in place as the key viable route to a full transition. But they are clear that such a transition cannot be achieved as quickly as Plan S suggest; and that some key aspects of the Plan S requirements, particularly those relating to Green OA with zero embargoes and a CCBY licence, are simply unacceptable.”

PA chief executive Stephen Lotinga commented: “Academic publishers share in the desire to make the transition to OA a reality. But they do have legitimate concerns as to how to best navigate the transition period and this report outlines those areas of concern and the reasons behind them. As we await the proposals to be set out in UKRI’s consultation paper, due to be published in January 2020, publishers look forward to developing the findings of this report to agree practical solutions for the next stage of the UK’s OA policy journey.”