OASPA’s response to Request for Input – Finch Report: Survey of Progress, 14 June 2013

Submitted by Caroline Sutton on behalf of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)


We thank you for the opportunity to provide input to the Finch Report: Survey of Progress.

The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) represents the interests of Open Access publishers of journals and books, with the aim of expanding Open Access publishing while contributing to the development of standards and best practices in all areas of scholarly publishing. OASPA’s membership currently includes more than 60 full voting members, who range from independent OA journals that are run by small groups of researchers to many of the largest and most well-recognised publishers within the scholarly publishing industry.

To prepare our response, OASPA members were given an opportunity to submit their individual comments to the OASPA Board. The responses to our request for input indicate that the effects of the RCUK policy are still at an early stage, and at this point in time there is still a fair amount of uncertainty about how the recommendations from the Finch Report will be implemented. We are aware that a number of our members are working to implement systems for managing OA payments, although many of our members have been actively publishing OA journals for quite some time and already have systems in place to manage OA payments from universities as well as from individual authors. In the year since the Finch Group released its recommendations, OASPA has seen a noticeable growth in interest in OA publishing, including interest from publishers who had earlier been reluctant to develop OA publishing programs, which we view as a very positive outcome from the Finch Group’s recommendations even at this early stage.

Many of the questions that are posed in the survey are not relevant to those of our members who already have systems in place for managing OA publications, which includes members whose entire publishing program is Open Access as well as others who have been actively publishing open access journals on a smaller scale for the past several years. Nevertheless, we do believe there are a few key points that should be addressed in the implementation of the Finch Group’s recommendations, which are of great importance to our members as well as to Open Access publishing more generally. Below we have replied to those specific points that are relevant to OA publishing, and for which we believe OASPA can make a valuable contribution to any further discussions that may take place.

Thank you again for the opportunity to respond and express our comments, as well as our concerns, in regard to the initial implementation of the Finch Group’s recommendations in support of Open Access publishing.

On behalf of OASPA,

Caroline Sutton

Chair, OASPA Policy Committee


The following comments are submitted on behalf of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA). 

1. Overall policy and funding arrangements: key actions 1-5

iii.    Put in place arrangements to gather and analyse reliable, high-quality and agreed indicators of key features of the changing research communications landscape, and to review those indicators and the lessons to be drawn from them. (Aimed at: Government, Research Councils, Funding Councils, universities, publishers)

Several of OASPA’s members have been at the leading edge of developing and promoting article level metrics that can hopefully provide greater insight into the research communications landscape. Moreover, during OASPA’s 2012 annual Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP) we organised a session that was devoted to the discussion of new metrics for scholarly communications, which included presentations from the perspective of publishers, research funders, as well as new organisations whose sole purpose is to develop alternative metrics within the scholarly publishing ecosystem.

OASPA is also taking part in the infrastructure discussions that were initiated by Neil Jacobs from JISC, which have brought together a number of stakeholders to discuss issues related to infrastructural aspects of Open Access publishing, as well as several related issues surrounding standards and best practices for scholarly communication. OASPA has also had a number of discussions with other standards setting organisations in order to try to develop a common Code of Conduct that can be used by a wide range of organisations in order to ensure that publishers, Open Access and otherwise, are maintaining the highest possible standards for scholarly communication.

ii. Keep under review the position of learned societies that rely on publishing revenues to fund their core activities, the speed with which they can change their publishing business models, and the impact on the services they provide to the UK research community. (Aimed at: Government, Funding Councils, Research Councils, learned societies, publishers)

Many of OASPA’s members offer publishing services to scholarly societies and are working with these groups to explore opportunities to expand Open Access within their publishing programs. Members such as BioMed Central, Copernicus Publications, Co-Action Publishing, Springer Open, Wiley-Blackwell, and several others are already publishing Open Access journals in partnership with scholarly societies. Many learned society publishers have either expanded their Open Access publishing activities, or have at least begun the process of exploring Open Access publishing options with new urgency, following the Finch Group’s recommendations.

The JISC OAIG sponsored a project that was conducted under the auspices of the Association for Learning Technology to develop resources that would assist learned societies in considering Open Access publishing models as an option for their journal(s). OASPA member Co-Action Publishing was actively involved in this project, and OASPA provides a link on its website to the Information and Guidance page that was developed by the OAIG to help learned societies interested in developing Open Access publications. Moreover, OASPA maintains a public list on the OASPA website of member publishers who are interested in working with learned and scholarly societies in developing Open Access publications.

Open Access publishing continues to be more challenging for non-STM subject areas, largely due to the limited funding that is currently available to support Open Access publications in the social sciences and humanities. At present the learned society titles that are published by OASPA members are largely concentrated in STM fields, however a number of our members have begun to actively develop Open Access publishing programs within the social sciences and humanities.

Financial considerations continue to be an important element in a learned society’s consideration about transitioning an existing journal to an Open Access publication model. In many cases journal revenues allow societies to incur costs beyond those related to the journal, which can be important for them in carrying out their missions. As such, those societies that generate a significant income from the sale of subscriptions/licenses are more reluctant to convert to an alternative business model, however hopefully as greater funding for Open Access publications become available a greater number of learned societies will be willing to consider converting their existing journals to an OA publication model.

v.     to accelerate moves towards open access. (Aimed at: Government, Research Councils, Funding Councils, universities, publishers)

Since its launch in 2008, OASPA has sought to contribute to the development of appropriate business models, tools, and standards to support Open Access publishing. One of the most important activities of the Association has been its annual conference, which enables OASPA to bring together a wide range of stakeholders, including publishers, librarians, research funders, and practicing scholars, in order to discuss potential barriers to Open Access and to find ways to expand the role of Open Access publishing within the scholarly communications ecosystem. We strongly believe that OASPA’s efforts have made a significant contribution to the development of many new Open Access publishing operations, and to encouraging established publishing houses to introduce OA publishing as an element within their overall publishing portfolio.

More recently, OASPA has actively worked to address issues related to Open Access monograph publishing, which is still in many ways less developed than OA journal publishing, and has cooperated with OAPEN to find common ways for us to support the further expansion of Open Access publishing for scholarly books.

2. Publication in open access and hybrid journals

Recommendation 3:

support for open access publication should be accompanied by policies to minimise restrictions on the rights of use and re-use, especially for non-commercial purposes, and on the ability to use the latest tools and services to organise and manipulate text and other content; (Aimed at: funders, publishers, learned societies, Government)

Since its inception, OASPA has required that its members publish OA content under a liberal CC license, including either the CC-BY or CC-BY-NC licenses, in order to ensure the maximum possible reuse of Open Access content. Moreover, where an applicant has indicated that they use a CC-BY-NC license for their Open Access publications, we have encouraged them to consider moving to a more liberal CC-BY license.

A significant number of publishers who have applied for membership in OASPA did so while using licenses that were more restrictive than what is permitted within OASPA’s membership criteria, and as a result they were not permitted to become members. In many cases these publishers have subsequently adopted more liberal licenses, and after doing so were allowed to become members. Although there are clearly a number of factors that are involved in a publisher’s decision about the licensing terms of their publications, we firmly believe that OASPA’s firm stance in support of liberal licenses that at least provide unlimited reuse rights for noncommercial purposes has been an important factor in many publishers’ decisions to embrace more liberal licensing policies.

In addition to liberal licensing, OASPA members are facilitating reuse by making their content available via multiple channels, such as PMC and Europe PMC, as well as many other institutional and subject-based repositories. Further discussions for expanding access are taking place among OASPA’s members, which will hopefully lead to an even greater use of Open Access content within the research community. For example, in the future eLife plans to develop tools that can deposit published content in more diverse resources, and which expand the capabilities for computational access to published content. Collaboration with other publishers/constituencies to facilitate the reuse of open content more generally will be necessary as we move forward.

Actions 6-11.

vi.    Establish effective and flexible mechanisms to enable universities and other research institutions to meet the costs of APCs (Aimed at: Government, funders); and efficient arrangements for payment, minimising transaction costs while providing proper accountability (Aimed at: universities, publishers).

There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace.  This is especially acute in the UK, where APC payments are being handled by a variety of different stakeholder groups including universities, funding agencies, as well as individual authors.

At the 2012 Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP), OASPA organised a session on funding mechanisms to support Open Access publication. As the trade association whose members have the greatest experience in managing and dealing with OA charges, OASPA has recognised its role in working with different groups to address issues related to this area. The management of such payments are new to many publishers and OASPA is working to share knowledge and experience to support the development of a broader funding ecosystem for OA publications.

There have been several controversial issues that have arisen in relation to payment mechanisms and the use of funds that have been established in the UK to support the transition to Open Access publication. In order to address many of the concerns that have been raised about how these funds are being spent, OASPA would support the development of standard principles and guidelines on how the established funds should be used, specifically in relation to funds that have been created to support publication in Open Access journals.

At present, the current guidelines have been interpreted in ways that may not fully support the most effective means to meeting the costs of Open Access publication. For example, there has been at least one case of a publisher working with UK universities to free up content from previous years, using funds that were intended to support the costs of publication for newly published content. The use of funding in this way will limit the financial resources that are available to researchers to publish their current research on an Open Access basis. Moreover, OASPA is concerned about the use of funds that were intended to cover publication costs for Open Access journals on activities that are not directly related to Open Access publication per se, including the use of these funds to pay for colour charges for print journals, or the use of these funds to pay for costs related to library expenses that are not directly related to publication costs for Open Access journals.

Following the announcement by RCUK of dedicated funding for gold open access, a number of publishers have introduced discounted bulk payment arrangements for institutions to assist in the disbursement of these funds. Several of OASPA’s member publishers offer such arrangements, and OASPA recognizes that such schemes can offer benefits to both publishers and institutions, especially in terms of reduced administration costs.

However, OASPA also recognizes the possibility that such schemes could lead to a lack of transparency regarding the cost of publication in different Open Access outlets, particularly if the terms of these deals are not publicly disclosed, which could be detrimental to the functioning of the market. Moreover, OASPA feels that membership schemes that are based on up-front commitments for a university to publish a particular volume of content with a given publisher can potentially reduce competition within the Open Access ecosystem, making it difficult for smaller publishers to compete on a level playing field with larger publishers, who are inherently better positioned to negotiate individual deals with universities.

Given the crucial importance of institutional funds to support Open Access publication costs, OASPA would urge the RCUK to think carefully about establishing guidelines for the appropriate use of these funds. Not only will such guidelines provide greater clarity to authors, publishers, and universities about how these funds should be used, but hopefully such guidelines can also help to ensure the maximum possible value from the significant investment that is being made by research funders and government agencies in order to support Open Access publication. One role that OASPA could play is in defining and encouraging best practices for such arrangements.

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