The winds of change in STM publishing

The European Commission announced Friday (May 6th) that it will hold a public hearing on May 30th as part of preparations for a new Communication and Recommendation to be adopted by end of 2011 on access to and preservation of scientific information in the digital age. Upon receiving the invitation to join this meeting and present OASPA’s views, I could not help but reflect upon how much the open access publishing landscape has changed since the Commission presented its first Communication on scientific information in the digital age at a public meeting in February 2007.

It was in the same year as the Commission’s public meeting that OASPA’s founders first came together to begin discussing an industry association to give voice to and represent open access publishers. At the time, open access remained something of a curiosity to the wider publishing community; skepticism and outright criticism of the open access publishing model was rife.

Today, the publishing landscape and discourse on open access publishing looks quite different to that of 2007. I personally could sense a change already at the Berlin 8 Conference in December 2009 in Paris. After delivering a few short remarks about the aims of open access publishing during a panel discussion, I was approached by several subscription publishers who largely agreed with what I had to say. A couple of publishers admitted that their organizations were likely to launch open access journals in the not so distant future given that it has become more challenging to launch new subscription titles. I had been prepared to defend open access publishing, but was pleasantly surprised that this was unnecessary.

In recent months, this sense that the winds of change had begun to blow has been replaced with more concrete evidence of change. Last week the Royal Society announced the launch of its first wholly open access title, Open Biology. In the press release announcing the launch, Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society was quoted as saying  “…The Royal Society is a strong supporter of open-access publishing and is pleased to launch its new journal which will draw on the high standards of the Society over its 350 year history of scientific publishing.”  The Royal Society’s launch comes on the heels of a number of similar open access announcements from publishers otherwise known for their subscription portfolios. To name just a few examples:

Nature Publishing Group – January 6 saw the announcement from the Nature Publishing Group regarding the launch of Scientific Reports, an open access publication that looks to be highly patterned on PLoS One. As noted by Mark Patterson in a presentation at the 2011 APE Conference in Berlin, this is but one of a number of mega journals or “PLoS One look alikes” that have been launched recently (see also BMJ Open, launched Summer 2010; SAGE Open, for the social sciences; AIP Advances from the American  Institute of Physics; G3 from the Genetics Society of America).

Wiley-Blackwell – In September 2010 Wiley-Blackwell announced that a Senior Open Access Marketing Professional, Natasha White, had been recruited. This announcement was followed up on February 1, 2011 with a press release to introduce Wiley Open Access, a new program of open access journals.

AP-ALPSP – The Publishers Association (PA) and ALPSP are jointly organizing a Publisher’s Forum March 31 with the title, “Open Access: the next ten years”. Notable in the announcement is the statement, “Open access is here to stay, and has the support of our key partners.”

The Royal Society, Nature Publishing Group and Wiley-Blackwell are not the first subscription publishers to engage with open access publishing over the past four years. In late 2007 SAGE entered into an agreement with the Hindawi Publishing Corporation to co-publish a portfolio of open access medical titles under the imprint SAGE-Hindawi Access to Research.  Then in October 2008 Springer Verlag acquired BioMed Central in the same week that OASPA was officially launched.  Since then, Springer Verlag has launched Springer Open, a suite of open access journals. SAGE was one of OASPA’s founders, and Springer joined the organization last year.

“Mixed Model Publishers” are probably the fastest growing group of OASPA members. One of the first mixed model publishers to join OASPA was Oxford University Press, a forerunner in testing the waters of open access with Nucleic Acids Research, and openly sharing the financial and other results of uptake. OUP has since then launched full open access journals. Similarly IOP has launched a number of open access titles. To these publishers, we can also add the BMJ Group.

Some of the early criticism of open access publishing pointed to a lack of sustainable business models. In this context it is also worth noting that since 2007 the Public Library of Science has demonstrated a positive financial result, and BioMed Central became profitable. The financial stability of these publishers can be added to that of Hindawi Publishing Corporation and Medknow. Smaller enterprises such as Copernicus Publications and Co-Action Publishing have also demonstrated that open access models can provide the basis for a successful small or medium enterprise.

Recent events together with the incremental changes that have taken place over the last decade lead me to believe that a wider group of publishers are now embracing the notion that there is nothing radical about open access publishing and that there can be viable business models to support it. OASPA welcomes this change. From the start, we have sought to engage in practical discussions of how to move open access publishing forward. With the growth in mixed model publishers, there is no longer a need to argue for the credibility or viability of open access. The discourse has moved beyond this. We can now get down to the business of further working out business models, developing standards, leveraging opportunities afforded by open access content, working with third parties to develop new services, etc. With a greater number of publishers involved in these efforts, we can better envision solutions across communities.

The 3rd Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP) will take place on Sept 21-23 2011 in Tallinn, Estonia.  Here we will continue discussions that were earlier initiated on business models (both APC models and other models), on standards, on content distribution, and other topics that have a unique open access angle. Many publishers and societies considering open access may wish to join a special workshop on Journal Transition, which will be held the first day of the conference in association with the Knowledge Exchange. Last year we welcomed a number of publishers who are now more openly embracing open access to COASP. I look forward to meeting these publishers again as well as new publisher faces and other stakeholders, whose input is needed as we take next steps.

Caroline Sutton

President, OASPA

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