Following on from last week’s popular webinar entitled How should scholarly societies transition to open access?, we asked our speakers to summarise their talks by offering a few key takeaways, which you can find below. This may be useful for those who missed it or wish to share with colleagues. You can also access the full audio recording and recommended reading and slides.
We also asked speakers to respond to the many questions that were posed by attendees via the webinar chat. You can find those questions and answers directly under the takeaways.
OASPA is very grateful to the speakers for all of the work and time they have given to this webinar – in preparation, on the day, and after.
Aileen Fyfe, University of St Andrews, set the scene: when and why did scholarly Societies get involved in publishing, what changed their mission in the 20th Century and what choices do they face now?
- Societies have a special role in the world of journal publishing, based both upon history, and upon their nature as communities of scholars.
- Learned society publishing was traditionally non-commercial (not supported via sales income) until the mid-20th century. Learned society publishing was supported financially from a variety of different sources: in the early 20thC, those included society investments, and government and industrial grants.
- In the 1950s/1960s (=early Cold War), several things changed in the world of academic publishing. Societies were presented as ‘guardians’ of scholarship against the potential risks of commercial interests; but societies were also in need of ‘self help’ to survive financially.
- In the 1950s/60s, learned societies worked hard to transition to a new, hopefully more sustainable financial model (based on sales/subscription income).
- Transitioning to open access does not threaten learned society publishing per se – just the particular version of it that emerged in the 1950s/60s.
- Societies are long-lived: they have done things differently in the past, and they will do things differently in the future.
Stuart Taylor, Publishing Director of The Royal Society (the first Society to publish a scientific journal) showcased what the Royal Society is doing and discussed how societies might work together towards a common goal.
- Academic publishing was started by learned societies as mission activity
- It has only become a business recently
- Nevertheless, it’s become crucially important to the finances of many of them, so transitioning to full OA is challenging
- But we shouldn’t forget the broader issue of open scholarship – there is much societies can do there
Alicia Wise, Information Power, shared the latest from the ‘Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S’ (SPA-OPS) project, commissioned by Wellcome, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP)
- The Society Publishers Accelerating Open access and Plan S (SPA OPS) project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and UKRI in partnership with ALPSP.
- Alicia Wise from Information Power updated us on what has happened so far, and provided highlights from surveys of 26 library consortia and 105 learned society publishers.
- APCs were not seen as the most promising business model for a full transition to OA. There were significant concerns about the uneven availability of funding for APCs.
- Transformative agreements emerged as the most promising approach, and there are 5 flavours of transformative agreement operating in the market today. 45 countries have experience of entering into at least one transformative agreement.
- By flipping the flow of existing funding to support a full transition to OA, journals can more easily follow.
- Next steps for the SPA OPS project are a final report, pilot projects between four consortia and four publishers, and the launch of a model transformative agreement and toolkit at the ALPSP international conference on September 12.
Rachael Samberg, UC Berkeley Library, introduced a group of like-minded individuals from libraries, academic institutions, publishers, and consortia who have organized to provide support and advocacy for Learned and Professional Societies called ‘Transitioning Society Publications to Open Access (TSPOA)’.
- We have organized to provide support, advocacy, and referral services within the publishing community and related professional organizations.
- We are working to leverage our collective experience and expertise to help society publishing stakeholders develop or engage in OA publishing models that are appropriate, effective and sustainable for them.
- In doing so, we celebrate the work already being done by our colleagues elsewhere (e.g. SPC, OA2020, ESAC, SPARC, ARL, UC Office of Scholarly Communication) in offering guidance to society journals making the OA transition.
- Our efforts should complement existing undertakings, and hopefully can help draw even more attention to contributions in this regard.
- We have some exciting partnerships and projects ahead, including a 3-part webinar series this fall, so stay tuned!
Questions received via webinar chat channel
Answers from Aileen Fyfe (AF); Stuart Taylor (ST); Alicia Wise (AW) and Rachael Samberg (RS)
Q. The issue of blinding reviewers came up… Could this be discussed about the open science publications?
ST: At the Royal Society, we have started to implement open peer review (OPR) as part of our wider open science program. We believe the transparency is valuable. Cultures differ between subject areas and so we have allowed the journal Editorial Boards to make the decision when they are ready, rather than simply imposing it on all our journals. Four now have open peer review. It is not limited to open access journals we have OPR on two hybrid journals too.
Q. In particular, how does the blind process but published reports help the process rather than completely open system? Authors know reviewers and vice Versa?
ST: Following the guidance of ASAPBio, we have made a distinction between two aspects of OPR; open reports and open identities. We believe that most of the benefits of OPR are provided by open reports (which are much more widely accepted in the community than open identities). So rather than risk trying to implement both at once (and risk opposition from researchers), we decided that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good and introduced mandatory open reports while leaving open identities optional. Open reports provide the reader with much more information about the article and show how rigorous the peer review process was, which questions were put to the authors and how they answered them. We believe this gives readers a much fuller picture of the work being reported.
Q. I find it interesting that learned socs (ls) may transition to OA by leaving their publishers to create a new OA Journals. How do the ls find credible means to do so?
RS: We’ve seen a handful of powerful examples of this happening. The transition has/can be successful when it’s the editorial board of a journal standing together, asking for more favorable OA terms from the commercial publisher, and then leaving as an entire board to begin anew. Impact can continue through retention of the respected board, and through solid communication to the author communities about the transition. Some examples here: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/01/14/elsevier-journal-editors-resign-start-rival-open-access-journal
Q. For example, the metrics from an old established journal may be more attractive than a new journal?
RS: Certainly, and some services provided by the former commercial publisher may be more robust than a new open platform, which may or may not offer a-la-carte services. There are also challenging workflow transitions to make. But the value of obtaining the OA outcomes is compelling to the community, and with careful management of the transition, it can be done in a manner retaining impact.
Q. What happens to the old journal and how does the old material get archived when the publisher has the copyright?
RS: Every scenario will depend on the terms of ownership and the publishing agreements that the society or journal held with the publisher. Much of the old material may already be archived in various capacities.
Q. Stuart said that most authors don’t want to publish OA with them. Have they done any research into why this is the case? Is it simply because they don’t want to or cannot pay the APC?
ST: I probably should have phrased this slightly differently. It’s not so much that they don’t want OA, but rather they don’t ask us for it. I believe that this is generally because they don’t have the funds to pay the APC and/or are not under a requirement or mandate from their funder. I am sure that – all other things being equal – all authors would like OA, but we find they only tend to ask for it when they are obliged to.
Q. Stuart I’d be curious is RSC is seeing any subscriptions drop off as OA increases in %.
ST: I can’t speak for the RSC, but at the Royal Society we have certainly not seen any impact on subscriptions as our OA has increased. But I would not necessarily expect that even at our current level. Librarians need to be able to guarantee access for their readers so if half the content is still paywalled, they will most likely still subscribe.
Q. Eventually “read” subscribers won’t have anything to subscribe to but do they start to cancel in anticipation at a certain % point?
ST: Yes, it seems reasonable to expect cancellations to start at a certain point, but we would also expect to have started flipping our hybrids to OA in any case at such high levels of OA takeup.
AW: I would encourage both libraries and publishers to recognise that OA content continues to have value for readers, and therefore read institutions who can (and, I would argue, should) continue to provide funding. It’s important for read institutions to continue to influence how content is published so that it is easily discoverable, easily integratable with course management systems, so it is properly indexed and archived, etc.
Q. Alicia – do transformative agreements lock out new publications who do not have historic subscriptions to convert? Say new societies in emerging scholarly areas who want to start publishing open access from the start.
AW: New publications are subsidised, often for a considerable period of time, until they are able to build the content and profile needed to generate revenue. This is true whether the title is subscription, hybrid, or fully open access. Libraries are able to enter into agreements with any publisher for any journal and can repurpose existing expenditure to do this..
Q. Rachael – I’m looking at the website and don’t see this … are inquiries from a society to your group confidential?
RS: Yes we offer confidentiality to consultees. (If the consultees desire it).
Q. I’ve heard some society publishers say they are having to manage anti-OA sentiment in their members and so are wanting to work quietly while they explore options.
ST: I am not aware of ‘anti-OA’ sentiment, as such, among our Fellows. I would say they are all in agreement with the overall goal of OA. There is considerable concern about Plan S, though, which is not at all the same thing.
AW: Over the years I’ve talked to many authors and encountered every possible sentiment toward OA: very positive, very negative, and everything in between. Negative sentiments can often flow from concerns about affording to pay for APCs or having this money diverted from the other things researchers need to invest in. It can be helpful to engage with these authors, and to understand whether or not they have a problem with the principle of OA or with some aspect of how it is currently implemented. Just as publishers can sometimes conflat OA with APCs, so too can authors.
Q. And, how do US, European, etc libraries feel about subventing publishing from other universities … is that more palatable than subventing other society activities (e.g. PhD grants)?
AW: More transparency would be helpful to aid discussion about just this. Most societies that I have worked with this year serve a global research community.
Q. In developing countries, it is difficult to get grants for research. Because grant system is not a very common phenomena in most of the universities or institutions. So the authors from developing countries will have difficulty to pay for publishing in open access journals. What do you think about this problem? Editor in Chief, Turkish Archives of Otorhinolaryngology
ST: You are absolutely right. Not only do developing countries have problems paying APCs. Here in the UK there are many who are effectively unable to source funds for this purpose. I am thinking of those in humanities and some social sciences, but also unfunded fields such as mathematics and independent or retired researchers. For this reason, I do not see the APC model as workable on a global scale. But there are other models, of course. APCs are not the only game in town.
AW: I would be fascinated to know if any of the excellent library consortia in Turkey are working on transformative agreements. Gultekin Gurdal should be able to advise. He is the Library Director at Izmir Institute of Technology.
Q. Do the speakers see a similar financial model being implemented for publishing all Research Objects (e.g. datasets, software)?
RS: Personally, I don’t. I believe there’s strong precedent and appetite to move toward shared or community-funded infrastructure for “non-traditional” research objects. While commercial publishers market their own alternatives for data/software deposits, these typically aren’t for separate fees (especially in light of government-mandated sharing of data etc.), and non-commercial publishers often partner with open-source or community partners for open deposits of these other objects.
Q. Stuart, is Royal Society getting all its funds from the APCs? If so, how difficult would Open Access be for your society if APCs were removed?
ST: No. APCs make up around 1.5% of The Royal Society’s total income. They make up approximately 20% of our publishing income. So the removal of APCs would not threaten the existence of the Royal Society. However, we would be less able to support our other mission activities. We also believe it is important that open access publishing is sustainable; APCs are currently an important element of that.
Q. Alicia, where is the Transformative Agreement toolkit going to be posted in September?
AW: It will be launched at the ALPSP International Conference on 12 September and will be available via https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4561397
Q. Hello and thank you for presentations. My question to Stuart (and others) – what kinds of funding streams and cost distribution models, or mixtures thereof, beyond charging APCs, do you see as most promising to fund your publishing activities? i.e. as exemplified by Aileen, that there have been many more and diverse options in earlier days.
ST: I think the most likely solution will be to re-purpose the existing revenue streams to support OA. The most obvious example of this is the ‘transformative agreement,’ but I am also very interested in the ‘supporter’ models like OLH and Subscribe to Open. One society I know of is looking at the possibility of completely funding their publishing from an endowment.
AW: We have surfaced 27 models in the final report of the Society Publishers Accelerating Open access and Plan S project report. You can see our discussion document preprint at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.8398406
Q. Alicia notes that libraries see an opportunity to work with learned societies to build a more equitable and accessible publishing ecosystem. However, if most of those societies aren’t self-publishing, won’t libraries ultimately be working with the same players that created the problem? That is, commercial vendors?
AW: Large publishers are already working with libraries and consortia on OA, for example via transformative agreements. The challenge at present is that small and medium publishers, including independent society publishers, do not have this opportunity.
AF: There’s also an underlying question here about control/power/expertise. There’s a long history of learned societies (and university departments) working with commercial publishers to get their printing done, e.g. putting out a tender for printing services, and agreeing a price that included a reasonable recompense for the service provider. That’s how most journals were run up to the early 20th century. There’s nothing intrinsically ‘bad’ about working with an external service provider (e.g. printer, or, more recently, hosting platforms), and it might well be a more realistic/sensible option than trying to do it in-house. BUT, as publishing has become far more complicated (both in its trade practices and its technologies), I think it has become more difficult for those tendering for services (e.g. societies, but in theory other groups of scholars or libraries) to thoroughly assess the options and make informed choices. Too easy for them to be ‘advised’ by their publishing-partner, on the basis of genuine greater expertise, about how things ‘should’ or ‘need’ to be done – which may be true from the publisher’s perspective but may not necessarily be best for the scholarly community who want publishing services…
Q. What is the opinion of the panel on learned societies that use income from publishing deals with publishers (to run their journals) and/or from APCs (to publish articles in their journals) to fund non-publishing society activities (such as organizing events or conferences or paying salaries) and which may be co-funded by taxpayer money?
ST: This is a very important (and so far under-discussed) question. Provided that the publishing services provided are valuable to the research community and offer good value for money and transparent pricing, then I don’t consider there should be a problem – in principle – with societies making surpluses which are re-invested in their communities. Presumably this is preferable, than having those surpluses going into shareholders’ pockets? However, it is entirely reasonable to expect societies to clearly explain the value they provide to the community via their mission activities and to ask questions about how efficiently they do so.
AF: Until about the 1970s/80s, the societies I’ve looked at were generally aiming to break even. They wanted sales (or secondary income) that would cover production costs, and a bit of surplus was a welcome bonus. It does seem to me easier to seek donations/grants/government support/etc to ‘cover costs’ than ‘to make a surplus that we’ll then use on other things’. However, if the ‘other things’ are genuinely worth supporting, then they too could be the focus of an appeal for donations/grants/etc – but separately from funding the OA publications. But it would require thinking differently about how society activities are funded.
Q. Transformative agreements — Most of the currently concluded agreements don’t seem to lead to any savings (current or future) for libraries. What is your opinion?
AW: My view is that while it is pragmatic to enter into transformative agreements that are cost-neutral and based on current spend, more work is needed by stakeholders to develop then deploy new, more equitable, more sustainable models.
AF: Isn’t this why some of the consortial/’supporters’ models suggest offering a discount on the current subscription as a way to encourage institutions to sign up? See Martin Eve’s blog. As an historian, I am reminded of Boulton & Watt’s early efforts to market their improved steam engines, where customers paid a fee based on the estimated cost-saving on coal compared: the customers were initially very happy, but as the years went by, they wondered why they were still paying fees based upon the old and now-irrelevant system… Still, it was at least a transition mechanism…
Q. How feasible is it for small academic libraries (e.g. $2M annual subscription spend) to contribute towards transformation to OA publishing models? We publish a few local journals through OJS but it seems like a society-level interaction would be most feasible through consortial participation…
AW: This is a great question. Every single dollar of library direct spend or consortial spend can be leveraged to facilitate OA, although it might indeed be easier to work through a consortium where possible. This is both for you sanity, and also for independent society publishers who will need transformative agreements to be easy to negotiate and administer. We hope the OA transformative agreement toolkit we are currently developing (with funding from Wellcome Trust, UKRI and undertaken in partnership with ALPSP) might be helpful to you all. Terrific that you are publishing local journals too through OJS!
Q. Repositories of AAM were mentioned. can you elaborate on the role of repositories in the transition to OA?
ST: Repositories have always been a part of open access since its very beginning in the 1990s. Indeed, some consider repositories to be the preferred solution for delivering OA. This form of open access (often called ‘green’ OA) has a number of shortcomings, however. 1) it is dependent on the continued existence of subscription journals; 2) it provides access to an inferior version of the article (the accepted manuscript); 3) access is usually embargoed (by 6, 12 or even 24 months). In the context of Plan S, however, ‘green’ OA provides the only solution for many hybrid journals to remain compliant (in the absence of a qualifying transformative deal). This why we have enabled it for the Royal Society’s hybrid journals. Plan S authors will still be able to publish in our hybrid journals (free of charge and behind a paywall) provided they deposit their AAM in a suitable repository under a CC-BY licence.
Q. Do you think the transformative agreements could cut the submission traffic of smaller society publishers by directing articles to the larger publishers by making it convenient for authors?
ST: Yes. I consider this to be a genuine risk and one of the (presumably unintended) consequences of Plan S. Of course, authors do not generally choose journals based on whether they have to pay an APC, but where all other things are equal, it seems likely that the greater ease of submitting to a journal in a Tx deal would be a strong driver. The fact is, it is proving very difficult for self-publishing societies (even those of a moderate size like the Royal Society) to establish Tx deals.
AF: It seems to me difficult for smaller societies to make all the arrangements that would be necessary for a transformative agreement just for them. Either we need a broker organisation. Or we want some publishers (of whatever size) to specialise in providing an OA service that fits the needs of learned societies. And we hope that enough publishers do this that societies still have some choice about who to choose as a publishing partner.
Q. Question for Stuart: If they’ve adopted the green route for Plan S compliance with no embargo, what are their expectations about the ability to maintain subscription income
ST: We have allowed authors to deposit their AAM with no embargo for years and we have not seen any impact on subscriptions. There are many major publishers who also have no embargo (and have done for a long time). I hardly think they would have such a policy if it damaged their subscriptions! I should emphasise that the only change we made to this policy for Plan S compliance was to explicitly allow a CC-BY licence to be applied to AAMs. The embargo was already at zero.
Q. For Alicia: Why are cooperatives inconsistent with transformative, if transformative simply is about repurposing? (Unless you’re implying that transformative is read & publish/offsetting.)
AW: Read & Publish deals and Publish & Read Deals are two flavours of transformative agreement. Apologies, but I don’t understand the reference to ‘cooperatives’ in the question, and so am unsure how to answer beyond this.
RS: Ah, I think I see now that you referred not to “cooperatives” in your analysis Section 4.2, but “cooperative infrastructure.” I agree that “cooperative infrastructure” is different from “transformative models.” I originally thought that your description of transformative agreements posits them as mostly of the read & publish/offsetting-ilk (and variations thereof), even though you acknowledge that transformative at its core means repurposing existing subscription spend toward open content. And of course there are cooperative models that do that, too, though. For instance, “Subscribe to Open” as a cooperative that repurposes the same money we would have spent on subscriptions toward supporting open content. ESAC also similarly defines “transformative” more broadly. But it turns out the distinction you were getting at was not cooperatives but cooperative infrastructure.
Q. Question for Alicia: How do you see the willingness of library consortia to participate with societies translating to action by the libraries to provide funding for society publishing. (That is, how do you see libraries going from platitudes to action).
AW: There seems to be a great flurry of activity at present! Transformative agreements are certainly getting a lot of attention, and these are announced every week. I’m aware of a range of library consortia who are discussed agreements and pilots with society publishers. The International Coalition of Library Consortia kindly included a session on this at their spring meeting in Vancouver, and are following up with another at their Autumn meeting in Luxembourg.