OASPA Board Members are appointed via an annual election process and serve for a term of three years, playing a vital role in OASPA’s work to support and represent the interests of Open Access journal and book publishers globally. In the fifth of a series of interviews highlighting the important contributions of the Board, OASPA’s Events and Communications Coordinator, Leyla Williams, talked to Stuart Taylor, Publishing Director at the Royal Society. Stuart is OASPA’s newest Board Member, joining us last month.
Welcome to the OASPA Board, Stuart! What made you want to be part of the Board, and what are you most looking forward to in your new role?
I was keen to be a part of the Board because OASPA has in a unique place in the publishing world and the diversity of voices its Board represents is very important. There are also people on the Board with whom I work and who I respect.
I’m really looking forward to putting together the program for next year’s Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP) as the new conference chair.
How long have you been part of the publishing community, and how have you seen the open access landscape change in that time?
This is my 30th year in publishing. I began in the commercial sector, in medical publishing. Back then, open access wasn’t a topic I was aware of at all and the concept of open access publishing hadn’t even been invented.
By the end of the 1990s, open access was being talked about more and more, but it was seen only as a threat to commercial companies like the one I was working for. Something to be fought or at least contained. After the millennium, publishers started to see that a new open access world might be inevitable and began to figure out what that might look like. There have been many positive changes since I started out. The most obvious one has been that virtually all scholarly journals are now online – which is, of course, what enables open access to become a reality. But we still face many challenges. Although early career scientists are often very enthusiastic about open science and open access, it is still quite low down the priority list of many researchers; at least, it isn’t reflected in the publishing choices they make (unless they are required to by their funder).
The Royal Society has a storied history of pioneering methods of communicating science to the public. What do you see is the relationship between The Royal Society’s origins to ‘improve natural knowledge’ in the 17th Century and the academy’s publishing initiatives today?
Our mission at the Royal Society is the same as it was when we were founded in the 1660s: To recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Publishing was one of the very first things we did here. Just five years after we were founded, we launched the world’s first science journal, Philosophical Transactions, in 1665. Even back then we had a basic kind of open access; we would overprint and send copies of journals around the world to universities and other societies to spread knowledge.
Today, we are pressing ahead with several open science initiatives in our journals and in 2017, almost half of all our journal articles were published immediately open access with a CC-BY licence.
What have been some particular highlights for you in your time working for The Royal Society?
Launching our first pure open access journal, Open Biology, in 2011. This was a real gear shift for the Royal Society, showing a strong commitment to open access. In 2014, we launched our second pure OA journal, Royal Society Open Science. That was also a big step as it established that a national academy of science focussed on excellence could publish a journal which uses objective peer review.
I’m probably most proud of our celebrations for the 350th birthday of Philosophical Transactions in 2015, which included a four day conference on the Future of Scholarly Scientific Communication on evolving and controversial areas in scholarly communication, including open access and open data. The conference resulted in many changes in our own publishing policies and advanced our open science agenda. For example we embraced preprints, introduced ORCID iDs, extended open peer review, and strengthened our open data policy.
What do you think OASPA and the Board offer the publishing industry?
I think the strength of OASPA and the Board comes back to what I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation; it’s the diversity of organisations represented that is key to what OASPA can offer the industry. OASPA is a unique forum for sharing of a wide range of experiences and making connections within publishing. There isn’t another meeting quite like COASP because it attracts all sorts of actors within the open access space; not only publishers but scholars, librarians, funders and institutions too. It’s that breadth of knowledge and approaches offered by the OASPA membership which is so valuable. It helps people to make new connections, think about new ways of doing things and to collaborate across organisations. The Board is ultimately there to shape what OASPA does and what it offers to members; to lead OASPA’s activities and develop its policies. Open access is at a pivotal point right now and it’s perhaps never been more important to have a voice for those most closely involved in shaping the future of OA.
But there is also the quality assurance side of things. OASPA’s rigorous process for admitting members (greatly helped by our partnership with DOAJ), along with our setting of standards, encourages publishing organisations to aim high. OASPA has its part to play in tackling what many see as a big reputational issue for OA – that of ‘predatory publishers’.
And what have been the challenges of progressing the open access movement?
I think there are three main challenges in progressing the movement. Within the academic community, the system of research evaluation and reward – which is overly focussed on the prestige of where you publish – has a serious chilling effect on the adoption of newer publishing outlets and OA journals. This will require a real change in the culture of science, but if we can build a better system for research evaluation, we can enable real progress in all sorts of areas. I see this is the mother of all the problems, frankly.
Powerful lobbying by some commercial players, the gradual consolidation of many services under them (including even preprint servers) and their ability to negotiate big deals also slows down progress by locking institutions in and smaller players out.
Thirdly, the ongoing reputational issue of open access sometimes leads to the conclusion that open access publishers have lower standards. Although this is mostly untrue, it is unfortunate that the APC model has made the barrier for entry much lower for unscrupulous actors prepared to exploit researchers.
What do you think is the importance of scholarly societies – and the challenges they face – as funders and policy makers try to shift the needle towards a greater proportion of scholarly outputs being open access?
Learned societies are where it all started in publishing. They were historically the only people managing research outputs. But in the last fifty years, they have largely been overshadowed by the big commercial firms. Most learned societies who publish are very reliant on their journal incomes and (most often) the subscription model. Open access represents a considerable challenge for them. They want to be able to make research as open as possible – that is in their mission. But they also need to be able to fund their other activities – those are also in their mission!
Saying that, many societies are making great progress towards OA and – like the Royal Society – are really embracing open science, in all sorts of ways. At the moment, I’m keen to encourage dialogue between learned societies to share knowledge and experiences. Ultimately we are all there to do the best for our communities, so if we can help each other navigate the great changes that are currently underway, we should.
Are there particular organisations that you think are currently doing particularly innovative work to progress open access?
Yes. The Electrochemical Society are looking to move to a platinum open access model so they don’t have to charge APCs; have a look at their Free the Science project. I think that’s a bold and exciting initiative.
But perhaps the most important of all are the funders. They are really starting realise the key role they can play in driving forward open access and have become real game changers. I’d single out Wellcome especially who have always been at the forefront of OA and are continuing to set the pace. But also the Gates Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, CERN and many others. Most recent of the funder initiatives, of course, is Plan S, which OASPA recently supported.
Where do you hope to see Open Access in five years time?
I would like to see open access fully established in five years as the standard publishing model, with widespread support from governments, funders and institutions worldwide and stable funding funding streams. I’d especially like to see this in places like the United States, where the attitude to open access is not where it is in Europe – it would be great to see OA fully embraced there. Also in the world’s biggest scientific nation, China, of course. I’d also like to see much greater awareness and genuine support among researchers themselves; it is they who are at the centre of it all.
What do you see in the near future for OASPA?
OASPA is currently looking forward to playing a key role in shaping European policies on open access. We have seen the start of some really strong policies in Plan S, and indeed we already have them from other funders such as Wellcome and Gates. I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of these policy developments and for OASPA to be able to play its part in helping to implement them.