When I was just settling in to the world of open access and scholarly communication, I wrote about the need for open access to stop being a fringe activity and enter the mainstream of researcher behaviour:
“Open access needs to stop being a ‘fringe’ activity and become part of the mainstream. It shouldn’t be an afterthought to the publication process. Whether the solution to academic inaction is better systems or, as I believe, greater engagement and reward, I feel that the scholarly communications and repository community can look forward to many interesting developments over the coming months and years.”
While much has changed in the five years since I (somewhat naïvely) wrote those concluding thoughts, there are still significant barriers towards the complete opening of scholarly discourse. However, should open access be an afterthought for researchers? I’ve changed my mind. Open access should be something researchers don’t even need to think about, and I think that future is already here, though I fear it will ultimately sideline institutional repositories.
According to the 2020 Leiden Ranking, the median rate at which UK institutions make their research outputs open access is over 80%, which is far higher than any other nation (Figure 1). Indeed, the UK is the only country that has ‘levelled up’ over the last five years, while the rest of the world’s institutions have slowly plodded along making slow, but steady, progress.
Figure 1. The median institutional open access percentage for each country according to the Leiden Ranking. Note, these figures are medians of all institutions within a country. This does not mean that 80% of the UK’s publications are open access, but that the median rate of open access at UK institutions is 80%.
The main driver for this increase in open access content in the UK is through green open access (Figure 2), due in large part to the REF 2021 open access policy (announced in 2014 and effective from 2016). This is a dramatic demonstration of the influence that policy can have on researcher behaviour, which has made open access a mainstream activity in the UK.
Figure 2. The median institutional green open access percentage for each country according to the Leiden Ranking.
Like the rest of the UK, Cambridge has seen similar trends across all forms of open access (Figure 3), with rising use of green open access, and steadily increasing adoption of gold and hybrid. Yet despite all the money poured into gold and (more controversially) hybrid open access, the net effect of all this other activity is a measly 3% additional open access content (82% vs 79%). Which begs the question, was it worth it? If open access can be so successfully achieved through green routes, what is the inherent benefit of gold/hybrid open access?
Figure 3. Open access trends in Cambridge according to the Leiden Ranking. In the 2020 ranking, 79% was delivered through green open access. This means that despite all the work to facilitate other forms of open access, this activity only contributed an additional 3% to the total (82%).
Of course, Plan S has now emerged as the most significant attempt to coordinate a clear and coherent international strategy for open access. While it is not without its detractors, I am nonetheless supportive of cOAlition S’s overall aims. However, as the UK scholarly communication community has experienced, policy implementation is messy and can lead to unintended consequences. While Plan S provides options for complying through green open access routes, the discussions that institutions and publishers (both traditional and fully open access alike) have engaged in are almost entirely focussed on gold open access through transformative deals. This is not because we, as institutions, want to spend more on publishing, but rather it is the pragmatic approach to create open access content at the source and provide authors with easy and palatable routes to open access. It also is a recognition that flipping journals requires give and take from institutions and publishers alike.
We are now very close to reaching a point where open access can be an afterthought for researchers, particularly in the UK. In large part, it will be done for them through direct agreements between institutions and publishers. Cambridge already has open access publishing arrangements with over 5000 journals, and this figure will continue to grow as we sign more transformative agreements. However, this will ultimately be to the detriment of green open access. Instead of being the only open access source for a journal article, institutional repositories will instead become secondary storehouses of already gold open access content. The heyday of institutional repositories, if one ever existed, is now over.
For me, that is a sad thought. We have poured enormous resource and effort into maintaining Apollo, but we must recognise the burden that green open access places on researchers. They have better things to do. I expect that the next five years will see a dramatic increase in gold and hybrid open access content produced in the UK. Green open access won’t go away, but we will have entered a time where open access is no longer fringe, nor indeed mainstream, but rather de facto for all research.
Plan S was born
in Europe, yet from the very start it aspired to accelerate conversations
around open access on a global scale. After all, if free access to research
outputs is good in one place, it will be good everywhere, right? Well, it turns
out that things may not be that simple.
In this Open Access Week, we look East and West to find out how Plan S is being received across the globe. Dr Danny Kingsley explores how reliance on foreign students has trapped Australian universities in a ‘Faustian bargain’ with publishers and reduced the scope for change. Micah Vandegrift reports on the type of conversations that Plan S has inspired in the USA, as well as the potential political barriers, sounding a note of cautious optimism.
Hearing from our colleagues in other countries highlights some of the promises and challenges Plan S is facing in making an impact outside Europe. Learning about those raises a number of interesting points for how we advocate for open access at home too.
Dr Danny Kingsley: Australia
a natural enemy of openness
approached by the Office of Scholarly Communication to write a piece about Plan
S in Australia, my initial response was it would be very short. That is, Plan S
has not really caused much of a ripple Down Under. Those in the know – people
working in scholarly communication and some senior members of research
institutions – are aware
and watching closely. But as far as opening up a general discussion amongst
the academic community, this simply hasn’t happened.
Over the past six months I have been trying to understand where some of the problems lie when it comes to openness in Australia. It is more fundamental than the usual concerns researchers have about Open Access, and goes to the heart of how universities work here.
First a quick
run-down on how research funding to universities works in Australia. There are
only two government funders – the National Health and Medical Council (NHMRC) and
the Australian Research Council (ARC). The amount of funding these granted in
2017-2018 was about $943
million and $758
million respectively to all research organisations. As a comparison, the
Wellcome Trust endowed in the range of £10m
– £50m in Australia in 2017-18. For those interested there is a full breakdown
of sources of research funding.
The funder policies
on Open Access and Research Data Management are pretty weak overall. The NHMRC
policy requires that any peer reviewed publication be available in a
repository 12 months after publication and “strongly encourages
researchers to consider the reuse value of their data and to take reasonable
steps to share research data and associated metadata arising from NHMRC
supported research”. The ARC
policy requires the metadata of research outputs to be available in a
repository 3 months after publication and the work to be OA 12 months after
publication. But the policy specifically states: “For the purposes of this
policy, Research Outputs do not include research data and research data
But these policies
simply reflect a lack
of policy generally in Australia, partly due to the revolving door that has
been the Prime Ministership over the past five years. So, on face value, the reason
for the lack of engagement with discussions around Plan S just reflect this lassitude.
But I am wondering
if there might be something deeper at play here.
There is incredible
pressure on researchers in Australia to perform. This can take the form of
reward, with many universities offering financial incentives for publication in
‘top’ journals. This is fairly widespread, with some universities having this
position on the public record. For example, Griffith University’s Research
and Innovation Plan 2017-2020 includes: “Maintain a Nature and Science
publication incentive scheme”. Publication
in these two journals comprises 20% of the
score in the Academic Ranking of World Universities.
But what has all of
this to do with Open Access or Plan S? Well, everything actually.
For a start, signing
up to the Declaration of Research Assessment
(DORA), or the Leiden Manifesto is
one of the principles of Plan S, with the Wellcome Trust stating that it
will not fund research at institutions that have not signed up. Only a
handful of Australian research organisations have signed DORA, none of which
are universities. Given many Australian institutions are not only judging
researchers on their publication record, but in some cases proscribing which
journals in which they are allowed to publish, it would be extremely difficult
for these institutions to become a signatory to DORA or the Leiden Manifesto.
But the main problem
for the open agenda is the total reliance on specific metrics that deliver
ranking numbers – metrics which enfold Australian universities into a Faustian
bargain with the large commercial publishers.
universities are not engaging with Plan S because they cannot afford to. And
while the Australian funders remain silent on the topic (literally – a search
for Plan S on each website comes up empty), there is little incentive to worry
If anything, this
situation further underlines the need to shift the academic reward system away
from the single measure of publication of novel
results in high impact journals.
Given how deeply ingrained that measure is in Australia it will be
interesting to see where we are at this time next year.
Micah Vandegrift: USA
A shot heard around the world
little more than a year ago, open access had its “shot heard around the world”
moment. Plan S expanded out from Europe, encompassing angst and excitement,
requiring think-pieces from thought
leaders, policy briefs from the wonks, and general malaise from lots of
stakeholders. The European open agenda is, by design or by accident, shaping
the horizon and Plan S continues to be a marker of that progression. I had the
unique opportunity to be on the ground in Europe for most of the fallout
last fall, and now with the benefit of time and geographic remove, I am
observing the after effects, especially in how U.S.-based research communities
are responding in kind.
Ripples and tides
greatest surprise is that Plan S seems to be the thing that is getting people
from all corners out to debate the issues. The tidal wave of Plan S seems to
have crashed on our shores with something for everyone – publishers, libraries,
researchers, and funders. Librarianship tends to pivot around shifts in the
publishing landscape, finding crevices to leverage our expertise and chances to
show off that knowledge to researchers, and I expected Plan S to offer that as
well. The weird thing, though, is that the responses have been uneven,
distributed, and displaced. For example, I was invited along with Rick Anderson
of Scholarly Kitchen fame to debate the Plan in front of 200+ managing and
technical editors as the plenary session at their conference. On the flipside, Dr. Kelvin
Droegemeier, announced as Director of the White House Office of Science and
Technology Policy in January 2019 (after a vacancy since something happened in
November 2016), flippantly addressed Plan S in an interview
simply saying “we won’t ever tell people where to publish.” Bizarrely, a
research policy affecting labs and scholars from Norway to Portugal is giving
me a chance to meet and chat with publisher colleagues more than ever before,
and not opened any new doors for communicating finer points of licensing with
faculty on my campus.
A slow-flowing river
Following the current into the near future, I believe that there are three tributaries that will come together. Funders will continue to exert their influence, supplanting publishers as drivers of the conversation, disciplines will adapt discipline-specific means of scholarly sharing (see the rise of pre-prints [PDF]), and policy makers will attempt to legislate cautious action toward a global research marketplace. However… in the U.S. context there are two barriers that could dam the flow. Uncertainty in our political climate, and an America-first foreign policy agenda, is boiling up concern about “undue foreign influence,” and I fear that isolationism will compel a counter narrative to the open and public sharing of research worldwide. Secondly, America is a god-damn huge country and developing a coherent national framework for openness seems to be a fool’s errand. However, what sometimes appears to be a bog can actually be a river barely inching along. If Plan S was a splash, Plan Open U.S. will be a steady drip, creating geologic formations of systemic change toward a more open research ecosystem.
We read Danny and Micah’s contributions with great interest.
They raised several questions about Plan S, which we hope to discuss with Micah
after today’s talk.
What can we do to increase engagement of our local academic communities with the open access agenda?
Is it possible to uncouple decisions about research practice from financial or political/ideological considerations?
How can government funders find a balance between dictating open research mandates and respecting the academic freedom of researchers?
Can institutions measure research accurately without creating perverse incentives?
Is there any country in the world where the mention of politicians does not trigger an immediate eye-roll?
Published 24 October 2019
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley (Scholarly Communication Consultant) and Micah Vandegrift (Open Knowledge Librarian at NC State University Libraries).
Open access book formats have been under discussion for several years and have attracted interest – and concern – from researchers in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences as well as amongst institutions, publishers, and funders. Earlier this month the Office of Scholarly Communication organised a one-day symposium on ‘Open Access monographs: from policy to reality’which took place at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. It aimed to enable discussion about the open access monographs agenda and its future challenges with the Cambridge community and beyond, to bring together researchers with publishers, funders, experts and innovators in the field of open monograph publishing, and to share experiences about the opportunities and realities of publishing an open access book.
In this blog we summarise the key themes that emerged from this symposium. In favour of simplicity we accept that many of the issues discussed do not belong to one theme category only and are interlinked with each other.
‘What would it take to implement open access books for REF?’
This was one of the first questions in Prof Martin Paul Eve’s (Birkbeck, University of London) keynote speech which highlights an uncomfortable truth in the discussions about open access monograph policy in the UK these days.
‘To publish 75% of anticipated monographic submission output for the next REF would require approximately £96m investment over the census period. This is equivalent to £19.2m per year. Academic library budgets as they are currently apportioned would not support this cost.’ 
The figures are staggering and immediately show that money is the number one challenge in any discussions about monographs in this context. Which brings us swiftly to our first theme: The economics of open access.
The economics of open access
The distribution of the economics is the most important factor in the puzzle of open access monograph publishing. The overall consensus from both publishers and academics are that BPCs (Book Publishing Charges) for monographs do not work well in the humanities. They scale badly and concentrate costs. However, it is clear that one business model does not fit all in this sphere. A diversity of business models and ecosystems in which monographs can be published as open access would give authors choice and avoid monopolies. It was thought provoking to hear Rupert Gatti say that Open Book Publishers couldn’t scale up on their current business model to publish 250-300 books (10 times the amount they do now) but they shouldn’t have to. Instead, they can envisage a system where numerous small publishers like themselves exist next to large publishers, like Cambridge University Press (CUP). The idea of avoiding monopolies is not only key for authors but also readers as having a few publishers controlling the methods of distribution of this literature could end up restricting the way we access and use content.
Questions were also raised about how BPCs (or their replacement) should be set. Monographs vary in length and complexity, usually determined by their subject matter, which in turn have vastly different production costs. Should there then be a pricing structure that better reflects this? And in a culture of openness, can we ask publishers to be transparent about their costs and services so researchers can make more informed choices about where to spend their grant money?
Publishers are very aware of the impact that open access is having on the business models and the need to maintain quality in production and the peer review process. CUP stated that digital sales are becoming an important part of monograph publishing and that timing of open access is also quite an important factor in the economics. Exploring models of delayed open access might provide one solution to protecting publisher incomes whilst still opening up access to content.
‘Students cannot learn without images’ (Dr Nicky Kozicharow, University of Cambridge)
Another important piece of the puzzle is who pays for the costs of publishing an open access book? The current model used for STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) journal article APCs (Article Processing Charges), where funders usually pay the costs, was referred to an epistemic injustice that should not be replicated as researchers in less economically developed countries are disadvantaged.
The problem around costs of reproducing third-party images was also widely discussed, especially by Dr Nicky Kozicharow. Not enough is being done to support researchers, such as art historians, who rely on images for teaching and research activities. There is a (perceived) lack of training in copyright, which was a useful message, if not an uncomfortable one, to our librarians who routinely deliver training in this and are now revisiting their communications about this. But also image holders should consider how they support researchers – whilst some big holders, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wellcome Trust, the Getty Collection and Wikimedia, do provide images free of charge, there was the suggestion that other collection holders should consider opening up access for researchers at affiliated institutions. This access would need to continue for a number of years beyond that affiliation so the images are accessible during the period in which a book will often be written up.
Ethics, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
“Who and what is OA for? We need to start with the right question” (Prof Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society)
It is also important to view the economic question of who can afford to pay to publish an open access monograph through the lens of equality and inclusion. How can we ensure everyone has equal access to the opportunity to publish open access? Is open access a human right? The role of politics here is critical if we want to make open access work for everyone. Policymakers need to consider issues such as access, gender and nationality when making decisions that institutions and publishers have to interpret and adhere to.
Another group that suffers from the current set up for open access monographs are the early career researchers (ECRs). They often work in a precarious situation, moving between institutions on short term contracts. This restricts their ability to publish a monograph, which takes considerable time and effort. It is important that when institutions look to sign up to and implement statements such as DORA (San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment), that both monographs and journal articles are considered when looking at academic career progression.
Of course, as we strive to make open access work for everyone, we need to be mindful of impinging on academic freedoms. As noted by Dr Steven Hill (Director of Research, Research England), researchers should still be free to choose the questions they study within the constraints of the system. Academics should also be free to choose the licence that they publish their work under. This has been a major sticking point for many academics (as we have previously written) with CC BY licences seen as an ethical issue in the humanities. Instead, what is needed is a softening of licence choices with options such as non-commercial and non-derivative available – a point also highlighted in the recent Universities UK report on ’Open Access and Monographs’. Finally, we should not make assumptions that the ethical issues around licenses are the same worldwide, because they are not.
Scalability and sustainability
‘We need to understand fully the obstacles that underpin academic research in order to have a sustainable, scalable, global open access model – but we are not there’ (Prof Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society)
The issues around open access monographs are, at times, inextricably linked. Problems to do with economics are inseparable from issues of fairness (to sum the above section up badly) but also in scalability and sustainability. The academic monograph has its own distinct ecosystem in scholarly research. Open access monographs have a global readership, but production of open access books is not necessarily global, but concentrated on local or national levels. We need to consider the far-reaching consequences of this, including the relationship between the ‘global’ academic researcher and the ‘local’ publisher. We must also consider the role of the policymakers, often European, who set the rules in one country or part of the world and those academics who are not part of this system. Do the levels of academics in these countries and their outputs justify this dominance? We should also obtain more information on how open access books are used in order to justify the expenditure in publishing them, yet Hannah Hope, speaking for the Wellcome Trust, commented that the impact of open access books is hard to measure. Download statistics are often available and provide one measure. For example, UCL Press have had 2.5 million book downloads since its launch four years ago and Open Book Publishers report that their books are being freely accessed worldwide by over 20,000 readers each month.
The ability of publishers to innovate is seen as a key factor in the sustainability and scalability of open access monograph publishing. The size of the publisher will most probably determine their ability to innovate, with smaller publishers being in a better position to ‘take risks’ and try out new models, even if such models end up failing or not being appropriate to implement in bigger organisations due to scalability and financial constraints. Radical OA are experimenting with various business models and bringing down BPCs. The RHS’s New Historical Perspectives (NHP) book series is designed to provide high-quality publishing support to ECR historians (ECRs defined as researchers within 10 years of finishing their PhD) whilst absorbing the costs of BPCs and relying on a generous donation to cover some of the image costs. Indeed, ‘Learned societies have a long history of innovation and experimentation in publishing’ according to Prof Margot Finn, but how they take their experimentation to the next level is yet to be figured out.
Understanding how open access monographs can scale and be sustainable is key to figuring out the type of open access that will prevail. Green open access is not considered to be the future goal for CUP, who are experimenting with a number of different business models such as consortium models, crowdfunding and freemium models. They have also been engaging with authors, researchers and librarians worldwide to understand the monograph landscape better and to demystify issues concerning publishing process. Likewise, SpringerNature voiced concerns with green open access and although open access humanities publications account for a very small proportion of their overall open access publications (~10%) they feel that they are well positioned for a more open future.
Collaboration, relationships, communication
‘Publishing is not the end point. Academy as a whole needs to engage with that’ (Dr Rupert Gatti Trinity College/Faculty of Economics/Open Book Publishers)
What is clear is that there are many players in the field of open access monograph publishing and continued and open communication between all parties is key. Within institutions, academics and research support providers (such as librarians) need to have conversations to ensure the help required is accessible, so authors are not battling with copyright issues alone or remain unaware of the full spectrum of publishing options available to them. Senior leaders at universities must engage with their academic communities to understand the issues they face. They can then in turn engage with policymakers to encourage realistic rules and guidance that would lead to meaningful, measurable outcomes. It was reassuring to hear that consultative approaches are being taken and we welcome the continuation of these.
Publishers also have an important role in re-defining their relationship with academics. As Prof Martin Paul Eve questioned, are publishers solely service providers and academics content creators or are both parties co-producers and academic collaborators in the research process? Prof Roger Kain emphasised ‘the relationship of an author with their publisher with a journal is a very different relationship to the relationship of an author and their publisher with a monograph’ and as such this may lead to the chance to experiment further with business models, if publishers offer more added value through intellectual support for their authors. Of course, Learned Societies and holders of large collections of images have to be involved as well so that their position within the research process is well understood. These conversations should also happen in and between different geographical places because academic research will always have international collaborations.
We also have to be mindful of the messages that come out of these conversations. Time and again we heard the notion that “open access means bad peer review” is still alive in the academic community. This is a myth that all publishers, as well as librarians and other research support staff, are keen to debunk. Another myth is the misconception that “open access is the end of print”. As Prof Roger Kain put it ‘open access does not mean wholly replacing the physical copies of a book but help creators of content to reach wider audiences…OA and print will co-exist’. The term “open science” was noted as appearing to exclude the humanities and, therefore, disengaging researchers before they’ve even got started, even though open science includes all disciplines (this is the reason why in Cambridge we prefer to use “open research”). The language used in Plan S communication was seen as being too opaque, especially for non-native English speakers. If we are encouraging open research, we should be using language that is open and transparent, especially when open research is an international endeavour, as already mentioned. It is important that messages are correct and clear so humanities scholars and other stakeholders can engage fully in debates about the future of open access monograph publishing.
‘If we are going to take open access for monographs forward in a timely fashion it has to be taken forward as a shared enterprise…an enterprise involving academics as content creators, their funders, their universities…but above all their publishers’ (Prof Roger Kain, School of Advanced Study, University of London & Chairman of the UUK OA Monographs Group)
The symposium saw common themes emerging around issues with open access for monographs as the system currently stands, but also the potential benefits and possibilities that open access could open up into the future. There was consensus that open access needs to go forward as a shared enterprise with all stakeholders being equal players. Looking into the future there was also concern about the visibility of humanities research going forward when compared to the natural sciences and that humanities authors should strive to demonstrate the impact of their publishing activities.
Many of the themes discussed in this symposium echoed the recommendations as well as concerns outlined in the Universities UK Open Access Monograph report which was published a few days after this symposium took place. The report emphasised that complex questions still remained around issues such as costs, scalability and business models, but it was positive to read statements that the ‘academic book occupies a very distinct space in scholarly research’ reinforcing the fact that monographs are fundamentally different in intention and in kind when compared with journals or fields of research, and that ‘academic book publishing is an international activity’, with whatever implications this entails, as discussed earlier.
Perhaps it is fitting to conclude with a dose of pragmatism by quoting one of Dr Steven Hill’s remarks at the end of the symposium
‘...a really strong dose of pragmatism has entered this debate; that we all recognise that there are different visions of utopia that different actors in the system might have, but we can see that some of our visions of utopia have to be compromised in order to achieve something that is better than we have now and enable the kind of innovative scholarship that more openness will drive’.
and a note of optimism by Prof Martin Paul Eve who said the following when he was asked if there are lessons to be learnt from how open access has been applied to journals so far.
‘…we can learn a lot from how the open access debate has played out. I think we also learn a lot in seeing how compromises were reached within that to get to a point that is far better than a decade ago in terms of open access for journals…Momentum is growing, and acceptance is growing. And the idea that we don’t lose quality when things are available openly is growing. All these things are positive and I think we need to take those positives, articulate them from the start and see where that takes us rather than re-inventing the wheel, having the same argument, the same debates, and ending up in the same place, probably, but 20 years from now rather that in the next decade’.
Recordings and most of the presentations are available in the University of Cambridge institutional repository, Apollo as well as the OSC YouTube channel. We would like to acknowledge that this symposium was supported by the Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.
(1) Source: Eve, M.P. et al., (2017). Cost estimates of an open access mandate for monographs in the UK’s third Research Excellence Framework. Insights. https://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.392)
Published 23 October 2019
Written by Dr Lauren Cadwallader and Maria Angelaki