5 Predictions for Open Access in 2014
Rob Johnson is the founder and director at Research Consulting Limited and former head of research operations at the University of Nottingham. He will be leading a free webinar Open Access: The Journey So Far with the Copyright Clearance Center reviewing the progress of the OA movement and its future.
Though the road to open access (OA) is proving to be far from smooth, the direction of travel remains clear. In 2013, we saw many scholarly publishers make efforts towards open access for governmentally funded works. Research funders worldwide have been progressively introducing or strengthening mandates for open access. Argentina and Peru have become the first countries to pass legislation requiring publicly funded research to be available in open access form. A 2013 Science-Metrix study for the European Commission concluded that countries including Brazil, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the U.S. had already reached a "tipping point" in their adoption of open access, with many others not far behind.
While the movement is undoubtedly global, the United Kingdom has been a bellwether for open access since The Report of Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings (better known as the Finch Report) was released in June 2012. As the home to world-class academic institutions, prestigious learned societies, and a large academic and scholarly publishing industry, the U.K. exemplifies the diverse and sometimes conflicting interests of authors, librarians, policy makers, research funders, and publishers.
Despite criticisms of the Finch group's conclusions in some quarters, the U.K. government and Research Councils enthusiastically adopted the group's recommendations. Most recently, both the Finch group, in a progress review released in November 2013, and the U.K. government, in its response to an inquiry by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee of the House of Commons, have reiterated their long-term preference for gold OA, which often entails payment of an article processing charge (APC). In the interim, this means we will see continued use of public funds to meet APCs for both gold and hybrid journals, within a mixed economy of gold and green (self-archiving of articles in a repository) open access.
Naturally, the U.K., which accounts for only 6% of the world's research outputs, cannot set the pace of change throughout the world on its own. In the U.K., we are also unlikely to see imminent answers to longstanding questions about the relationship between embargo periods and subscriptions, the appropriate use of text and data-mining, the impact of open access on learned societies, and the viability of new business models and novel approaches to peer review. Nevertheless, the way U.K. policy plays out in 2014 will give us some important clues as to the future of open access publishing, so here are 5 predictions for what we can expect to happen over the next year.
Funder Mandates Driving Growth in Gold Open Access
The past success of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust in driving open access within medicine and related fields is a testament to the effectiveness of funder mandates. To date, it is true that researchers in other disciplines have been much slower to change their publishing patterns. Indeed, 6 months after the Research Councils U.K. policy came into effect, many institutions had been able to utilize only 20% of the annual grants provided by funders to meet APC costs. However, this can be expected to change rapidly as institutions increase their internal advocacy efforts in order to meet compliance and spending targets, and a growing proportion of new articles fall within the scope of the RCU.K. policy -- which, it should be remembered, applied only to articles submitted for publication after April 1, 2013.
Increased Scrutiny of Publisher Charges
As the sums paid to publishers in the form of article processing charges (APCs) continue to rise, so will the demands for greater transparency in publisher pricing. The U.K. government has expressed disquiet over non-disclosure clauses in publishing contracts that involve public funds, while the Wellcome Trust, RCU.K. and other funders are commissioning research regarding the steps needed to ensure a "functioning market" in APCs. Meanwhile, the U.K.'s representative body for institutional libraries, Research Libraries U.K., has signaled its intent to demand a rebate on members' subscriptions to hybrid journals, and the Finch group noted lack of clarity over page and color charges as a particular concern for institutions. In response, publishers have expressed concern about how to manage complex APC pricing rules and reporting to funders. Moreover, publishers have noted that the costs of APCs for top journals are typically lower than the per-article revenues for the journals, and with RCU.K. and Wellcome Trust mandates requiring use of CC-BY licenses, balancing the lost revenues with the APC "gains" is a complex endeavour. This discussion will certainly continue to evolve.
The Author as a Paying Customer
The subscription model, in which the costs of publication are borne by the libraries, and the tendency for U.K. academic institutions to offer centralized publication funds in the early stages of gold road open access have hitherto insulated some authors from the cost of publishing. As the pressure to create a functioning market for APCs grows globally, we can expect that costs will increasingly be paid by the authors (whether personally or through grant funding) and that price will become a growing factor in individual publishing decisions. Brand and the continued sway of the journal impact factor may be sufficient to justify a premium price, but publishers will increasingly need to step up efforts to demonstrate the value they add. Finding ways to reduce the "friction costs" and increase the speed of publishing, whether in manuscript submission, peer review or APC payment processes, will help ensure publishers are able to continue attracting high-quality authors, and the revenue they represent.
Adoption of Common Technical Standards
One area where all the stakeholders share a common interest is the need for better quality data and more automated information flows. For example, there is a growing need to effectively link the timing of gold APC payments with publication on fully-compliant OA terms. Green OA, on the other hand, would benefit substantially from cooperative agreements and improved data sharing between institutions and publishers. The need for common technical standards will help streamline the transactional data flows. Given the challenge of disambiguation within the large datasets now being maintained for open access, we can also expect to see steady growth in the adoption of unique identifiers for researchers (in the form of ORCID), funders (e.g., FundRef), and institutions.
Controversies Over Access to Funding
While their primary focus will remain on advocacy for some months to come, institutions are certainly worried that demand for gold open access will come to exceed the supply of funding. Many universities have expressed their reluctance to divert additional internal funds to meet the cost of APCs. This opens up the prospect of aggrieved authors claiming they have been denied access to funding in favour of more illustrious, or simply luckier, colleagues. It also creates the real possibility that funding will only be available in the earlier part of the year. Faced with growing demands on a finite source of funding, institutions may seek to split APCs with co-author institutions, and funders may question how APCs are allocated where publications arise from multiple sources of support.
From a publisher perspective, this could result in delays in payment, a reduction in collection rates, and greater administrative overhead in cases where split payments are required. While the U.K. government insists that the funds available are sufficient, how these issues are addressed in the next year will set important precedents for the future. These issues are also driving many funders to consider green road, which while initially less expensive to implement, has unclear sustainability. This is due to the fact that under the green road, the costs of peer review and sustaining journals is covered by traditional revenue sources such as subscriptions, rights, and advertising, all of which are progressively undermined by unpaid access to the articles.
Conclusion: Open Access is Changing
Open Access is dramatically changing the business of scholarly publishing. Publishers, authors, universities, librarians, funders and customers everywhere are feeling the impact. While this environment of change may seem overwhelming, no single organization or author stands alone. Open Access is a global challenge, and we are all in this together.
Indeed, in its report entitled The Potential Role for Intermediaries in Managing the Payment of Open Access Article Processing Charges (APCs), the Research Information Network urged stakeholders to "work together to ensure that progress...is as smooth as possible toward creating the systems and processes that enable the payment of Open Access article processing charges, while meeting the costs of publication."
Publishers can stay on the right track to do just that by keeping these five tips in view.