Open Access Publishing
The Academy's CEO and Chief Officers of Learned Societies Group met on 12th June to discuss the implications of Open Access publishing.
Representatives from two major social science publishers talked about the background to the debate.
They summarised current activity, noting the emotional element that has entered the debate, which is clouding the financial arguments. Key players were identified: the research funders; participants; government and legal institutions in the UK, Europe, the USA, and the rest of the world.The drive has come largely from the life sciences where publishing practices, needs and research finances differ from social science.
The Open Access future was considered. Publishers retain a key role in ensuring research excellence and validation via trusted brands and a properly operated peer review system. Open access publishing could be funded by the researching institutions in place of current subscriptions for accessing research. Pricing competition will increase and a new relationship between customers and publishers will develop, with a shift of legal responsibility away from publishers and authors, for example in terms of dealing with plagiarism.
If the UK is to take a lead with Open Access then the financial models will need to be considered: the UK has a relatively high author base with an international reader base, which will be able to access UK funded material free of charge.
Key issues for further discussion include:
- What are the opportunities for Open Access in the Social Sciences?
- What are the economic consequences of Open Access on society revenues?
- The Open Access agenda is being driven by the Life Sciences – how do we give the Social Sciences a voice?
- How might Open Access develop in future and how can we influence the debate?
Professor Dame Janet Finch AcSS (left) spoke about the work of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, set up by David Willetts to make recommendations to the government on the way forward. She was its independent chair.
At the time of the meeting the report had not yet been finalised or published, although minutes of the working group's meetings had been publicly available through the process on the RIN website.The Group's remit pertained only to peer reviewed publications. The centrality of economic models was understood by the group and taken into account in its deliberations.
She noted that the online environment changed everything in relation to accessing research output and the full benefit was yet to be realised. Increasingly researchers in universities wanted desktop access to a wider range of material, and the same applies to those outside academia. There is a clearly understood need to get research findings into the public domain if they are to be fully used.
The UK publishes much high quality research - around 6% of papers globally have a UK-based author. The Working Group focussed on the UK, on peer reviewed journal articles and conference proceedings and agreed not to consider monographs, the majority of which still appear in print.
Currently there are two main business models - reader or author pays, the former has been conventional, the latter is expanding. Two main routes forward have been identified:
'Green' - where the reader pays during an initial embargo period after which access is free. This is important in natural sciences where the 'half -life' of a paper is relatively short.
'Gold' - where the author pays to publish - possibly out of the research funding - and access is free to all readers right from the beginning.
It is important for learned societies to grasp the nettle in a world rapidly moving towards open or expanded access, said Dame Janet. Proactive stances need to be adopted to the changes which are inevitable, and it is important for learned societies not to be dragged along by changes occurring outside the UK, but toparticipate in the evolution.
The Working Group saw an interim period of a mixed economy with several years of transition required. However, this is a global development. If the UK steps out alone, it will bear a higher cost as the UK provides proportionately more high quality research outputs than other regions.
The Group developed success criteria for testing the different options and sought a model to fit them. The criteria are:
Accessibility. More UK authored material is freely available; more non-UK authored material can be freely accessed by UK researchers; more non-UK authored material can be freely accessed by anyone in the UK.
Research and services. The quality of research is sustained, especially in the UK; readers and users have quality services available e.g. peer review and accessibility.
Contingent / process criteria. Sustainability of publishing, especially for learned societies; cost and affordability for research funders; cost and affordability for universities.
None of the current options work alone, when tested against the success criteria, including an extension of licence agreements to public use via walk-in access at university libraries. Government wants business to have greater access to research, which is a new constituency and would require government funding as it doesn't currently contribute. The recommendations are for a mixed economy with co-existing methods of publishing and accessing for quite some time. The report will not be a blueprint, but a description.
Learned societies are very imporant in the UK and phasing of the changes is key, with a long handover period.
Dr Rita Gardner CBE, Director of the RGS (with IBG), and who sat on the Working Group as a representative of the learned societies, added some comments. She considered that the Working Group had recognised the role of the learned societies and that income from publishing fed back into other useful activities. Societies often publish the leading journals in their field, which contribute to the UK's international standing. However, learned societies need to accept the inevitable and start talking to their publishers.
She noted that the embargo periods for social science items need to be longer than is customary in natural science, as the 'half-life' of a social science paper is nearer 4 years than 6 months. Most STEM researchers think that the gold (author pays) model will work for them, but there are problems with humanities and social science. Timing and phasing of changes is, however, going to be key to the impact on learned societies, but much of this may be driven by the rest of the world.
Professor Robert Dingwall AcSS, a consulting sociologist, commented from the viewpoint of an independent scholar and also the universities: open access for readers means restricted access for authors. It is necessary to consider the fair distribution of the ability to publish in order to ensure that all voices are heard. The income stream from publishing is also important to independent businesses, as well is the ability to police re-use of material.
He noted that a move to open access publishing would narrow the burden of dissemination to a few research intensive universities. Free access removes the cost barrier to setting up HEIs. Learned societies may have to increase conference fees and membership subscriptions, which are often currently subsidised out of journal income; this will hit university departments and there may be a knock-on effect on the ability of learned societies to provide conferences.
Journal publishing is part of a complex and highly evolved innovation ecosystem, which needs greater understanding if changes are not to damage the future of research.
Key points raised during the discussion included: learned societies also represent research communities that are in favour of open access publishing. The key issue is the transition and the pricing. A move to supply side will lead to deterioration of peer review. The business models of learned societies are very different; some depend largely on journal income as subscriptions reduce and there are fewer sources of income, yet the money is used very widely, often in response to requests from HEIs, as well as for research projects with open access outcomes. Learned societies may discover their financial models are brittle. Publishers currently lead technological innovations, which will be at risk.
Possibly learned societies will need to link more closely to university departments for money to support their activities.The potential addition of VAT as a result of changes may create a 'perfect storm' for societies. It is not yet clear how the publishing fees will work; Wellcome that is leading the field, is underwriting the costs so fees are not being charged.
Another possibility is for learned societies to publish their own journals, but this would mean losing technological and marketing support. Also, charitable status means maintaining a not-for-profit basis for societies' work.
Perhaps methods of Open Access could be piloted in a few subjects, with participating societies receiving assurances with regard to their incomes. The unknowns are significant.