By Nicholas Cop
Could we take all the funds spent globally on scientific journal subscriptions by academic libraries, research centers and others, and transition them, or re-purpose them to pay for publishing those same journals and articles in open access? This would achieve a dream of the Open Access movement, and for society as a whole. Access to all published knowledge resulting from scientific research would no longer be restricted, anywhere in the world, by any form of barrier such as a paywall! The public good would be upheld. With no additional investments.
A recent and very interesting study1 by the Max Plank Digital Library, published as a White Paper on Open Access Policy, looks at precisely this scenario. It quantifies, for what appears to be the first time ever, if such a dream is possible and concludes that it is indeed!
The study begins by pointing out the rapid growth in open access publishing, and that new journals have no real future if they are launched as subscription journals instead of as open access journals. It presents, as an example of a new journal in open access, the journal PLOS One which has become the largest journal in the world in terms of number of articles published and citations received.
The study’s analysis supports the proposal for a change in the underlying business model of scholarly publishing, shifting the payments for journal subscriptions to payments for open access publishing services, such as APC’s2 in what is called the Gold Road Open Access. In this scenario, academic library acquisition budgets for journals could be consolidated and thus transformed into a budget for publication services in open access.
In general, fairly reliable numbers on APC’s are currently being produced. Funders, institutions and academic libraries not only want to keep track of how much they pay, but also want to make sure they are not being double-billed in the case of hybrid journals. Funders and institutions are also increasingly interested in verifying that articles for which APC’s have been paid are indeed made available in open access.
The study uses a very clever, simple and clear method to support its premise, and the mathematics is fairly straightforward. APC data for Germany, the UK and France was used to derive an average APC of EUR 2,000 per article3 for the calculations. Then, each country’s total production of scientific papers and reviews was deduced so that multi-authored works were counted only once under the corresponding author’s country. This number was called “APC-relevant papers”, in other words, the real number (de-duped) of papers and reviews representing the country’s scientific output which could be charged an APC were they all financed to be published in open access.
How much a country could have spent if all of its scientific output were published in open access was then calculated:
(APC-relevant Papers) X APC = total of estimated payments to publish in open access
This result was compared with the estimated total expenditures of the country in journal subscriptions. In all cases the subscription expenditures exceeded the calculated APC expenditures (Table 1), indicating that there is enough money in the system for a total transition to Gold Road Open Access with no financial impact or risk.
Table 1 – Total subscription expenditures (2013) vs. total anticipated APC expenditures
Note: Data is for 2013. Average APC used is EUR 2000. Data for the total number of articles is from Web of Science. Data for the total expenditures on subscriptions was derived from key analysts such as Simba and PNB Paribas. The APC relevant figure for the US was extrapolated based on the trend in Germany, the UK and France.
A study similar to this one is being undertaken in the US. The purpose is to investigate a sustainable APC model for publishing in open access and should provide, as one of its outputs, a clearer estimate of what is provided in Table 1 regarding the total APC and journal subscription expenditures for the US.
The Max Plank Digital Library performed the same analysis at the institutional level to see how the institutions might be affected financially with such a complete transition to open access publication. The number of APC-relevant publications for an institution was calculated to be in the range of 40% to 60% of an institution’s total output. This figure was based on what is reported by the approximately 30 German universities that participate in the DFG (German Research Foundation) APC funding program, and by the more than 10 years experience that the Max Plank Institutes has in supporting the APC’s of its researchers. The results of this analysis were even more pronounced than they were for the country level in support of a total transition to open access.
We are already on the path…
Some publishers, such as the IOP and the Royal Society of Chemistry, are experimenting with a new type of hybrid model called “offsetting” which offsets the subscription costs of journals according to the APC’s paid for the open access articles published in them. This offset model, if taken to its logical conclusion, could provide the business model for transitioning all subscription expenditures to funding open access services (APC’s) in order to publish all scientific journals and articles in open access. Thus, there is hope that, progressively, all scientific journals can be published entirely in open access!
Initiatives in parallel with the offsetting model, such as the ESAC initiative, can bring standardization to work flows and to the administration of charges for open access services, and can help further quantify and facilitate the transition from a subscription based system to a sustainable system of open access publication.
Key points from the study
The four key points, or “Insights” as they are called in the study, are truly enlightening and are worth repeating here (the headings have been put in by the author of this post):
- Under the current subscription system, a figure between EUR 3,800 and 5,000 is already being paid per research article through library subscription spending.
- There is currently already enough money in the system. A large-scale transformation from subscription to open access publishing is possible without added expense.
- For a meaningful cost analysis it is important to differentiate the APC-relevant articles (corresponding-author papers) from the rest of the publication record. Early examples at the country level further substantiate the claim that an open access transformation can be achieved without financial risk.
- While the APC-relevant article share at a country level is very often around 70%, it can easily go down to about 50% at the institutional level. This fundamental principle of allocation must be considered when calculating the costs for an open access transformation.
The fact that there currently seems to be enough money in the subscription based system to fund open access publishing services directed towards publishing all scientific journals in open access gives impetus to achieving the dream of public access to all scientific research knowledge without barriers. And we are on the path already! This transition should also take away the tremendous financial pressures on developing country academic libraries and research institutes which are subject to fluctuating foreign currency exchange rates and conversion restrictions in paying for journal subscriptions. These institutions generally have very limited subscription budgets compared to their counterparts in the developed countries. This puts their researchers and educators at a great disadvantage globally in access to information needed for economic, social and technological advancement.
1 SCHIMMER, R., GESCHUHN, K.K., and VOGLER, A. Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access. MPG. PuRe. 2015. DOI: 10.17617/1.3.
2 Author Processing Charges, the fee generally paid by authors to journals to publish in Gold Road Open Access.
3 APC data was taken from Max Planck Digital Library APC records that are uploaded to the OpenAPC initiative on GitHub, the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the SCOAP3 Consortium, and Wellcome Trust.
BJÖRK B.; SOLOMON, D. Developing an Effective Market for Open Access Article Processing Charges. Welcome Trust. 2014. Available from: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/stellent/groups/corporatesite/@policy_communications/ documents/web_document/wtp055910.pdf
IOP Publishing and UK university libraries collaborate on open access offsetting pilot. RLUK Research Libraries UK. Available from: http://www.rluk.ac.uk/news/iop-publishing-uk-university-libraries-collaborate-open-access-offsetting-pilot/
IOP Publishing launches open access deal. IOP Institute of Physics. Available from: http://www.iop.org/news/14/may/page_63308.html
Principles for Offset Agreements. JISC Collections. Available from: http://www.jisc-collections.ac.uk/Global/News%20files%20and%20docs/Principles-for-offset-agreements.pdf
SCHIMMER, R., GESCHUHN, K.K., and VOGLER, A. Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access. MPG. PuRe. 2015. DOI: 10.17617/1.3.
UC Davis and CDL Investigation of the Institutional Costs of Gold Open Access. ICIS. Available from: http://icis.ucdavis.edu/?page_id=286
Efficiency and Standards for Article Charges – <http://esac-initiative.org>
Nicholas Cop is the Founder and President of Nicholas Cop Consulting, LLC, based in Florida, USA. In addition to being a consultant to the SciELO Program, the company provides information services internationally to academic institutions and libraries, information and research networks, and publishers. Nicholas graduated in physics (B.Sc.) from McMaster University, Canada, with postgraduate studies undertaken at the University of Toronto, also in Canada.
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