Euro­pean open ac­cess ini­tia­tive Plan S ‘could prove fa­tal’ for learned so­ci­eties

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Rachael.pells@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

A Euro­pean ini­tia­tive to make pub­licly funded re­search im­me­di­ately avail­able in open ac­cess for­mat could have dis­as­trous con­se­quences for learned and pro­fes­sional so­ci­eties, it has been warned.

Plan S, an­nounced by Sci­ence Europe in Septem­ber, has so far re­ceived back­ing from fund­ing agen­cies in 13 coun­tries and is set to come into ef­fect in Jan­uary 2020.

While the project has been lauded by many, con­cerns have been ex­pressed about the im­pact such a move would have on smaller pub­lish­ers and on learned and pro­fes­sional so­ci­eties, many of which rely on in­come from sub­scrip­tion-based jour­nals. Th­ese ti­tles would be of­flim­its to pub­licly funded re­searchers af­ter the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Plan S, which also aims to in­tro­duce a cap on ar­ti­cle pro­cess­ing charges as­so­ci­ated with open ac­cess ti­tles.

Speak­ing to Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, Pe­ter Richard­son, in­terim joint chief ex­ec­u­tive of the UK’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Learned and Pro­fes­sional So­ci­ety Pub­lish­ers, said that some so­ci­eties could “dis­ap­pear al­to­gether” if their con­cerns were not heeded.

“If Plan S re­sults in ar­ti­cle pro­cess­ing charges be­ing capped, that would have a marked ef­fect on those or­gan­i­sa­tions,” he ex­plained. “It’s im­por­tant that the con­ver­sa­tion about im­ple­men­ta­tion isn’t dom­i­nated by the larger com­mer­cial pub­lish­ers.”

A ma­jor stick­ing point is the rel­a­tively short time frame, given the amount of time that it takes for a new jour­nal to be­come known and rep­utable. Mr Richard­son sug­gested that it would not be pos­si­ble for ex­ist­ing so­ci­ety pub­lish­ers to make the shift by open­ing new open ac­cess plat­forms in that time. “I think what we would hope for is a tran­si­tion pe­riod to be put in place to give [us] more time to ad­just,” he said.

Feed­back from ALPSP mem­bers con­firmed the preva­lence of th­ese fears. One anony­mous ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of a learned so­ci­ety said half of their group’s an­nual bud­get came from three jour­nals.

The prospect of los­ing any of that in­come “scares me to death”, they said. “That rev­enue sub­sidises all our other pro­grammes: mem­ber­ship, cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, con­fer­ence, and on­line learn­ing.”

“Over time, this could erode our source of ed­i­tors, re­view­ers, and ed­i­to­rial board mem­bers...I doubt that we would be able to keep our jour­nals afloat, and I doubt whether our pub­lisher could re­main in busi­ness ei­ther.”

Oth­ers sug­gest that such a view may be short-sighted, how­ever. Stephen Eglen, reader in com­pu­ta­tional neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge said that “ex­cuses” about it be­ing ex­pen­sive to run a jour­nal were be­com­ing “in­creas­ingly hard to jus­tify”.

“My sug­ges­tion for learned so­ci­eties would be that if you can’t sur­vive in a Plan S world, maybe look long and hard at the pro­duc­tion costs and [take jour­nals] to one of the many open ac­cess pub­lish­ers who seem to be do­ing quite well,” Dr Eglen said.

Ni­amh O’Con­nor, jour­nals pub­lish­ing di­rec­tor at open ac­cess plat­form Plos, stressed that, while the ma­jor­ity of learned so­ci­ety mem­bers were “be­hind open sci­ence”, they needed to re­main a part of the con­ver­sa­tion around im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pro­pos­als.

“It is un­doubt­edly the case for a lot of learned so­ci­eties that this will have a very big im­pact,” said Dr O’Con­nor, speak­ing in her ca­pac­ity as trea­surer of ALPSP. “So­ci­eties are reimag­in­ing their pub­li­ca­tions, some with open ac­cess jour­nals, [but] there is a dan­ger that some of the so­ci­eties might not last.

“Within that, there would be a ques­tion of what would hap­pen to the jour­nals and who would end up own­ing them.”

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