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European Science Funding Agencies Form a Coalition for the Promotion of Gold Open Access in Journal Publishing

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Francis Crick Institute, Midland Road, London, UK, November 26, 2016 | © Courtesy of Elliott Brown/Flickr.

On September 4, 2018, the European Commission and 11 European research funding organizations have created a cOAlition or Plan S initiative, as part of their intent to use their spending power to ensure that by 2020 all articles they support financially are immediately accessible via Gold Open Access upon publication.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

The national research funding agencies comprising the cOAlition S are the Austrian Science Fund, French National Research Agency, Irish Science Foundation, Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, Luxembourgish National Research Fund, Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, Norwegian Research Council, Polish National Science Centre, Slovenian Research Agency, Swedish Research Council and British Research and Innovation organization. Given that on a yearly basis, these funding agencies wield the budgets that total 7.6 billion Euros, their initiative can add to the momentum of the global transition to Open Access by 2020, while significantly affecting the business models of book and journal publishers.

The stress that this Plan S places on Gold Open Access diverges from other Open Access models that involve subscription fees and delayed article access, such as hybrid Open Access. However, it remains to be seen whether this initiative will also be backed by the European Council and European Parliament, due to its expected impact on cost structures of scholarly organizations and revenue streams of publishing houses. Whereas Robert-Jan Smits, a special envoy on Open Access of the European Commission, who has been behind this initiative, indicates that it can also reduce the oligopolistic hold that large publishing houses have over the scientific journal market and enable researchers to maintain copyright over their scientific output, this also draws attention to the fact that, despite the remarkable growth in the Open Access sector in recent years, papers newly published in Gold Open Access only account for approximately 15% of all scholarly article output globally.

At the same time, the extent to which the impending predominance of the Gold Open Access model will disrupt the publishing industry cannot be fully ascertained beforehand. For the scholarly publishers of 85% of academic papers, the implementation of the Plan S will amount to a significant change in their Open Access models, as it will make it impossible to put future scientific output behind paywalls. Indeed, based on Scopus database data, this initiative may precipitate a further decline in the share of articles published in subscription-based journals, which has already decreased from 49.2% in 2012 to 37.7% in 2016. According to Scopus data, the primary beneficiaries of the transition to Open Access have been the journals that have deployed hybrid Open Access models, as their market share has jumped from 36.2% in 2012 to 45% in 2016. By contrast, in the period between 2012 and 2016 the growth in Gold and Green Open Access has been relatively modest with the market share of journals using these publishing models only rising from 12.4% to 15.2% and from 2.1% to 2.2% respectively.

While publishers may be cushioned from the ramifications of this championing of Gold Open Access, which can be negative as the American Association for the Advancement of Science argues, by transition periods granted to funding applicants on an ad-hoc basis, the market impact implications of this further push toward a transition to Open Access remain unclear, also because policy-making bodies, such as the European Commission, may decide on a more proactive approach toward Open Access adoption than was the case previously, e.g., in their plans for Horizon Europe after 2020.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Francis Crick Institute, Midland Road, London, UK, November 26, 2016 | © Courtesy of Elliott Brown/Flickr.

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