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Multiple Approaches to Open Access as it Gathers Supporters Remain to be Explored by its Funders and Stakeholders

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Shirin Wheeler and Wolfgang Petzold, Media Programme, EU Regional Policy and Challenges Ahead Milan, EU Open Days 2014, Belgium, Brussels, October 6, 2014 | © Courtesy of EU(UE)/OPEN DAYS/Flickr.

Whereas Open Access initiatives, such as the cOAlition or Plan S, seem to be receiving a growing amount of Europe-wide support, the details of their implementation, such as the agreed-upon mechanisms for setting the levels of article processing charges, are yet to be fully spelled out.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

Though supported by the European Commission, European Research Council and 11 European science funding bodies, the cOAlition or Plan S, announced in early September 2018, may be more ambitious that appears at the first sight, as it seeks to limit the publication of research results to Open Access journals and Open Access-compliant platforms only, provided these organizations have allocated financing toward obtaining underlying scientific findings. However, as the founders of the cOAlition S and relevant stakeholders seek to implement the Plan S starting from January 1, 2020, its key goals may be more difficult than expected to attain.

Primarily, the Plan S effectively favors Gold Open Access as the default publication option, because it expects that scientific authors not only retain unrestricted copyright over their articles, but also preferably publish them under the Creative Commons Attribution License, in strict compliance with the principles of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge, which rules out hybrid and Green Open Access. Yet the precise criteria for the compliance with Open Access requirements are still under-defined. Additionally, the need to maintain the quality of Open Access publications is likely to intensify the competition between publishing houses in this sector, especially since not all scientific fields have rosters of highly-reputed Open Access journals.

Absent Open Access platforms or journals that fully comply with the criteria of the Plan S, new publicly-supported Open Access journals or infrastructures are likely to be launched. At the same time the financial viability of the latter is yet to be established. The cOAlition S efforts to enforce Open Access implicitly entail the obligatory offsetting of article processing charges (APCs) by the participating organizations or funders, given that Open Access publishing can be burdensome for institutions or researchers with limited budgets.
Whereas, for individual publishers, APCs are likely to be determined by the interplay of supply and demand forces in the journal publishing market, that APC caps that the Plan S theoretically entails may be challenging to implement in publishing practice, as it will require the harmonization of approaches and policies that scientific organizations apply across multiple European countries and academic fields.

For these reasons, media commentaries cast doubt upon the feasibility of the Plan S, as especially global and prestigious publishers with portfolios of high impact-factor journals can be expected to request correspondingly high APCs for articles published in Gold Open Access, while resisting external efforts to determine the levels of the fees they levy.

Likewise, since the funds from the cOAlition S organizations can also be allocated to non-EU researchers, the manner in which their publishing costs will be reimbursed under the Plan S remains unclear. Publishers may also comply with the Plan S only partially, which may make it necessary to establish mechanisms of periodic coordination of their corresponding policies.

Thus, the Plan S creates both a momentum but also uncertainty around Open Access.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Shirin Wheeler and Wolfgang Petzold, Media Programme, EU Regional Policy and Challenges Ahead Milan, EU Open Days 2014, Belgium, Brussels, October 6, 2014 | © Courtesy of EU(UE)/OPEN DAYS/Flickr.

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