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Policy-Making May Fall Short of Charting Financial Roadmaps for and Underestimate Costs of Open Access Transitions

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Back View of University Main Building, University of Bern, Bern, Canton of Berne, Switzerland, June 23, 2012 © Courtesy of Guido Gloor Modjib/Flickr.

Though policymakers’ aims for transitioning to 100% Open Access for publicly funded research, such as in Switzerland, are laudable, their implementation in the coming years will not necessarily change the structure of the publishing market, as traditional publishers can be expected to be best able to branch out into the Open Access sector, due to their diversified product portfolios and revenue streams.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

On April 3, 2018, Matthias Egger, president of the National Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), has announced the decision to make the results of all SNSF-funded projects freely accessible in digital form from 2020. While in the foreground of this policy-making decision is not only the intention to promote Open Science, but also the high and climbing fees for high-impact journal subscriptions, which stood at 70 million Swiss Francs in 2017, in the background uncertainty looms as for how this transition to 100% Open Access will be financed and what effect this initiative will have on local, European and global publishing markets.

Whereas from April and October 2018 Swiss researchers will be able to cover their processing charges for books and chapters published in Open Access respectively with the help of the SNSF, however, unless high-ranking scientific journals switch to Open Access or Swiss faculty and researchers will be consistently preferring Open Access journals over toll-based ones, which this policy intends to instigate toward and after 2020, institutional inertia may prevail, as the SNSF does not necessarily fund 100% of research that Swiss research universities and organizations perform.

Furthermore, launching new Open Access journals may demand upfront costs and investment the financial outlays for which individual organizations may have limited ability to demonstrate. This is demonstrated by the launch of a new globally oriented, peer-reviewed, Open Access journal in the domain of life sciences, Life Science Alliance, which was announced on April 3, 2018. This journal comes about as a result of Rockefeller University Press, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press and EMBO Press pooling their funds together, while making it possible for authors of other life sciences journals that they already publish, such as Molecular Systems Biology, to choose the Open Access option this periodical offers. It may also be assumed that without this alliance backing the newly established journal, its launch would hardly be possible.

While transitioning to Open Science is slated to have multiple benefits for the global scientific community and larger society alike, such as a faster cross-validation of latest research findings and a more rapid development of medical treatments for many diseases, e.g., Alzheimer’s, which serves as the rationale behind the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform that makes openly accessible big data sets that primary research in the field of neuropsychology generates, it is far from certain that the role of large publishers in disseminating the results of scientific studies will be significantly reduced by Open Access policies and initiatives.

This is demonstrated by the recent involvement of Elsevier as a subcontractor in the Open Science monitoring activity of the European Union. In other words, due to their publishing experience and existing presence in the Open Access sector, large book and journal publishers can be expected to influence both Open Access policy-making and market development.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Back View of University Main Building, University of Bern, Bern, Canton of Berne, Switzerland, June 23, 2012 © Courtesy of Guido Gloor Modjib/Flickr.

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