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The European Union Promotes Open Access Amid Concerns Over Publishing Industry and International Policy Implications

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Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X, Frank Stella, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA, June 6, 2009 | © Courtesy of Wally Gobetz/Flickr.

As the European Commission seeks to obtain broad international support for its Plan S, such as in the United States, publishers may be significantly affected by the elimination of Open Access embargo periods on which Green and hybrid Open Access models critically depend for economic sustainability.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

The core component of the Plan S championed by the European Commission (EC) is the immediate, free-of-charge availability of academic papers published with the support of the agencies responsible for funding the underlying research. Since the Plan S will be implemented in relation to the next 7-year Research Framework of the European Union (EU), to take effect for the period from 2021 to 2028, which will succeed the current Horizon 2020 framework and is estimated to be worth approximately 100 billion Euros, a near-doubling of its budget as compared to the 2007-2013 period, independently of fund allocation on the level of European states, the implications of this flip to Open Access are likely to be momentous, despite being limited to only some Europe-based science funders.

The Plan S already elicits interest from the United States, China, Japan, India and South Africa. Given that Open Access models are largely based on the author-pays approach, primarily through article processing charges (APCs), scholarly publishers may enter a situation in which they are competing for APC-derived revenues on the basis of APC levels without a possibility to provide discounts as part of institutional membership or subscription agreements that Green and hybrid Open Access models allow. However, the international expert community remains divided as for the benefits, feasibility and effectiveness of the Plan S.

Moreover, the majority of the member organizations, e.g., 37 Europe-based scholarly funding agencies, of Science Europe, in co-authorship with which the Plan S was formulated, are yet to formally join it. If this happens, it will have a significant effect on the manner in which about 23 billion USD these agencies manage are likely to affect the journal publishing industry. At the same time, major European organizations that finance science, such as the German Research Foundation, or in German die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), may decide against endorsing the Plan S because the latter constrains publication options of scholars to only those Open Access models that do not involve subscriptions or access embargoes.

For instance, in the United Kingdom (UK) 73% of the scholarly journals published by a representative sample of 40 academic publishers have been found to be based on hybrid Open Access, as opposed to Gold Open Access and subscription-based access representing the models that only 18% and 9% of these journals have respectively adopted, in 2017, while registering 17% growth in their number from 2015 on the background of the stagnant or decreasing net income and rising expenditures that UK publishers and scientific societies have demonstrated in recent years.

In other words, as findings for this sample of publishers indicate, between 2015 and 2017, hybrid Open Access journal titles have grown the most, as in the same period Gold Open Access journals have experienced a growth of 11% only, whereas the number of subscription-based, paywall-protected journals has dropped by 37% across these years.

Even though the Plan S is expected to affect less than 5% of global science funding, its implications for the journal publishing industry can be dramatic.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X, Frank Stella, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA, June 6, 2009 | © Courtesy of Wally Gobetz/Flickr.

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