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The Intention of the Plan S to Cap Article Processing Charges and Favour Gold Open Access Meets with Industry Criticism

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Ensure open access for internet service suppliers and ban roaming fees, say MEPs, European Parliament, Bruxelles/Brussels, Belgique/Belgium, September 10, 2014 | © Courtesy of European Union 2014/European Parliament/Flickr.

Though the Plan S of European research funding organizations intends to promote Open Access and make it a default publication option by 2020, it has elicited critical responses from publishing industry representatives and European scientists concerned about the negative effects its rigid guidelines may have on the journal publishing market.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


Though in a press interview, Carsten Buhr, De Gruyter’s Managing Director, has welcomed this Open Access initiative of the cOAlition of European Union-wide and country-level science funding bodies, he has also pleaded for flexibility as concerns the recommended level of article processing charges (APCs). APCs may need to be set flexibly, rather than capped at an arbitrary level, to account for the differences in cost structures that high-impact journals have in contrast to smaller-scale and lower-impact periodical publications. According to Buhr, APC caps are likely to lead to budget cuts in the long run, which is not necessarily compatible with high levels of journal quality or sustainability.

The Plan S can also have a deleterious effect on the scientific journal publishing industry because it effectively excludes the hybrid Open Access model from its planned funding. At the same time, hybrid, and also Green, Open Access models, to the extent that they only put behind subscription-based paywalls recently published articles, such as those from the immediately preceding period that can range from one year to two years, while putting article archives into Open Access, provide an economically viable pathway to the achievement of the goals of transitioning to Open Access in the long term.

In this respect, scientific publishers may need to be involved in the dialogue surrounding the Plan S. Similarly, the diversity of the opinions of European and international scholars may need to be brought to bear on the eventual configuration and implementation of the Plan S. In his blog article, Leonid Schneider has also underscored that the Plan S does not necessarily allow for the flexibility in relation to the degree to which specific Open Access models cover the costs of journal publishers.

Moreover, despite the Plan S, Open Access is likely to continue to coexist with subscription-based publishing models beyond 2020. The Plan S is also not necessarily compatible with post-publication repositories that can contain versions of articles published in paid-access journals. From the perspective of individual researchers, the Plan S is also likely to effectively narrow the range of feasible publication options in those countries in which it will come into force, as major science funding agencies will be channeling financial support to Gold Open Access journals.

Though this initiative is likely to encourage journals to switch to Open Access or include it among their publication options, its systemic effect on the publishing market may, however, undermine the financial sustainability of journals and publishers operating based on models other than Gold Open Access, as it will produce significant incentives for large-scale institutional transitions to Open Access in the short term without making it possible a range of different Open Access models to be applied.

Since APCs tend to increase over time, their combination with subscription-based access, such as in the framework of Green or Hybrid Open Access, can, furthermore, limit the possible negative effects of price competition on the journal publishing industry.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Ensure open access for internet service suppliers and ban roaming fees, say MEPs, European Parliament, Bruxelles/Brussels, Belgique/Belgium, September 10, 2014 | © Courtesy of European Union 2014/European Parliament/Flickr.

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