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Though the Plan S May Significantly Affect Open Access Journals, it Can also Reduce the Publishing Market Concentration

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Petri Art, the Wellcome Trust, London, England, UK, February 28, 2009 | © Courtesy of gwire/Flickr.

As a formal complaint over the anti-competitive impact of Elsevier, a globally dominant scientific publisher, on the journal publishing market has been placed with the European Commission, such as due to the lacking transparency of its pricing practices, the Plan S is likely provide incentives to scholarly journals to change their models in the direction of making publication costs visible upfront in the Open Access sector.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

In late October, 2018, the RELX Group, which holds Elsevier as part of its portfolio, was complained against, e.g., by the paleontologist Jonathan Tennant and the neurobiologist Björn Brembs, at the European Commission on the grounds that its confidential journal subscription agreements it has been concluding with university and research organization libraries run counter to the principles of Open Access to scientific results and knowledge, which are more often than not publicly funded. The primary grievance this complaint voices is the insufficient transparency of the costs that accessing scholarly journals via, usually confidential, subscription contracts entails.

Whereas the aim of this complaint is to promote price-based competition in the journal publishing market, such as by enabling all market players to have access to cost-related information, it may also follow from the overwhelming market share that this publisher maintains in the scientific journal sector. From this perspective, Open Access is likely to contribute to progress in multiple research domains through the competition between different publishers also by promoting their substitutability. Incidentally, this appears to be one of the aims of the Plan S castigated as overly radical by some members of the international scientific community, primarily since among its objectives is the elimination of subscriptions from Open Access publishing upon which Green and hybrid Open Access models rely for their economic viability.

The Plan S will, thus, create incentives for researchers to give preference to Gold Open Access that involves immediate access to scientific results, because its supporters are international, European Union-wide and national funders of academic research that ultimately derive their budgets from public or philanthropic financial resources.

Though established journal publishing market players that rely on closed-access and subscription emphasize the choice between different publishing models that scholars presently have, the eventual effect of the Plan S is likely to be higher levels of competition and transparency in the Gold Open Access sector, while favoring a greater implementation of article-level impact metrics.

Moreover, as the fine print of the Plan S is still being worked and elaborated upon, such as in a fleshed-out extended document on the implementation of its principles to appear toward December, 2018, it can be expected to be adjusted in a manner that does not explicitly incentivize one model of Open Access over other ones, e.g., via permitting the offsetting of subscription fees against article publication costs.

Thus, contrary to the opinion of its detractors, the Plan S will likely involve a transition period with some funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, and a refinement of its policies concerning Green and hybrid Open Access journals.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Petri Art, the Wellcome Trust, London, England, UK, February 28, 2009 | © Courtesy of gwire/Flickr.

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