Commercial publishing system ‘may never deliver full open access’

Institutions themselves could create their own megajournals in response, report from European universities suggests

May 30, 2018
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Some of Europe’s biggest research universities have warned that the current commercial academic publishing system may not be able to deliver fully open-access research, and that institutions themselves may have to set up rival platforms instead.

The League of European Research Universities (Leru), which includes the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Sorbonne University and LMU Munich, also said that the attempted transition to open access in the UK has “clearly not worked”.

Campaigners have long demanded an end to paywalls that block access to publicly-funded academic research. By some measures, they have succeeded – one study last year found that nearly half of recently published papers were openly available in some form – although some think that the process is moving too slowly. Commercial publishers have insisted that they are squarely behind the shift towards openness.

But a new report from Leru about the challenges for open science warns that “it may well be that the current commercial publishing model cannot be adapted to full open-access publishing”.

If that is the case, new publishing models need to be identified which will deliver full affordable open access,” the organisation, composed of 23 universities across Europe, says in Open Science and its Role in Universities: A Roadmap for Cultural Change.

The report cites the UK, where big funders have given researchers the money to pay the article processing charges (APCs) needed to make a paper openly available. But with the average APC costing £1,700, “for a productive institution, this average will increase its publishing costs above the current cost of accessing these resources through subscriptions”, it says. The UK’s transition to open access “has clearly not worked and the reason is financial”, it warns.

One solution, the report argues, is for universities – perhaps Leru member institutions collectively – to create their own megajournals: open-access, fast turnaround, multidisciplinary platforms such as Plos One or Scientific Reports.

UCL, a Leru member, announced earlier this year that it would be launching a megajournal of its own.

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