IOP launches ‘offsetting’ scheme to cut cost of open access

A publisher has launched a pilot with 21 UK universities to reduce their subscription costs in proportion to the amount of open access fees they pay

May 23, 2014

The “offsetting” arrangement devised by the Institute of Physics’ publishing arm will allow universities that subscribe to its “hybrid” journals to publish more open access papers in them without incurring greater costs.

The additional cost associated with the transition to open access publishing has been a major bone of contention among research-intensive universities since the UK government endorsed the Finch Group’s recommendation for the UK to set a “clear policy direction” towards journal-provided gold open access, which often requires payment of an article fee.

In an open letter to Finch Group chair Dame Janet Finch earlier this year, universities and science minister David Willetts said he understood the concern and called on publishers to set up offsetting arrangements.

Mr Willetts welcomed IoP Publishing’s “bold step” and “strongly encouraged” other publishers “to follow suit to the benefit of science and the future prosperity of our country”.

Steven Hall, managing director of IOP Publishing, said that the plans for the arrangement predated Mr Willetts’ call, arising out of discussions last summer with Research Libraries UK and the Russell Group.

“RLUK has been pressing for these kinds of models for some time and publishers have struggled a bit to see how they might work,” he said.

The problem had been to devise a “scalable” model, meaning it would be possible for other countries to join in. He said a model in which all of the reductions in subscription price were focused on the institutions paying open access fees was unworkable.

“It might work when only a tiny proportion of your published papers are open access, but once it got to 5 or 10 per cent, all of your other customers who are not supporting open access would be saying: ‘Hang on: 10 per cent of the papers in this journal are open access, so we want a 10 per cent price reduction.’”

He said the solution was to institute a sliding scale on which the split of price reductions between individual institutions and subscribers generally would be split. Initially 90 per cent of the reductions will go to the participating institutions. But as take-up of open access increases, a greater proportion of the savings will be passed on to subscribers generally, up to a maximum of 90 per cent.

The deal complements a similar arrangement IoP Publishing made earlier this year with libraries and research funders in Austria. The Royal Society of Chemistry’s publishing arm also offers an offsetting scheme, known as Gold for Gold, whereby subscribers to its full package are offered the chance to publish a certain number of open access papers each year without additional charge.

Mr Hall said all universities that had published at least five papers with IoP Publishing over each of the last two years had been invited to join the scheme. The 21 initial signatories include the universities of Bristol, Liverpool and Warwick, Queen’s University Belfast, University College London, King’s College London, Imperial College London and Cranfield University.

Although the scheme is now closed for 2014, more universities will be able to sign up next year. If, after three years, the scheme was “working for them and working for us there is no reason it wouldn’t continue”, Mr Hall said.

He said other countries had also expressed an interest in negotiating similar deals, but said the publisher would not enter into any more deals until next year due to the amount of administration they involved. 

“I believe in supporting hybrid open access, and this seemed a good way of allowing UK universities to commit to it a bit more strongly,” he said.

Phil Sykes, University of Liverpool librarian and an RLUK board member, said the scheme “sensibly balances the interests of the publisher and our universities […] We look forward to working with other publishers to implement similar models.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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