Open access: Plan S launch delayed until 2021

Consultation responses had called for start of mandate to be pushed back from January 2020

May 31, 2019

Researchers and publishers have another year in which to make the transition to full open access, after the launch date for Plan S was pushed back to 2021.

Publishing revised guidance, the architects of the Science Europe-led initiative said that the need to extend the deadline from January 2020 – just six months away – had been a “recurring theme” in consultation responses from the research community.

The rules, published on 31 May, say that researchers supported by participating funding bodies must make their work freely and immediately available upon publication, from January 2021.

Three possible routes to compliance remain. Researchers may either publish their work directly through an open access journal or platform, or simultaneously through a subscription journal and open access repository.

Authors may also publish their work open access through “transformative agreements”, for instance, where institutions have signed up to read-and-publish deals under which journals move from subscription models towards open access. This model is favoured by some publishers, including Springer Nature.

The revised guidance confirms that “hybrid” journals that offer a mix of subscription and open access content were not supported, but the start of the three-year transition period allowing continued use of them has been pushed back alongside the start of the mandate, meaning that it now runs until 2024.

“The key principles [of Plan S] remain the same; we want a timely move to open access and full offsetting of costs – so you don’t pay twice for the same product,” said David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England and co-chair of the Plan S implementation task force.

The revised guidelines also emphasise the need for greater transparency around costs in academic publishing, given that funders will find themselves supporting the article processing charges associated with many forms of open access publishing.

Plan S’ architects say that, by next January, they will list publishing services that publishers will be expected to price – for example, peer reviewing and copy-editing – certainly at company level, and ideally at journal level.

Funders “may decide to standardise and cap the reimbursement of services that they will cover through their grants”, the guidance says, and participating organisations may collectively “decide to implement caps in a coordinated way if unreasonable price levels are observed”, the guidance says.

Stephen Inchcoombe, chief publishing officer of Springer Nature, said he welcomed the amendments made, but warned that “the speed at which funders and institutions fund open access and authors take up open access is simply not in the control of publishers”. The three-year transitional deadline for hybrid titles was “potentially counterproductive”, he argued, and “could soon have a negative effect on the number of institutions willing to enter into three- or four-year transformative deals”.

Also under the revised guidance, participating funders have signed up to the principles of statements such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which says that journal impact factor should not be used to judge the quality of published scholarship.

Since its launch in September 2017, 19 public and private funding agencies have signed up to Plan S – with the majority coming from Europe, including UK Research and Innovation. Other supporters include the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The revised guidance does not apply to books or monographs, with Plan S’ proposals in this area due to be announced by the end of 2021.

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