Publishers claim Plan S’ repository rules will bankrupt journals

Major scholarly publishers warn that some titles will become unviable unless open access scheme changes tack on compliance

February 5, 2021
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Research funding agencies behind the Plan S open access project have been urged by academic publishers to reconsider rules that encourage scholars to post their articles in free-to-access repositories, saying this practice “is not financially sustainable” for many publications and “undermines potential support for open access journals”.

In an open letter signed by more than 50 leading publishers, including Elsevier, Wiley, Springer Nature, Emerald, Sage Publishing and Cambridge University Press, as well as several US scientific societies, the academic imprints criticise intellectual property rules introduced by the European-led Coalition S group of 17 funding agencies and six foundations earlier this year.

Under the new requirements for Plan S institution-funded researchers, which asks journal papers to be made free at the point of publication, authors can become Plan S compliant by making scholarly publications that result from their funding immediately available on open access repositories or platforms. Alternatively, they can publish in an open access journal.

According to the letter, published by STM, the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, this uploading of publications to repositories “provides a challenge to the vital income that is necessary to fund the resources, time, and effort to provide not only the many checks, corrections, and editorial inputs required but also the management and support of a rigorous peer review process, a process that is of fundamental value and is essential to the verification of results”.

That is because it “provides an immediate free substitute that eliminates the ability to charge for the services that publishers provide, whether via subscriptions or article publishing charges”, the letter explains.

The current rights retention strategy “is not financially sustainable [for some journals] and undermines potential support for open access journals,” it says.

“Additionally, it will undermine the integrity of the version of record, which is the foundation of the scientific record, and its associated codified mechanisms for corrections, retractions and data disclosure,” the letter continues.

As such, the publishers, whose journals account for more than half the articles published globally each year, say that they are “unable to support” this route to Plan S compliance, warning that the strategy “ignores long-standing academic freedoms and will work against the shared objective of a more open and equitable scholarly ecosystem”.

Instead, it urges Plan S to support publishers’ efforts to make research more discoverable via journals’ own platforms, saying that many of the signatories were currently trialling “flexible and sustainable mechanisms for authors to make their works as widely available as possible”.

The publishers add that while some of them “are able to provide options that allow authors to post versions of articles to repositories with broad reuse license, to be sustainable this is a decision that needs to be applied at the level of individual journals, not through blanket policies”.

“The signatory publishers therefore oppose the approach of the rights retention strategy in its current form and urge authors to consult with their journals of choice as to what is allowed”, it concludes.

In a statement, Coalition S’ executive director Johan Rooryck and Robert Kiley, its coordinator, claimed that the publishers’ letter “continues to perpetuate a number of myths and errors relating to the rights retention strategy”, pointing out that the policy had been made public in July and numerous meetings held with publishers to discuss their concerns.

“We are somewhat perplexed to read that the ‘rights retention strategy ignores long-standing academic freedoms’…we believe the rights retention strategy restores long-standing academic freedoms, in that it asserts the authors’ ownership of their publication after peer review, to reuse and share as they please,” they stated, adding that “it is up to the publishers to demonstrate the added value of the version of record, for which Coalition S funders are willing to pay, as we have repeatedly stated”.

Mr Kiley and Professor Rooryck disputed other claims made by the publishers, stating that “Coalition S funders are prepared to pay a fair, reasonable, and transparent fee for the services publishers provide to make the version of record open access.

“Coalition S’s ultimate goal is to make sure that the publications resulting from its funding are immediately made openly available for the entire world to benefit from, free from any embargo periods or paywalls,” they concluded.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

This stinks of the emperor panicking because he suddenly has no clothes. I highly doubt that Elsevier and Springer Nature are going to go bankrupt because a tiny proportion of the articles they publish now have to be made open access because the authors are funded by Plan S organizations. If they go bankrupt then they brought it on themselves. They knew this was coming.
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