Royal Society’s top journals to go open access within five years

Historic learned society sets 75 per cent threshold for ‘flipping’ major titles

May 13, 2021
An opened padlock, symbolising open access
Source: iStock

The Royal Society has set out how it will make some of its most prestigious research journals free to view within five years.

In a move that will be watched closely by other learned societies – many of which have resisted pressure to switch to non-paywalled formats – the UK’s most prestigious academy for sciences has announced that it will flip four of its titles to a fully open access model when 75 per cent of articles are published on a free-to-view basis.

Six of the society’s 10 journals are already open access or on the path to open access, with Biology LettersInterfaceProceedings A, and Proceedings B set to reach the threshold within five years, the society announced on 13 May.

Dame Wendy Hall, chair of the Royal Society’s publishing board, which conducted a review of its publishing portfolio, described the project as “truly a landmark in the history of the Royal Society”.

“Just as we pioneered science publishing three-and-a-half centuries ago, I am delighted that we are taking this important step forward to maximise the reach and usefulness of the research we publish,” said Dame Wendy.

This transition will be driven chiefly by the expansion of ‘read and publish’ agreements with major research institutions, explained the society, which agreed one major deal of this kind with the University of California in January.

It will also allow the journals to become compliant with Plan S, the project led by European research funders which took effect in January and will prohibit researchers supported by these agencies from publishing in titles without a transformative agreement.

The deal could offer a template for other learned societies which rely on subscription income from their journals to finance many of their activities, including supporting early career fellowships and organising public events and conferences.

It continues the open access journey the society began in 2006, with the introduction of open-access publishing as an option for all articles and the launch of Royal Society Open Science in 2010, and Open Biology in 2014.

Stuart Taylor, the society’s head of publishing, said that the society had seen “steady growth in open access publishing”, with more than 40 per cent of articles now published open access.

“With read and publish, and other transformative agreements, we expect that trend to accelerate and all our research journals to become fully open access within five years,” Dr Taylor added.

The society’s remaining four journals; including the world’s first peer-reviewed journals, Philosophical Transactions A and B; Interface Focus; and the history of science journal Notes and Records, will continue to operate on a hybrid model for the time being.

 The society said that these journals are unlikely to progress to the 75 per cent open access threshold within five years “if at all”, but their publishing model would be kept under review.

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Reader's comments (1)

… and it’s only taken decades of pleading from open access advocates and finally political and economic pressure from multiple funding bodies! How magnanimous.