‘Transformative journal’ rules allow titles Plan S reprieve

If periodicals hit open access targets, they could avoid being blacklisted by major European research funders in 2021

November 27, 2019
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Journals that are not yet fully open access have been given a new route to comply with Plan S, a push by some of the world’s biggest research funders to ensure articles are made available to the public.

Under new criteria, academics who receive funding from the organisations backing Plan S – which include 17 European national research agencies, plus the European Union – will still be able to publish in journals that hit the definition of a “transformative journal”, at least for several more years. 

The move is part of a softening of Plan S rules to ease the transition to open access. Earlier this year, the start of the plan was delayed by a year to the beginning of 2021.

Previously, Plan S had said it would still allow academics to publish in journals that are not fully open access until the end of 2024, provided their publishers have signed what are called “transformative agreements” committing to switch fully to open access.

Now, under new plans out for consultation unveiled on 26 November, individual journals can also be designated as “transformative”, provided they hit certain criteria to prove they genuinely plan to become fully open.

Such journals need to increase the share of open access content by at least eight percentage points a year, according to the criteria.

They also need to commit to going fully open access either before the end of 2024, or when at least half of content has become open access.

Journals also need to make this transition “cost neutral” and provide “transparent pricing” to show libraries exactly what content they are paying for.

One big concern for Plan S backers has been to avoid propping up so-called “hybrid” journals, a mixture of open access and paywalled articles paid for by subscriptions. They fear these journals can charge universities double – through subscriptions, and through article processing charges for open access papers.

To mitigate this risk, “transformative” journals must “offset subscription income from payments for publishing services (to avoid double payments)”, the guidance says.

John-Arne Røttingen, chief executive of the Research Council of Norway and co-chair of the Plan S implementation task force, said that the new criteria had been created “to encourage subscription journals to develop a Plan-S compliant publishing option in a way that delivers on their voiced commitments to transition to full open access”.

The plans are open to consultation until 6 January next year, with a final version expected in March.

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