A Universal Open Access Policy?

Despite claims to the contrary, open access as such is not very complicated. Either publish your scholarly output with a publisher who will immediately make it available as open access, or put a copy of the (peer-reviewed) manuscript in a repository. What makes open access complicated is the myriad of policies that regulate it.

The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP) alone lists way over 700 OA policies – just from research organisations and funders. If you add publisher policies it gets even more confusing. As a sector we often complain about the difficulties publishers create with journal embargoes. We are also criticising funders for not aligning their policies. These criticisms are valid, but we tend to gloss over that universities are not always aligning their policies either. Policies that vary across universities make it more difficult for third parties to provide solutions as they need to map onto a wide range of workflows resulting partly from different policies. Different institutional policies also make it harder to communicate open access to academics.

I have on a few occasions suggested that we should aim to align institutional policies more, and that we should also simplify them. Thankfully, I am not the only one thinking about this. Jisc, SHERPA Services and ROARMAP have jointly developed a Schema for Open Access policies. The schema should help policymakers “to express their policies in a systematic manner”, as “an initial step to ensure greater clarity and uniformity in the way information about OA policies is recorded and made available”. Imperial College was one of 30 institutions that  provided information to the new initiative. You can read more about the schema, initial findings and how to engage on the Jisc blog.

My ideal would be that over time we move to a single open access policy, or at least to a core policy to which institutions can add a selection of clearly defined elements to reflect their specific needs – where this is really necessary, of course. In the UK we do already have what could be considered the core of an OA policy, the Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework. Leaving the details aside, the policy requires deposit on acceptance (for publication). Currently it only applies to scholarly articles and conference proceedings, but I would argue that that makes it ideal as a starting point as these more formalised outputs (compared to e.g. performances) are easier to deal with across institutions.

Therefore, my suggestion for a minimal universal OA policy would be:

  • Publish in the journal of your choice, including full open access journals (subject to availability of funding).
  • Deposit a copy of the peer reviewed manuscript of your journal article or conference proceeding into a repository on acceptance for publication.

Incidentally, that is effectively the OA policy at Imperial College. As the vast majority of College publications are articles or conference proceedings we can effectively limit the policy to these, at least for the moment. An institution with a more diverse range of outputs may decide to add monographs, videos, websites etc., and those who cover costs for hybrid open access (Imperial’s own fund does not support it) may want this included as well.

I fully understand that just two bullet points will not be enough. However, I would like to put out a challenge: look at your institution’s open access policy and think about which elements you really need, and how you could simplify it in a way that would help us moving towards a universal policy. And make sure to check out the schema!

Open Access News, March-April 2014: HEFCE OA policy and Wellcome APC data

For the College’s Open Access Publishing group I put together a semi-regular digest of news and recent developments around to Open Access and related topics. As this might be of interest to others too, we have decided to make this available via the blog too. For more information on OA, take a look at the Open Access website of the College Library.

General News

HEFCE have released their Open Access policy. We will discuss this in more detail later, but this policy is likely to be a game changer as far as Open Access in the UK is concerned.

The Research Information Network have released a report on Monitoring Progress in the Transition to Open Access, including proposals for a framework of indicators to monitor progress towards open access. Jisc have, informally, confirmed that their OA Monitor project is likely to address at least part of this if institutions find this useful.

From April 2014 onwards, the National Institute for Health Research will expect peer-reviewed articles to be made available as Gold OA, expecting full compliance within four years.

Wellcome and NIH are withholding grant payments when OA obligations are not met (Imperial scholars have not been affected by this).

The University of Konstanz has broken off license negotiations with Elsevier and will no longer subscribe to any Elsevier content. “The publisher’s prices are too high, said university Rector Ulrich Rüdiger in a statement, and the institution ‘will no longer keep up with this aggressive pricing policy and will not support such an approach.’ […] Adding to tensions, the university hinted, was a feeling that academia is essentially paying twice for its own work. ‘Universities are in a way forced to purchase a good back in the form of expensive subscription fees – a good which is actually produced by their own scientists,’ said Petra Hätscher, a university administrator, in a statement.”

The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association has suspended Springer’s membership because of systematic problems with the editorial process at Springer revealed by the so-called “Open Access sting”.

Jisc, RLUK, RCUK, Wellcome Trust and others published a report that examines the potential risks associated with the APC open access market (APC = Article Processing Charge for OA articles). The economic analyses undertaken provided a strong indication that the full open access journal market is functioning well in creating pressure for journals to moderate the price of APCs. On the other hand, the current hybrid market was found to be extremely dysfunctional, with significantly higher charges and low levels of uptake. Indeed, the average APC in a hybrid journal was found to be almost twice that for a born-digital full open access journal ($2,727 compared to $1,418). The authors suggest different approaches, including only paying APCs to hybrid journals that offer reductions for subscriptions payments or setting caps to APCs in relation to the quality and range of services offered by the journal.

Wellcome Trust releases data on Article Processing Charges for Open Access

The Wellcome Trust released the full data on the APC spend 2012-13. A community effort led to that data being cleaned up (Google doc spreadsheet) and analysed within a few days. The analysis revealed that the average APC paid by Wellcome is £1,820.

In her analysis, Michelle Brook from the Open Knowledge Foundation highlighted that most of the money goes to hybrid journals:

In Oct 2012 – Sept 2013, academics spent £3.88 million to publish articles in journals with immediate online access – of which £3.17 million (82 % of costs, 74 % of papers) was paying for publications that Universities would then be charged again for. For perspective, this is a figure slightly larger than the Wellcome Trust paid in 2012/2013 on their Society & Ethics portfolio. Only £0.70 million of the charity’s £3.88m didn’t have any form of double charging (ie, was published in a “Pure Open Access” journal) – with this total being dominated by articles published in PLOS and BioMed Central journals (68 % of total ‘pure’ hybrid journal costs, 80 % of paper total).

Ernesto Priego is concerned that high APC may effectively just shift the serials crisis from the library to the research budget and that arts and humanities researchers in particular might be priced out of publishing. He has created a visualisation of the lowest and highest APCs charged by 11 publishers (image licensed CC BY SA 3.0):

Lowest and highest APCs levied by 11 major publishers, by Ernesto Priego

Analysis of the Wellcome data has also identified issues with the licensing information on publishers’ websites:

  • Michelle Brook has shown that Wiley-Blackwell wrongly claim that CC BY licenses do not allow others to re-use the article commercially.
  • Peter Murray-Rust has identified several cases where Elsevier has put OA content behind paywalls, charged for the full text or mislabelled the license. This has been picked up by Times Higher and Elsevier have admitted that they mischarged 50 people for use of OA content; they are refunding money.

Building on the community effort, Wellcome have released a statement on the APC data. They thanked the community and criticised publishers for not delivering the quality of service expected. It is worth quoting this in more detail:

Inevitably, with a dataset of over 2000 articles, published by 94 different publishers, problems have been identified. These include:

  • Content remaining hidden behind a publisher pay-wall;
  • Content freely available on the publisher site, but not available in PMC/Europe PubMed Central;
  • Missing, incorrect, or contradictory licence information
  • CC-BY licensed articles still linked to sites such as the Copyright Clearance Centre, where readers may be charged for re-using open content.

In summary we contacted 20 publishers in relation to 150 articles (approximately 7% of the total number of articles for which an APC had been paid).

We expect every publisher who levies on open access fee to provide a first class service to our researchers and their institutions. […] Even though there are only a small number of articles that the Wellcome Trust has paid to be open access that have remained behind a pay-wall, this is not an acceptable situation in any instance.

The bigger issue concerns the high cost of hybrid open access publishing, which we have found to be nearly twice that of born-digital fully open access journals. We need to find ways of balancing this by working with others to encourage the development of a transparent, competitive and reasonably priced APC market.