In common with a number of other universities in receipt of Research Councils UK (RCUK/UKRI**) funding for open access (Cambridge, UCL, LSHTM), we cannot pay for every single RCUK-funded output to be immediate open access. The Vice Provost’s Advisory Group for Research have therefore decided to restrict the use of the RCUK grant to only pay where:
a. the publication output is in a fully open access title that appears in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) or
b. the publication title does not provide a compliant “green” (self-archiving) open access route
RCUK funded authors can still expect financial support for open access for the following:
Fully open access journals e.g. PLoS, BMC etc.
‘Hybrid’ open access journals – but only when a compliant publisher “green” (self-archiving) open access route is unavailable or exceeds the individual research council embargo.
Rather than paying for open access, if you are in receipt of funding from the UK research councils, you can comply by simply self-archiving (a REF2021 requirement already). Provided that the publisher’s required embargo does not exceed the maximum permitted. The vast majority of publications are compliant via the self-archiving open access route and authors can check individual embargo periods of journals via Sherpa Romeo.
It is important to note that the choice of publication venue will not be compromised as we will pay when they exceed the permitted embargo. Funder compliance and REF2021 output eligibility will also be ensured.
The full policy of the College’s RCUK fund is available via the Open Access Library website as well as contact details with the OA Team.
**UKRI: UK Research and Innovation brings together the UK Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England into a single organisation.
This is the fourth of a series of blog posts by Imperial’s Open Access Team for OA Week. Our first post on Publisher Problems can be found here, our second post on Accepted Manuscript definitions can be found here, and our third post on Publisher Contacts can be found here.
This blog post is directed to our Open Access colleagues in Higher Education.
The rising price of Gold OA
A big part of what OA Teams in libraries/research offices do – in those institutions that are fortunate enough to have the funding – is make decisions on which publications can (or need to) be published via the Gold OA route. As we diligently work away to process the scores of article processing charge (APC) applications we receive each month, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of what we are actually authorising each time we approve an application: namely, the payment of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’/charities’/institutions’ money to (often exceptionally profitable) publishers.
A recent survey of authors around the world found that many had never published OA, but for 27% of them this was because they could not afford the APCs required to do so. The cost of Gold OA has been rising beyond the rate of inflation for many years now (as reported by Jisc in 2016 and in Universities UK in 2017), and although funders have increased the amounts given to institutions to pay for APCs, it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet the demand from authors to publish their work OA.
At Imperial College we are lucky to be the recipients of generous block grants from the Research Councils (RCUK – now UKRI) and the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF) to help our authors meet their OA requirements, as well as having access to an institutional fund to pay for APCs in fully OA journals. However, these funds are not bottomless, and can only stretch so far in the face of rising APCs and increasing demand from authors who are publishing more and more. Indeed, we have very recently realised that our RCUK grant is close to running out, and we will be need to be much more restrictive in how we use that fund to pay for APCs for the foreseeable future. This blog post from the Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge clearly demonstrates the issues faced in trying to use OA funds in a sustainable way.
The Gold route is of course not the only way authors can make their work OA (and does not always require an APC). When funds run low we can use this as an opportunity to advise how the Green route can meet funders’ and REF requirements, and to promote the benefits of our institutional repository. However, what we aim to offer is a fair and consistent service to our authors, and this is difficult when we cannot be sure how long our funds will last, and whether or not we will be able to approve APC applications from one month to the next.
With the announcement by a consortium of European funders of Plan S (with a key change that hybrid open-access journals are not compliant with their key principles) and rumours of imminent changes to research funders’ open access policies in the UK (e.g. in the upcoming Wellcome OA Policy Review), there is hope that the unsustainable model of increasingly expensive Gold OA will be curtailed. It is important to recognise that the cost of APCs is not the only thing we should be considering, but also the approach that publishers are taking towards a transition to OA (through their self-archiving embargo policies, for example), as is acknowledged in Cambridge’s new policy.
Other institutions (such as LSHTM and Bath) have also already introduced steps to prolong and distribute their OA funds in different ways, by introducing extra conditions such as caps on APC costs and restricting which types of hybrid journal they will pay for. Although at Imperial we have not yet introduced a cap for the APCs we will pay, this is something that is likely to be rolled out by funders in the near future, so we think it is important to record the APCs we have paid for already that were particularly costly.
Recording expensive APCs
Connected to the work done by my OA Team colleague Danny Smith in his Publisher Problems spreadsheet another sheet was created to record particularly expensive APCs. This sheet has been populated with examples of APCs paid for by the Imperial OA Team in 2018, where the cost was £3,000 or over (before VAT), and is now available at the following link:
How APC costs are calculated and justified by publishers is a contentious issue, as argued by recent Imperial alumnus Jon Tennant in his blog post: “Why the term ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) is misleading”. The aforementioned potential caps on APCs from funders are yet to be announced, and in the meantime it is difficult to set an exact figure for what is an “expensive” APC. However, for the purposes of the resource being discussed, this figure reflects what we consider to be a significantly higher amount than the average cost of an APC (calculated as £2,269 in the Wellcome’s 2016/17 report).
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all journals that would fit within the cost criteria, as it only includes APCs we have paid for at Imperial in 2018, and may miss those journals where we have received a discount that reduced the end cost below the threshold. Although we have paid for APCs for multiple articles in many of the journals included, we have included one example article for each to avoid duplication. We would like this to be a shared resource so we would encourage members of the community to add their own examples from different journals. So far the sheet includes examples of articles published in 39 different journals, from 10 publishers, with a total net cost of £137,609.17 (see table below). More detailed data on APC payments is available through the various reports that institutions produce (e.g. for Jisc).
APC Cost (excl. VAT)
American Association for the Advancement of Science (total)
American Chemical Society (total)
ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
ACS Chemical Biology
ACS Synthetic Biology
Chemical Research in Toxicology
Chemistry of Materials
Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling
American Heart Association (total)
Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health
Current Opinion in Structural Biology
International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology
Journal of Cleaner Production
Journal of Power Sources
Lancet Infectious Diseases
Lancet Public Health
The Lancet Haematology
Elsevier (Cell Press) (total)
EMBO Press (total)
The EMBO Journal
Nature Publishing Group (total)
Oxford University Press (total)
Journal of the Endocrine Society
Rockefeller University Press (total)
Journal of Cell Biology
Advanced Functional Materials
American Journal of Transplantation
Clinical and Experimental Allergy
Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism
As identified in the Publisher’s Problems spreadsheet there are many factors that can make the process of paying for an APC unnecessarily complicated. One issue that the Expensive APCs sheet has further highlighted is the confusion and variations in price that can arise from APCs being advertised, invoiced and paid in different currencies. We have also included a column to identify those publishers who (often confusingly) separate out the cost for a “standard” APC and additional charges for CC BY licenses (including an eye-watering example of this where $3000 was paid just for CC BY). Other potential areas for discussion are the differences between APCs for open access and hybrid journals, and the value and impact of discounts/offsetting.
While we should recognise that much progress has been made by the OA movement in disrupting and reshaping traditional academic publishing models, there is still much work to be done, as is passionately argued in the documentary Paywall: The Business of Scholarship which has received many screenings in OA Week. It is hoped that this spreadsheet will be useful as a way of not only identifying those publishers that are currently charging seemingly excessive amounts, but also monitoring change over time and (hopefully!) a transition away from rising costs. There is also the potential to use the examples to help authors make educated choices about where they publish, and increase their awareness of the charges levied.
We plan to add a link to the sheet (and the other resources we have shared) on the forthcoming UKCORR resources page. Please go ahead and start editing/adding your own examples (checking the notes and instructions first), and we welcome any feedback for how these resources can be improved and best used.
Earlier today Imperial College submitted its annual report on compliance with the Research Council’s open access policy to RCUK. The RCUK OA policy envisages a five year journey after which 100% of RCUK funded scholarly papers should be available as open access in 2018. To support the transition to open access, RCUK have set up a block grant that makes funds available to institutions to cover the cost for article processing charges (APCs) and other OA-related expenses. Funds are awarded in relation to RCUK research funding for institutions, and Imperial College has the second largest allocation, just behind Cambridge and followed by UCL. The annual reports to RCUK give an overview over institutional spend and on compliance.
The headline figures for the 2015/2016 College report are:
£1,051,130 block grant spend from April 2015 to March 2016
89% overall compliance, split in 31% via the gold and 58% via the green route
570 article processing charges paid at an average cost of ~£1,800
The top five publishers are: Elsevier, Wiley, Nature, ACS and OUP
Like every year when discussing the RCUK report figures I think it is important to highlight that compliance rates between universities cannot meaningfully be compared without understanding the data sources and methods used. Just to give one example: the College could also have reported 81% green and 8% gold from the same data.
Why do I caution against directly comparing the numbers? For starters, research-intensive universities find it difficult to establish what 100% is. With hundreds, or in the case of Imperial College many thousand papers published every year we rely on academics to manually notify us for each paper who the funder is. Even though the College has made much progress improving its processes and data over the past few years we have to acknowledge that data collected through such a process will never be complete or fully accurate. For the College report we decided, like in the previous years, to base our analysis on outputs we know to have been RCUK-funded. For this year the size of the sample was 1,923 papers (compared to 1,326 in 2014). With a different sample the numbers would have been different, and other universities may have taken a different approach to analysing the data.
Sadly, it is currently not easy to establish whether an output was made available open access. Publishers do not usually add licensing information to metadata, and searching for manuscripts deposited in external repositories is possible but not necessarily accurate. The process we used for analysis was:
Cross-reference the sample with the journal list from the Directory of Open Access Journals; class every article published in a full OA journal as compliant ‘gold’.
Take the remaining articles and cross-reference with the list of articles for which the College Library has paid an APC; class all those articles as compliant ‘gold’.
Take the remaining articles and cross-reference with the outputs from ResearchFish that show a CC BY license; class all those articles as compliant ‘gold’.
Take the remaining articles and cross-reference with list of outputs deposited in the College repository Spiral; class all those articles as compliant ‘green’.
Take the remaining articles and cross-reference with list of outputs that have a Europe PubMed Central ID; class all those articles as compliant ‘green’.
As in previous years we also put remaining outputs through Cottage Labs Lantern tool but this showed no additional open access outputs. The main reason for that, I suspect, is the high compliance via the green route: some 81% of outputs in the sample had been deposited to the College repository Spiral or to Europe PMC. As the College prefers green over hybrid gold it would have been in line with our policy to report them as green, but as the RCUK prefers gold OA we decided to report all outputs know as gold as such, like in previous years.
I could write more about reporting issues around open access, but as I have done that on a few other occasions I refer those who haven’t suffered enough to my previous posts.
One other caveat should be raised for those planning to analyse the APC spend in comparison with previous years: The APC article level data is based on APCs paid during the reporting period. This differs from the APC data reported in the previous period which was based on APC applications published. There are, therefore, a small number of records duplicated from the previous year. These have been identified in the notes column.
Earlier today Imperial College London submitted its open access compliance report to RCUK. Like most UK universities, the College is in receipt of an annual open access block grant from RCUK. The funds are made available to support universities in meeting the requirements of the RCUK open access policy, in particular meeting the cost of article processing charges (APC) to make articles open access through the publisher. RCUK allocate funds in relation to research effort and Imperial College receives the second largest grant – £1,353,480 for 2014/15 (Cambridge is #1 with £1,355,073). The report, based on a template developed by Jisc, details how the money has been spent and provides headline compliance figures. It has been put together by the College Library and the Research Office, with support from ICT.
The headline figure is an estimated 31% compliance via the gold and 38% compliance via the green route; we also provide details on APCs for 350 open access articles processed by the College Library. However, before you delve further into the spreadsheet or start comparing these figures to other universities I would like to draw your attention to some of the inherent issues with these reports and figures.
First of all you may notice that the numbers do not seem to add up. We report an APC spend of £597,029 and yet the 350 APCs add up to £679,721.08. The reason for this apparent mismatch is that the first figure is for the period from April 2014 to March 2015, as requested in the spreadsheet, whereas the APCs are reported to RCUK until August 2015.
Secondly, the number of APCs does not equal 31% of the outputs we report on. This is because some of the articles originating from RCUK funding have been paid for by other institutions, usually because the principal investigator was based there and not at Imperial College.
Most importantly though I would caution against directly comparing compliance figures between universities – unless you know exactly how they have been calculated. The biggest challenge, especially for large research intensive universities, is establishing what 100% is: how many outputs are related to RCUK funding? Currently there is no reliable way to derive funder information from article metadata, even where authors report the funders to the publisher. RCUK-funded authors are asked to report outputs to the research councils, but the reporting period does not overlap with the OA reporting period. That means even if all authors would reliable link all outputs to all relevant grants (this is a manual process) the information would not be sufficient to report on. Earlier this year Imperial College introduced a new workflow (for depositing outputs on acceptance) that encourages authors to link outputs and funding, but it will be a while until we can be reasonably confident that close enough to 100% of outputs are linked to all relevant grants.
Why do we not just manually go through all articles and speak to the authors? It is a question of scale – College academics publish between 10,000-12,000 articles and conference proceedings per year. We estimate that some 4,000 of these outputs may be linked to RCUK funding.
So how did we come to the compliance figures reported to RCUK? We analysed a sample of some 1,500 outputs we know to be linked to RCUK funding. Sadly, there is currently no reliable way to automatically establish the open access status of an output as publishers do not usually add licence information to output metadata and tracking outputs in repositories also creates problems. We do of course know how many outputs the College Library paid an APC for and also which outputs were deposited into the College repository Spiral. We do not know where other universities have paid an APC for an article, or where an author may have used departmental or other funds to pay an APC.
We were able to identify additional open access outputs by cross-referencing our data with the list from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Europe PubMed Central database. Even so we will have missed outputs, for example papers deposited into repositories like arXiv. We do track arXiv deposits, but there is currently no way of telling what version has been deposited. Even if we knew the version, deposits in repositories pose another problem: where an APC has been paid and the output deposited, do we report it as green or gold OA? In the case of RCUK we have decided to mark it as gold, as that is the preferred route for the UK research councils, but others may have decided differently.
I could go on much longer, but I hope the above gives you an idea of the issues that universities face when reporting on open access. Should you still want to compare university open access reports, make sure to check the data source and methods. The good news is that in the future these reports should become more meaningful, in particular when publishers and system vendors add funder, institutional and author identifiers (such as ORCID) to output metadata.
Finally, I would like to highlight two issues we raised with RCUK when submitting the report:
Many points made by the College in last year’s submission regarding policy implementation are still valid (see paragraphs 35 ff.). The College has made good progress in delivering support infrastructure (significantly reducing processing time for gold and green OA), but concerns about the wider policy landscape and publisher support for open access remain. In particular, we would like to highlight two points:
Hybrid open access remains significantly more expensive than full OA (~50% more per APC), even without taking into account “double dipping”. Processing APCs for hybrid journals continues to require more resource, i.e. in relation to licensing and invoicing. The Finch report saw hybrid as a means of transitioning from a subscription to a full OA model, but there is very little evidence of that transition taking place. The majority of OA funds are still spent on hybrid.
Differences in funder policies make it harder for academics to understand how to comply and increase the workload for support services. RCUK is encouraged to harmonise policy requirements with other funders, in particular with the Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework. We note that HEFCE have made changes to align policies with regards to gold OA and we would encourage RCUK to consider a similar step for green OA.
When you come at it for the first time, open access looks pretty complicated. Funder policies, institutional policies, publisher policies, different flavours of OA including ‘green’, ‘gold’, ‘libre’ and ‘gratis’ and a whole new language with mystifying terms like ‘hybrid journal’, ‘article processing charge’ and ‘author accepted manuscript’ await. Even librarians sometimes struggle to understand journal policies, or what certain licensing conditions actually mean.
It was perhaps for this reason that, when we started the College open access project, academics gave us a clear mission: a one button solution to open access.
We haven’t quite achieved that yet, but since May we are running a new workflow that reduces the complexity to one sentence: ‘When you have a paper accepted, deposit the peer-reviewed manuscript – we do the rest, no matter what type of open access.’
The workflow is based on two ideas:
Ask authors for the minimum information required.
Offer authors a single publications workflow that covers green and gold OA as well information required for funder reporting.
The frontend for this workflow is Symplectic Elements, the system used by our academics to manage their scholarly outputs. We have worked with the vendor to deliver an OA workflow that kicks in on acceptance for publication, and then we customised the system to interface with ASK OA, our in-house APC management system.
On acceptance for publication, authors add minimal metadata and the manuscript to Elements, link the article to relevant grants and if they want the College to pay an open access charge they simply tick a box. Colleagues in the Library’s open access team then check the submission, set necessary embargoes and make the output available through Spiral, the College repository. If payment is requested, the data is automatically transferred to ASK OA, the cloud-based, workflow-driven system that we launched last year. Through that process, authors receive a purchase order number to send to their publisher. When the College receives the electronic invoice, our finance system matches the PO and the payment process starts. No author interaction needed.
Above you see a screenshot of the information we require from authors. In addition, they deposit the manuscript (or share a link if it was already deposited in an external repository) and link the output to relevant grants. That allows us to charge costs for open access publishing to the correct funders and, once funder systems are ready, will enable the College to automate funder reporting on research outputs. If you want to see a demonstration, check out this video guide produced by the College Library:
The feedback we had from academics has been positive so far, and the numbers show that as well:
While the workflow is working well so far, we are still far away from what I would consider the ideal scenario. There are still enough journals with difficult and unhelpful policies, and no university workflow will be able to fix that. Publishers being unable to issue correct invoices is another issue. We also have the problem to reliably match the metadata entered on acceptance with the metadata for the published output. Publishers could help by issuing authors with a DOI on acceptance.
Even better, publishers could feed publication metadata into systems like CrossRef on the date of acceptance. If the metadata had funder, licence and embargo information attached and a link to the manuscript, then open access would indeed become a one-click-problem. Authors enter their data on submission, and following acceptance it automatically travels through all relevant systems, until it ends up in an institutional repository. There would be no additional effort for authors, and admin overhead would be reduced greatly. The components to enable this already exist, for example the author identifier ORCID that was rolled out across the College last year.
We are still working towards the goal of a “one button” solution for open access with our partners. Until then the message remains: deposit the manuscript on acceptance, we do the rest.
Just in time before the College closes for the Christmas break I have found the time to write my overdue summary of recent developments in the world of open access and scholarly communication. Below are a few of the headlines and developments that caught my eye during the last couple of months.
Cost of Open Access
Commissioned by London Higher and SPARC Europe, Research Consulting have published Counting the Costs of Open Access. Using data provided by universities, including Imperial College, it concludes that there was a £9.2m cost to UK research organisations for achieving compliance with RCUK’s open access policy in 2013/14. Main conclusions are quoted below – the estimated costs for meeting REF open access requirements are particularly interesting seeing as HEFCE do not provide any funding for their in some ways even more ambitious open access policy:
The time devoted to OA compliance is equivalent to 110 fulltime staff members across the UK.
The cost of meeting the deposit requirements for a post-2014 REF is estimated at £4-5m per annum.
Gold OA takes 2 hours per article, at a cost of £81.
Green OA takes just over 45 minutes, at a cost of £33.
Pinfield, Salter and Bath published: The ‘total cost of publication’ in a hybrid open-access environment. The study analyses data from 23 UK institutions, including Imperial College, covering the period 2007 to 2014. It finds that while the mean value of APCs has been relatively stable, ‘hybrid’ subscription/OA journals were consistently more expensive than fully-OA journals. Modelling shows that APCs are now constituting 10% of the total cost of ownership for publishing (excluding administrative costs).
John Ulmschneider, Librarian at the Virginia Commonwealth University, estimates that with current price increases the cost for subscription payments would “eat up the entire budget for this entire university in 20 years”. Partly in response to that, VCU has launched its own open access publishing platform.
UK Funder News
Arthritis Research UK, Breast Cancer Campaign, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Cancer Research UK, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, and the Wellcome Trust have joined together to create the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF). COAF operates in essentially the same way as the WT fund it replaces.
Research Information published a summary of international developments around open access: The Research Council of Norway is making funding available to cover up to 50% of OA publishing charges. The Chinese Academy of Sciences and the National Natural Science Foundation of China require deposit of papers in an OA repository within 12 months of publication. The Mexican president has signed an act to provide “Mexicans with free access to scientific and academic production, which has been partially or fully financed by public funds”.
The launch of Science Advances, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), prompted strong criticism of the AAAS approach to open access. Over a hundred scientists signed an open letter criticising AAAS for charging $1000 for the CC BY license as well as $1500 for papers longer than ten pages – on top of a $3000 base APC. This has been picked up by media including the New Statesman.
The Nature Publishing Group has had two major OA-related headlines. Generally well received was the announcement that NPG would switch the prestigious Nature Communications to full open access. On the other hand, the move to give, limited, read access to articles has been widely criticised as beggar access and a step back for open access: NPG allow those with a subscription to give others viewing (not printing) access to papers, through a proprietary software.
An open letter signed by nearly 60 open access advocates, publishers, library organisations and civil society bodies warns against model licenses governing copyright on open access articles proposed by the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). The letter says the STM licences “would limit the use, reuse and exploitation of research” and would “make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources”. The STM licenses are seen as incompatible with Creative Commons licences.
It is time for another round-up of news relating to open access and scholarly communication – here is a summary of interesting things that caught my eye during the past few weeks. I would like to highlight one of the miscellaneous items: analysing its publications, Chalmers University found that the open access articles deposited in the institutional repository have a 22% higher field normalized citation rate than the non-OA articles. So if you would like your citation rates to have a similar increase, why not deposit in Spiral, Imperial’s repository?
David Willetts has been replaced by Greg Clarke as minister for universities and science. Whether this will have an impact on the government’s OA policies remains to be seen, but Willetts has been an active supporter of open access.
Harvard was one of the earliest universities adopting an open access policy where academics grant the university a non-exclusive licence to distribute publications – this allows deposit in the institutional repository regardless of publishers’ OA policies. Other American universities have implemented similar policies – CalTech recently made such an announcement – and we now also see universities outside of the US following Harvard as KAUST has now adopted a similar OA policy.
Research Fortnight published a summary of FOI requests on RCUK open access compliance. “The average rate across the 27 universities that responded was 49 per cent, just above RCUK’s target. However, at least 11 universities have not hit the target—and the real number may well be higher, given that 57 universities did not respond.” Regarding publishers actually delivering OA, Research Fortnight conclude that “on average, 8 per cent of articles that should have been made open access had not been, and that 12 per cent carried no clear indication of their open-access or publishing-licence status.” As RCUK have now made the details of their review public, we are in the process of bringing together the relevant data at Imperial College; a challenge is to identify which of the roughly 10K articles annually published by our academics fall under the RCUK policy, and also the articles where the authors have paid for open access from their own budgets or gone down the green route in an external repository without alerting the College.
Wiley Exchanges published an interview with Mark Thorley, who coordinates OA and RDM for RCUK. He is overall positive about progress and defends gold OA, but he is also concerned about fluctuating embargos and some universities “acting in an ‘anti-Gold’ OA manner”. He commends UCL on launching a new OA university press. It is interesting to compare his comments with those of the Wellcome Trust’s Robert Kiley who at a recent Jisc-CNI event was very critical of hybrid journals and publishers progress in switching to OA publishing.
Subscriptions, Gold OA and cost of scholarly publishing
A study on Evaluating big deal journal bundles finds that journal pricing is not necessarily related to size or research outputs of the subscribing universities. It also concludes that academia is receiving significantly less value from commercial publishers than from non-profits: “Among the commercial publishers in our study, Elsevier’s prices per citation are nearly 3 times those charged by the nonprofits, whereas Emerald, Sage, and Taylor & Francis have prices per citation that are roughly 10 times those of the nonprofits.” The study has been picked up by media, including the Guardian.
Notes of the RCUK International Meeting on Open Access (20th March 2014) have been made public. They contain some interesting information. For example, the Wellcome Trust has imposed sanctions in respect to its OA policy 62 times in the last twelve months (none at Imperial College), and the overall compliance rate is now 66%. Cameron Neylon estimates that gold OA is now 20-25% of the global market. The paper has a useful summary of global OA activities, by country.
Stuart Lawson suggests that the Finch Report may have missed evidence when it estimated the average price of APCs. According to his article, a comprehensive study that had not been acknowledged in the report set the average APC at about 1/3 of the price eventually published by Finch. As the current APCs from hybrid journals fall into the much higher bracket given by Finch, Lawson speculates that the Finch estimate may have become a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
An analysis of data from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) shows that the US has the highest number of OA journals, followed by Brazil and the UK. The UK is the country with the second highest percentage of OA journals that charge a fee – about 64%, compared to Germany’s 30% and Egypt’s 87%. Egypt ranking highly is probably due to the OA publisher Hindawi being based in Cairo, whereas the high percentage of OA journals that charge authors a fee in the UK may be due to funders’ focus on paid-for OA.
The Research Council of Norway is making available money to cover 50% of open access publishing costs in a new, five year funding scheme.
“A Subversive Proposal”, a message sent by Stevan Harnad encouraging academics to make their publications freely available online, has just had its 20th anniversary. It is generally seen as one of the founding documents of the OA movement. Being asked what he would change if he were to write it today, Harnad responded: “Knowing now, in 2014, that researchers won’t do it of their own accord, I would have addressed the proposal instead to their institutions and funders.”
It is time for another round-up of news relating to open access and scholarly communication – here is a summary of interesting things that caught my eye during the past few weeks.
FOI request reveals cost of scholarly communication
In late April, the well-known mathematician Tim Gowers published the responses to an FOI request to the Russell Group universities. In the request, he asked how much each university “currently spends annually for access to Elsevier journals”. Due to the terms of the agreements between publishers and libraries, universities are not allowed to make this information public or share it with our staff. Because of those legal concerns, some universities initially declined the request (here is some context as to why), but with data from the LSE added on 31st May we do now have numbers from each university. Rumour has it that FOI requests regarding payments for other publishers are in preparation, so it may very well be that we will have more data by the end of the year. This would give us a more holistic view on the cost of scholarly communication and allow us to assess the value the academic sector gets for the money. Following the publication of the data, concerns have been raised about the overall amount that universities pay, but to me the more interesting question may be about the relative value that publishers add to the process. Tim Gower’s blog post includes some information on how his colleagues at Cambridge view this; it may be one of the longest posts I have read, but it is worth having a look at if you are interested in these topics.
The publication of the FOI data has led to a broader discussion on subscriptions internationally. Zen Faulkes has correlated subscription payments in the UK and US to student enrolment numbers (no significant link) and income from students.
The Open Knowledge Foundation blog contains reflections on the data, including calculations resulting in the claim that switching to an open access model where all articles are paid for by the author/university would result in a 76% reduction of the overall cost of publishing. It should be noted that the calculations are based on the APC for one open access journal and some assumptions that may or may not be accurate. Therefore one could easily arrive at a vastly different result – both higher and lower. As I have discussed in a previous blog post it is clear though that the publication charges for OA journals are lower than those of journals that are funded from both OA charges and subscriptions (the so called “hybrid” journals).
Establishing the overall cost of Gold OA publications is surprisingly difficult as the money comes from many sources including individual research grants; if you want to delve further into this, have a look at a blog post by the Australian Open Access Support Group. They estimate that in 2013 Australian researchers may have spent US $9m on gold OA, as opposed to $4m across the Netherlands.
Other countries are ahead of the UK in collating subscription data. For example, German libraries spent €170m on books and €130m on subscriptions in 2011, with an average of €660k per library on subscriptions, according to Bjoern Brems. From the Gowers data it would appear that UK universities on average pay in the region of 40% more than the German libraries. However, the UK data only includes Elsevier and the Russell Group universities, so we are talking about the largest subscription deals, and you have to factor in the exchange rate and different tax regime – we will have to wait for data from further FOI requests that will allow a more systematic comparison.
One of the concerns in the sector is the so called “double dipping”, where institutions that already have paid for subscriptions then also pay open access publication charges (APC) for individual articles in “hybrid” journals. There is not yet a working model on how to address this, but SAGE Publications and Jisc Collections have announced that they are working together to develop one. SAGE is offering discounted APCs to subscribers, and from 2015 will globally discount subscription charges for journals with 5%+ gold OA articles. Journals below that threshold will be reviewed individually. While discounts will probably be seen as positive, global discounts effectively result in the UK using its research budget to subsidise subscriptions abroad. IoP are also launching offsetting schemes.
If you are interested in an overview of what UK universities are doing about OA, have a look at a series of OA case studies published by Jisc Collections.
The University of Edinburgh has released new data on its open access activities. 23% of publications listed in the university’s research information system are available as open access. The percentage of journal articles is higher – in 2013 for instance 51% of all humanities articles have been made available as OA. Since the beginning of this year, they have on average published around 50 paid-for (“gold”) Open Access articles per month with funding from the Wellcome or RCUK. MIT has recently announced that since 2009 37% of papers published by their academics have been made available through their repository, a number they hope to increase significantly.
Not everyone is convinced of open access though. Scholarly societies in particular are concerned about the impact OA might have on their business models. EDP Open released a report on Learned Society Attitudes towards Open Access (PDF) that summarises these attitudes. A majority of societies think OA might put some of them in financial jeopardy and two-thirds are looking for help, especially with regards to funders mandates. Interestingly, about two-thirds would also like to offer gold OA publishing.
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 Konstanzhas 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.”
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
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):
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.