In the same way that microbiology research answers big questions by studying small organisms, the Microbiology Society is now showing us how small learned societies can address the big challenge of open access (OA).
This society’s journey towards open access began, as it did for many, with the introduction of an open access option within its subscription journals, a model that has become known as the ‘hybrid’ open access model. In 2014 the society launched its first open access journal, and it continues to add new titles to its portfolio, which operate under the gold open access model where an author publishes their article in an online open access journal.
However, in September last year, Plan S was launched by cOAlition S stating an intention to stop funding publication in hybrid open access journals from 2020. Its plan allowed for a transition period where cOALition S agreed to funding in hybrid journals, so long as those journals were part of a transformative agreement with a commitment to ‘flip’ to a fully open access model by 2024.
This plan posed a significant risk to learned society publishers which had widely adopted the hybrid model as well as green OA routes to spur the move to more open science. Plan S triggered a collective response from not-for-profit publishers, and the formation of the Society Publishers’ Coalition (SocPC), of which Microbiology Society was a founding member.
The SocPC responded to the consultation on Plan S and, with the help of its representative trade body, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), it engaged with funders to feedback concerns. In February 2018, SocPC published a position statement in which it called for the opportunity to develop transformative agreements with consortia.
Importance of small learned societies
Recognising the importance of societies to the scholarly communication ecosystem, and in response to the SocPC statement, the Wellcome Trust and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), in partnership with the ALPSP, initiated the Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S project (SPA-OPS). At the same time, the Wellcome Trust agreed to fund extra resource for Jisc, specifically to work with small learned society publishers to enable them to develop compliant transformative agreements.
I took on this task at Jisc in May of this year and have so far reached out to more than 30 smaller and society publishers to talk about different models for compliance with Plan S and transforming to open access.
Working with all stakeholders to develop a pilot model
These discussions resulted in the development of a cost-neutral, ‘read and publish’ model, which we then took to our members to ask for feedback.
The biggest concern among institutions was the up-front fees for the publishing element of these deals. While funders had stated their support in principle for transformative agreements, the institutions were keen for guidance from funders to reassure them that block grants could be used for up-front fees for transformative agreements, as opposed to article processing charges (APCs) for individual articles, which is how they are currently used.
Jisc has been working with funders to feedback concerns from institutions and develop guidance for institutions as to how to finance transformative deals. Just last week, Wellcome updated its website by stating that it is supporting these agreements with up-front fees. Detailed guidance will be published in due course.
Jisc will be piloting the model with a number of society publishers keen to be at the forefront of the transition to OA. The pilots will run for two years from January 2020. Following the signing of the first agreement with the Microbiology Society earlier this month, I am close to finalising deals with Portland Press, IWA publishing, European Respiratory Society and The Company of Biologists.
The Microbiology Society’s director of publishing, Tasha Mellins-Cohen, said:
“The move to finding better OA solutions needed funders and library consortia to get pilots off the ground and we are thankful for their help. We also need that engagement and support to continue as these models are a starting, rather than an end point. Working with SPA-OPS opened doors and provided some practical tools to achieve our goals.”
Simplicity is key
The pilot model focuses on simplicity and increasing value to institutions. The fixed, up-front fee allows subscribers unlimited open access publishing (in born OA as well as hybrid journals), as well as access to the society’s full portfolio, for their current spend.
The publishers are keen to move to a workflow free of APCs, removing barriers for authors. The model has no individual transactions, caps or discounts, ensuring as little administrative burden as possible for all stakeholders and allowing 100% of output to be published open access for corresponding authors at a participating institution.
Blueprint for other learned societies?
The model is a pilot model and intended to be transitional. Jisc and the societies participating in the pilot recognise that we need to work hard to develop a sustainable model of pricing for an open access future.
However, we also recognise that this model is not viable for all society and smaller publishers and we are keen to talk to other societies to develop further transitional models to pilot from 2021 in line with the revised Plan S timetable. For more information, contact me at email@example.com.