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ALPSP Conference: cOAlition S and the future of Open Access

Kieran PrinceBy Kieran Prince
Category - Blog

Wednesday 31st October 2018

Our international sales manager, Kieran Prince, reflects on this year’s ALPSP Conference and announcement of the EU initiative ‘cOAlition S’ to produce more Open Access content.

If there was one topic which set the theme at the recent Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) conference, it was Open Access and the announcement of ‘cOAlition S’.

cOAlition S

The recently unveiled EU-backed initiative to produce more Open Access content has the support of many influential funding bodies, and created fierce debate across the academic publishing world.

The plan will see any research produced by the funding bodies released as Open Access content. On September 4, cOAlition S stated:

By 2020 scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants provided by participating national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access journals or on compliant Open Access platforms.”

Chris Jackson, professor of basin analysis at Imperial College London’s department of earth science and engineering, shared his thoughts on this bold move as he delivered the keynote address at the ALPSP conference in September.

He highlighted the huge amount of confusion among academics, publishers and librarians that followed the cOAlition S announcement.

“Plan S, cue chaos and confusion, you go onto any social media, you bump into somebody in the toilet or in the lift, and they say, oh I heard something, somebody from the European Union, I thought Brexit had happened.” He said.

“It is just changing daily the view about what it is. It is just a plan but it is causing a lot of concern.”

Challenges for academics

After highlighting a number of challenges that academics currently face in getting their papers published, from the costs of article processing charges (APCs) to the lack of engagement and transparency by both society and commercial journal publishers, he concluded in favour of Open Access.

Professor Jackson acknowledged the challenges around total Open Access for learned societies and publishers and suggested other steps that publishers should consider before this more radical step:

  1. Stop offering print
  2. More transparency around price setting and how much things cost, partly because a lot of academics think it is free
  3. Offer strongly reduced APCs to early career researchers as an opportunity to build brand loyalty to journals and societies
  4. Offer free colour figures and low per page charges
  5. Be transparent about your view on metrics

The cOAlition S debate arrives against a backdrop of a highly acquisitive academic publishing sector.

The learned and professional societies, represented at the ALPSP, offer a much more level playing field through their publishing activities.

But there is very little engagement between academics, researchers, librarians and publishers with each group being siloed from one another and lacking an understanding of the other’s needs.

Publishing revenue models

There is a feeling among the academic community that publishers are overly protective of their revenues which hinders collaboration and transparency.

Open Access is a concept that triggers fierce debate among the publishing industry with very polarised views.

Transitioning to Open Access alone would generate cost to the publisher. This combined with wider concerns about content quality and changing business models, creates several challenges.

For full Open Access to be achieved in a way that is workable for all parties, we need to see a completely different business model and process rolled out which supports the needs of all the different parties.

This is going to take a long time.

This is where Professor Jackson’s suggestions for greater engagement and proactive steps publishers can take to pursue and assist this are important.

Some publishers are now rolling out a combination of both Open Access and ‘commercial’ paid-for journals. This model works because it still allows researchers to get paid. Other publishers have created open source platforms around which they can sell sources.

So while full Open Access remains unworkable for many, a hybrid approach seems to be the most effective one in which publishers can offer some of their journals as Open Access and some remaining paid-for to bring in the necessary revenues.

This is an interesting and constantly changing area which will continue to be hotly debated.  Open communication and sharing of ideas is key, so it was great to see it being so openly and candidly discussed at the ALPSP Conference.

Visit the ALPSP Conference website to hear Professor Jackson’s opening keynote ‘Adventures in publishing’ and read Kieran’s previous blog on Open Access.


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