C&E Managing Partner Michael Clarke moderated a lively and informative session at the STM Conference 2023 in Frankfurt titled “Achieving open, visible, and impactful research at scale. Where have we got to and what’s next?”
Esteemed panelists included Carrie Webster (VP Open Access, Springer Nature), Prabu Desikan (Regional Director for South Asia, IOP Publishing), Tieming Zhang (Editorial Department of Beijing Forestry University, Society of China University Journals), Anne Ruimy (Senior Publisher, EDP Sciences), and Frederick Fenter (Chief Executive Editor, Frontiers).
Michael opened the session with a high-level overview of the state of open access (OA) models and their adoption, noting that 35% of global journal articles, reviews, and conference papers were published via Gold OA in 2022. This is just short of 1.3 million papers, according to Scopus.
With the continued impetus of government and funder policies, particularly in Europe and the United States – and the growth of transformative agreements – this proportion is expected to increase. Open access has moved from a “side hustle” to the mainstream.
Beyond the headline numbers, OA has led to a shift from what was effectively a single, global market for STM and scholarly research to a pluralistic environment. 20 years ago, most STM and scholarly publishers sold journals everywhere in the world via the subscription model. While packages and pricing may vary by region, the basic model was the same everywhere.
Today, the policies and preferences of different countries and regions require different approaches. A clear and growing preference in much of Europe for Gold OA is juxtaposed with a more cautious embrace of the model elsewhere.
Publishers, therefore, are confronting the challenge of supporting a mature subscription business even while making the substantial investments necessary to support open access at the scale of 1.3M+ papers per year.
Open access publishing requires new and specialized infrastructure. Last month’s acquisition of ChronosHub by the American Chemical Society perhaps provides a recent illustration of this point. It also requires new expertise. Supporting open access at scale means developing the marketing capability to support B2C (business-to-customer) marketing – as opposed to the B2B (business-to-business) marketing that supports the subscription model. B2C marketing requires different strategies and skillsets, and entirely different tools and technologies.
Open access also requires different editorial models. Portfolio strategy – and portfolio brands – are supplanting the more singular, title-by-title editorial model that has long been a hallmark at most publishers.
Here are some of the responses to the questions Michael posed:
Is a single global OA model desirable, or even feasible?
Panelists were unanimous in thinking a single model for OA globally would not be realistic or appropriate. Observations from panelists included:
- OA models and perceptions vary by country, and there is a need for all models. For example, 85% of Springer Nature’s Gold OA articles are paid for by the author – and 85% of its hybrid portfolio is paid for by transformative (institutional) deals.
- OA requires experimentation in order to be successful.
- Business model diversity is important for small publishers who may not be able to adopt the business models of larger publishers.
While one model might not be the right goal, one framework could be. Are there inherent risks to quality and research integrity due to output-based OA models? How can those be mitigated?
- Panelists largely felt the problem is not isolated to OA – paper mills, for example, are selling authorship on a paper and that paper could be published in a subscription journal or a Gold OA journal. That said, one panelist did point out the large volume differentials (and related incentives) in publishers that are fully Gold OA versus those with hybrid titles.
- One panelist posited that the problem with research integrity is not the business model – it is research assessment. Academic incentives need to be addressed.
- All panelists agreed that publishers must act responsibility and have quality assurance processes in place, regardless of their business model(s).
- Staffing around quality and research integrity is important. Frontiers shared that they have 80 research integrity staff. EDP is using the STM Integrity Hub.
- One panelist noted that China has one of the largest research outputs and is making research integrity a priority.
Does green OA still have a place?
This was the question on which panelists most diverged. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the publishers with the most invested in the Gold OA model did not think green was viable in the long term.
- One panelist noted that Green OA is dependent on subscriptions. This is, of course, an accurate assessment – though some publishers consider this a feature while others consider it a bug.
- Green OA is particularly important in China, given the high volume of research output. Gold OA is cost prohibitive for 100% of the country’s research output.
Societies work with publishers for access to transformative deals, and society content gets locked in. How can these deals work better for societies?
The challenges presented by transformative agreements to societies that work with large publishers was, surprisingly, not readily apparently to all the publishers on the panel. One panelist, however, framed the issue well, observing that the institutions involved in any given transformative agreement may not align with the society journal’s authorship. For example, if a society journal has many subscriptions in Europe but most of its authors are in North America (or China), the journal will lose this subscription revenue without seeing offsets from OA fees.
- Despite this challenge, publishers on the panel indicated that they thought the societies they publish with are better off with transformative agreements than without them.
- Panelists offered that communication and education around transformative deals is especially important so that society partners understand them and how they work.