California Dreaming

Issue 32 · February/March 2021

Join the conversation on Twitter @Briefer_Yet and LinkedIn.

Did a colleague forward the The Brief to you? Sign up via the button below to get your very own copy.

Some Other Things

The Brief is back after a short hiatus. Not a lot happened in the industry in February so we decided to skip an issue of The Brief and focus on some other things. 

One of those things is a multiclient benchmarking study focused on editorial honoraria and other supporting editorial metrics. Questions that the study will seek to answer for participants include: Are we paying our journal editors properly (too much or too little)? How do we rank against our competitors? Is our editor compensation competitive, so we can attract key talent? What impact does submissions have in deciding on the number of associate editors we need? 

The study will focus on biomedicine (we will expand the study to other disciplines later this year) and is open to society journals, whether published independently or via a publishing services agreement with a publisher. If you are interested in participating, please contact us at for more information before April 30th. 

We have also been focused on meetings! One of those meetings was the 2021 National Academy of Sciences Journal Summit, which took place on March 22 and 23. We helped organize the Summit again this year and as it was the first “virtual” Journal Summit, which required some rethinking. We thank all the speakers and attendees who made this year’s event such a success. And most of all we thank the NAS for hosting this seminal event, which provides an opportunity for constructive discussion of some of the challenges impacting our industry. 

Laura spoke at the NISO Plus Meeting, and along with Brian O’Leary of BISG, took a look at how current and new standards can address the challenges facing analytics that rely on the OA book usage data supply chain.

Michael participated in a discussion, organized by Society Street, with Simon Inger (Renew Consultants), Sam Burrell (Renew Consultants), Sam Herbert (67 Bricks), and Liz Heinberg (Hum) on how societies can foster a culture and practice of product development

And finally, we have been working on wrapping up our recent recruitment process. We are thrilled to announce that David Crotty will be joining the firm as Senior Consultant. David comes to C&E from Oxford University Press, where he held the position of Editorial Director, Journals Policy. At OUP he oversaw journals policy and contributed to strategy across OUP’s journals portfolio, drove technological innovation, and managed a suite of renowned society-owned journals. David was previously an Executive Editor with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, creating and editing new science books and journals, and was the Editor in Chief for Cold Spring Harbor Protocols. He received his PhD in genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing. David has been elected to the boards of the Society for Scholarly Publishing, the STM Association, the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishing division (AAP-PSP), and CHOR Inc., a not-for-profit public-private partnership to increase public access to research. He serves as the Editor of The Scholarly Kitchen

We welcome David and look forward to bringing his expertise and experience to client engagements.

California Dreaming


We talk a lot about the “Buckets of Money” problem at C&E. It is frequently said that there is enough money “in the system” to transition globally to open access (OA). The problem is that the money is in the wrong buckets. Most of the money used to pay for subscription journals comes from the budgets of libraries — from the coffers of universities and other research institutes. But simply shifting subscription budgets to pay for OA does not work. In any OA business model that is based on research output, institutions with high output will pay (a lot) more whereas those with low output will pay (a lot) less. Yet there is no money that will shift from low-output institutions (who are currently putting money into the “system” paying for subscriptions) to high-output institutions. Low-output institutions (including corporations) become free riders, and high-output institutions (research universities) get stuck with the tab. 
The University of California is a university system that has high outputs and is keenly interested in open access. For UC, a switch to an OA model based on research outputs will cost the university system more than it pays for subscriptions. We know this because duh, but also because UC commissioned a study that told them so. As there does not seem to be an appetite at UC for paying a lot more to cover OA publishing, this is a problem. 
And so the announcement that UC has signed a transformative (OA) deal with Elsevier, following soon after a similar deal with Springer Nature, is remarkable. It is even more remarkable that these deals not only will result in journal articles from UC authors being published under OA licenses, but will do so without adding substantial cost to UC. 
The negotiators at UC have achieved this feat by devising something they call the “multi-payer model.” By “multi-payer,” they mean that funding beyond the library (and especially from research grants) is brought to the deal. Research funders are perhaps the organizations best positioned to pay for OA, and yet they are not typically parties to transformative deals (this is another important facet to the “Buckets of Money” problem). UC’s solution is to ask researchers to tap grant funds to contribute to the article processing charges (APCs) that form the economic basis of these deals. 
For example, per the memorandum of understanding between UC and Elsevier, UC Libraries (UCL) “will pay the first US$1000 of the [APC] for journal articles by UC affiliated  corresponding authors that are accepted for publication in hybrid and open access journals covered by the Agreement.” The UC corresponding author will be prompted, upon submission, to specify if they have other funds available to cover the rest of the APC. If they do, then the remainder of the APC will be covered by such funds. If they do not, then UCL will cover the full APC. 
UCL has negotiated a 15% (10% for the Lancet and Cell portfolios) APC discount for UC corresponding authors so that both the libraries’ own funds and the additional funds brought into play by authors will go further.
A fundamental aspect of the deal with Elsevier is that UC has placed a cap on the funds it will provide: $10.7 million in the first year, rising 2.6% per year. There is also an “article growth fee” that adds additional funds in the event that publications exceed estimates ($330,000 in the first year rising to $1.6 million in Year 4 of the agreement). 
We have to hand it to UC. This is a deal (as was the Springer Nature deal before it) that both keeps UC’s costs down while simultaneously recognizing that the cost of OA is greater for research-intensive universities. Bringing in outside funds is the magic ingredient that allows UC and publishers to, in theory, each get what they need from such deals: cost containment for UC and increased revenues for publishers. The question is whether it will work in practice. 
If UC authors do not bring sufficient grant funding to the table, the deal will flounder. Authors must indicate whether they have funding for APCs or not. At present, there are few funders that both require gold OA publication and provide funds explicitly for such purposes. Funders like the US National Institutes of Health allow funds to be used for APCs but only require green OA. So even in cases where funds might be used to pay APCs, researchers may have already allocated grant funds to other purposes. In other cases, authors may not have grants at all or have grants with limitations that exclude publication fees. It is also the case that authors can simply opt out entirely: “Corresponding authors publishing in hybrid journals will continue to have the choice to publish their journal articles on a subscription basis and these authors will not be required to request a waiver of UC’s open access policy.”
There are too many unknowns at this time to predict whether the multi-payer model, at least in its present incarnation, will succeed in bringing sufficient grant funding into the mix to make these deals sustainable in the long term for UC and publishers. But if it does, it provides a blueprint for other research-intensive universities to transition to OA.

Source: University of California Davis Library, University of California, University of California San Francisco

Professional and Academic Publishing


Does a given journal accept papers submitted using the Plan S Rights Retention Strategy (RRS)? This seems like a straightforward question and indeed the Plan S Journal Checker Tool suggests that this is a binary state: yes or no. But as Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe discussed in her excellent RRS explainer, it is not that simple.
The Plan S Rights Retention Strategy, as we have discussed previously in The Brief, is a scheme whereby the authors of a paper, upon submission to a journal, include a statement in their cover letter asserting the right to maintain the copyright to the author accepted manuscript (AAM) for the paper and to release the AAM in a research repository immediately upon publication and under a CC BY license. 
Once submitted, a journal might consider the paper for publication under the terms proposed by the author, or the journal might refuse the terms and reject the paper. But will authors know in advance how a journal might respond to the use of the RRS? 
As Hinchliffe points out, there is no reason for a publisher to systematically reject RRS papers:
It is perhaps unsurprising then that “no publisher has indicated that they will systematically reject submissions because the submission includes the RRS language,” particularly since many publishers, especially the largest publishers, likely have in their portfolio both fully open access journals for which the RRS is already accommodated by the author agreement as well as subscription journals where it is not.

This is an important point and requires some unpacking. Let’s say that an author submits a paper to hybrid Journal A using the RRS. Journal A is unlikely to reject the paper out of hand — what if it is a really good paper? If it is a really good paper, Journal A will want to publish it. Given the prohibition under Plan S of using funder monies for APCs in hybrid journals (with notable exceptions for journals that are part of transformative deals or that are transformative journals), Journal A would therefore publish the paper under the subscription model and the corresponding author would then release the AAM as open upon publication in the journal. Journal A is assuming that, so long as it doesn’t publish too many such RRS papers, having a small proportion of OA AAMs floating around will not adversely impact subscriptions. 
Let’s say a different author submits a different paper to Journal A also using the RRS. Maybe it is a good but not great paper — not worth adding to the bucket of RRS papers that at some point may lead to subscription erosion. In this instance, Journal A might (in keeping with editorial policies) transfer the paper to companion Journal B, a gold OA journal: “Congratulations! Your paper has been accepted at Journal B! Please note that Journal B is fully compliant with Plan S. Your funder has indicated that its grant funds may be used to cover the journal APC. The version of record will be released via a CC BY license but if you want to also release the AAM publicly, sure whatever.”
If the paper is not good — not worth publishing in either Journal A or Journal B (or even, if applicable, Journal C further down the transfer path) — then the journal simply rejects the paper and does not need to reference the RRS at all. 
So does this hypothetical Journal A accept RRS papers? The better question to ask may be whether authors employing the RRS will face a higher bar for submission to some hybrid journals. That is a hard nuance to capture in the Journal Checker Tool.

Source: The Scholarly Kitchen, cOAlition S


The University of California has announced not one but two landmark transformative agreements in the past month. In addition to the deal with Elsevier (see Item 1), the University of California Berkeley and Springer Nature announced a new open access book deal. According to the announcement, UC Berkeley “will cover 100% of standard publishing costs for open access books that UC Berkeley authors publish with Springer Nature for at least the next three years.” 
We have not yet seen a memorandum of understanding so do not know many of the details related to this agreement, including how much UC Berkeley will pay per book and whether there are caps on the total number of books per year. We also don’t know how the deal will apply to multi-author books. A great many of the books published by Springer Nature are multi-author monographs (also commonly referred to as “contributed volumes”). Such books often have a different author for each chapter, organized by an overall book editor. If a UC Berkeley author writes one chapter in a 10-chapter volume, what will UC Berkeley pay? 
While we have many questions, this is nonetheless a notable deal. This is the first open access book deal we are aware of between a major book publisher and a large research university (though unlike the Springer Nature journals agreement, this deal does not apply to the whole UC system, just the Berkeley campus). 
The deal has raised concerns about its potential, if broadly adopted, to lead to market consolidation and the kind of dynamics playing out in journal publishing. When it comes to traditional books, Springer Nature does not really compete with the university presses, which largely publish single-author monographs in the humanities and social sciences. But an institutional OA model for books could change that. Monographs are far more costly to produce than journal articles, and hence OA fees tend to be much higher. Whereas the corresponding author of a journal article may not even consider the presence of a transformative agreement when making a decision about to which journal to submit a paper, for the author of a single-author monograph such an agreement might prove determinative (especially given that grant funding for books is uncommon). That said, the market for OA monographs remains nascent and differs in many ways from that of journals, it is hard to draw too many comparisons. We look forward to hearing more about the details of this agreement and seeing the books that emerge under it.

Source: University of California Berkeley, Charles Watkinson via Twitter (@charleswatkinso)


The Editor in Chief of JAMA, Howard Bauchner, has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the release of a podcast in which a JAMA deputy editor questioned the existence of structural racism in health care and stated that physicians could not be racists. The podcast episode was promoted by the flagship JAMA Twitter account (@JAMA_current) in a tweet that seemed to reinforce the perspective of the deputy editor. Both the podcast and the tweet have been removed. The deputy editor has resigned. A letter of apology has been issued by Bauchner. The AMA has released a statement condemning the podcast, and the AMA’s CEO has published a letter outlining the AMA’s ongoing response, which includes investigation by the AMA’s Journal Oversight Committee “into how the podcast and associated tweet were developed, reviewed, and ultimately posted. This investigation and report will be conducted via our general counsel’s office and an independent outside counsel to ensure the integrity and objectivity of its findings.”
The response by the AMA has been swift and significant both in terms of its public statements and in taking the extraordinary step of placing the JAMA EIC, who is editorially independent of the AMA, on administrative leave while the investigation is conducted. 
The incident raises many important questions, including about editorial review of podcasts, webinars, and social media posts issued under journal brands. Journals conduct robust editorial review of research papers. Although editorials and commentaries are not typically peer-reviewed, they nonetheless usually go through internal review processes. Podcasts, by contrast, are often not subject to the same level of review. Social media posts are often viewed as marketing copy and similarly not subject to the same scrutiny as editorial content that appears in the journal proper. 
But what is the appropriate level of oversight for podcasts, social media, webinars, and other media that falls outside the pages of the journal? 
This is an important question for journals and their editors and publishers. The odds of somone eventually saying, or tweeting, something offensive, tone deaf, inaccurate, or just plain stupid (and potentially all of the above at once!) increase directly in proportion to the number of podcasts or social media posts a journal publishes. With the prevalence of social media platforms to highlight and amplify messages, the implications can be disastrous for the reputations of journals and their parent organizations. The case for a high degree of editorial oversight is compelling. On the other hand, journals have limited resources and budget pressures grow constantly as journals are asked to increase their scrutiny of conflicts of interests, uncover figure manipulation, and monitor informal post-publication communications on social media and platforms like Publons. Journal social media accounts are often managed by overtaxed editors and podcasts are often recorded on evenings and weekends. Furthermore, social media by its nature is fast moving and reactive — reviewing every tweet or social media posting may be impractical. 
Finding a balance point that provides sufficient oversight without imposing delays or overburdening editors is the challenge for journal editors, publishers, and societies. The recent JAMA podcast serves as a reminder that the stakes for getting the balance point wrong can be high. Many organizations will likely be reviewing their podcasting and social media practices and policies in the coming months.

Source: The New York Times, JAMA via Twitter (@JAMA_current), American Medical Association



Google is generally interested in freely accessible content that it can index and link to and sell ads against because that is Google’s business model. Primary scholarly literature is an exception. Google Scholar will index and link to journal articles that are not freely accessible as long as the abstract is freely accessible. There is not really a business model for Google Scholar as Google doesn’t sell ads on those search results. (Google maintains Scholar kind of as a hobby, but it does benefit in some ways: the scholarly literature, for example, provides a highly structured training set for its machine learning algorithms.) And while these distinctions are both real and significant, Google Scholar is nonetheless a deeply Google-y service. It makes an exception for paywalled content, but Google really would prefer to link to full-text content (because from Google’s perspective that is a better result for the user of Google Scholar). And so it is on brand for Google Scholar to roll out a new feature aimed at encouraging more freely accessible content
The new “Public Access” feature indicates whether a given paper is in compliance with funder mandates regarding free accessibility. If the paper is not in compliance with a funder mandate, Google prompts the author to deposit a freely accessible version of the paper in an institutional or subject repository or to just make the paper publicly available on Google Drive (of course!).  
It is worth taking a moment to understand how Google Scholar is approaching this technically. First, Google runs natural language processing software on papers that it indexes looking for funder acknowledgments. It then matches the funder to a database of funder mandates it has compiled. And then Google searches to see if there is a free version of the paper either on the publisher’s website or in various indexed repositories. This is a very Google-y way to approach this: it scales well, does not require developing complex integrations with others in the industry, and is messy and has a lot of errors. Take, for example, the Google Scholar “Articles with public access mandates” page for Michael Eisen, a researcher at the University of California and the Editor in Chief of eLife (Eisen is also one of the co-founders of PLOS and is an outspoken open access advocate). 
The page indicates that four of Eisen’s papers are not publicly available! But wait a minute, let’s look closer. It turns out that one of those papers was published in eLife, his own journal, which is fully OA. Another one is not even a journal article but rather a preprint in bioRxiv, a fully open platform (and preprints are not subject to funder mandates in any event). Another paper, published in Science, does require a subscription to access — but it is not a research paper (it is a perspective) so is not subject to funder mandates. And the fourth paper is freely accessible in Molecular Biology and Evolution
It appears that the new feature is rife with such errors. Google will get better at this over time and not make basic errors like flagging an eLife paper as not freely accessible. But so long as it relies on text from the paper’s acknowledgments, there will be errors. This is not a software problem. Even if the software functions perfectly, it will only be as accurate as the (often unclear or incomplete) acknowledgments. Authors are invited to correct the record. While authors are motivated to correct details related to their publication record, should they have to do so? There is something of the Silicon Valley ethos of “moving fast and breaking things” — and then putting the onus on other people to fix it — in this new feature. 
The Public Access feature is carefully named; it is not called “Open Access” for a reason. As Nature reports, Google Scholar does not include information about copyright license attached to a given paper, only whether it is freely accessible. So it does not check compliance with funder mandates that specify Creative Commons licenses. This is also Google-y. Google cares about linking to freely accessible things — they don’t really care about rights and reuse issues. 
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the new service is the prompt to deposit papers to Google Drive and to make them public there “as a final fallback.” As it is vastly easier to save a file to Google Drive compared to figuring out how to submit a paper to an institutional or subject repository, and as Google Scholar will now index and link to the Google Drive file, this may turn out to be a popular option. Which raises the question, is Google Scholar poised to become not just a discovery service but a repository of significance in its own right and perhaps competitor to ResearchGate?

Source: Nature, Google Scholar, Michael Schatz via Twitter (@mike-schatz)



Coursera raises $519 million via IPO that values the company at $4.3 billion. 

Springer Nature acquires Atlantis Press, a Paris-based open access publisher of conference proceedings and journals, for an undisclosed sum. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has agreed to sell its consumer division (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books and Media) to HarperCollins for $349 million. HarperCollins, one of the five largest trade publishing houses in the US, is owned by News Corp. 

Newsela, a startup focused on replacing textbooks in the K-12 market, announced it is raising $100 million in a series D funding round that values the company at $1 billion. 

Literati is a book club that ships subscribers a curated selection of books each month. It is also, remarkably, a hot start-up, announcing it has raised $40 million in a series B funding round. The secret to its success? Convenience, presentation, service, and (especially) curation. (Michael has been a subscriber to Literati Kids for a year and can’t recommend it highly enough for parents looking for some wonderful new and off-the-beaten-path books for little ones.)



Jeff Bezos, proprietor of the Seattle bookstore named after a river in South America, relinquishes operational responsibilities but still plans to look in on things from time to time.

Emily Chenette is the new Editor in Chief of PLOS ONE.

David Crotty joins Clarke & Esposito as Senior Consultant. 

Hylke Koers has been appointed Chief Information Officer of the STM Association’s new initiative, STM Solutions. 

Heather Staines joins Delta Think as Community Engagement Director and Senior Consultant. Meg White also joins Delta Think in the role of Senior Consultant. 

Alicia Wise has been appointed the Executive Director of CLOCKSS.


Lawrence Ferlinghetti has died at 101. The poet, bookseller, and publisher was a literary institution and icon. His world-famous City Lights bookstore remains a San Francisco touchstone. 
Dan Tonkery, a well-known and influential figure in the scholarly publishing industry, has passed away. The C&E team extends our heartfelt condolences to his family.

Briefly Noted


Sixteen major North American university presses have developed a new initiative with De Gruyter aimed at brokering ebooks sales between presses and university libraries: “The idea behind the University Press Library initiative is for the institutions to sell digital collections of their entire front lists of new titles to university libraries.” 

Should journals pay peer reviewers? Discuss

MIT launches a subscribe to open model for books (which they call Direct to Open).

Staff at Duke University Press seek to unionize. Kent Anderson conducts an interview with DUP Workers Union representatives over at The Geyser

MDPI releases its 2020 Annual Report with some noteworthy numbers. The number of papers published across their portfolio grew 52% to over 160,000; 57% of papers were rejected; 81 new journals were added. And, most remarkable of all, this statement from page 1 of the report: “To continuously ensure a smooth editorial process, and to avoid delays in view of the high number of articles submitted, we welcomed aboard more than 1,700 new colleagues in 2020.”

University of Liverpool uses research metrics in job-cut decisions.

new study commissioned by cOAlition S on diamond OA (OA journals without APCs) has been released. The study reports that, among the 14,368 journals listed in DOAJ, approximately 356,000 articles were published annually in diamond OA journals whereas approximately 453,000 were published in gold OA (APC-based) titles. 

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe examines a Springer Nature study conducted with researchers who use ResearchGate. The study found that respondents strongly prefer reading and citing the version of record of a paper compared to prepublication versions such as preprints or author manuscripts.

Ken Brooks on achieving the state-of-the-art in book production: “The traditional approach to content creation and production — rigid processes with hard dividing lines, complete and “final” manuscripts delivered before transformation begins, many cycles of iteration, mostly manual activity — is running out of steam.” 

Penguin Random House launches a new platform called Ahab to help connect content producers (e.g., audiobooks, documentaries, podcasts) with voiceover talent. 

Farewell Article Level Metrics; long live article level metrics! PLOS sunsets its groundbreaking metrics service but continues to provide data via Altmetric. 

Literary collective nouns. A draft of editors. A blurb of publicists. But none for publishers? A pub of publishers, obviously! 

Camille Noûs has appeared as a listed author on 180 journal articles in the last year spanning disparate fields. The entirely fictitious author is part of a protest movement.

Which academic press are you?

McSweeny’s answers all your questions on the new MLA Handbook, Ninth Edition. “How do I cite snarky reviewer comments saying that I will never publish an article when I finally get it published in another journal?”

Kobo’s April Fools’ post. “Papier: The essence of reading.”


Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity. ― Charles Mingus