APE 2019: Fireworks

Issue 10 · February 2019

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APE 2019


APE (Academic Publishing in Europe) 2019, held January 15–16 at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, was an extraordinary meeting. Plan S and “transformative agreements” were center stage at APE this year, and the verbal fireworks were practically nonstop. The meeting kicked off with a keynote presentation by Plan S architect Robert-Jan Smits. During the presentation and the discussion that followed, members of the audience began to wonder whether the “S” in Plan S stood for either “sanctimony” or “shambles.” It would be hard to appear more sanctimonious with lines like (speaking to societies): “It is not what Plan S can do for you but what you can do for Plan S.” Smits went on to dismiss most critics of Plan S as either “fake news” or “trolls,” acknowledging only that there may be some learned societies with genuine concerns. He even suggested that all the publishers in the audience read the motivational book Who Moved My Cheese to better cope with change.

But the truly stunning aspect of Smit’s talk and the discussion that followed was the continued lack of clarity with regard to Plan S and the lingering policy gaps in the plan. At one point a member of the audience asked about the challenge of researchers and scholars without funding for APCs (of whom there are a great many, even in developed countries). Smits acknowledged this was a problem that did not yet have a solution. To be fair, acknowledging this giant hole at the center of Plan S is better than not acknowledging that there is a giant hole at the center of Plan S. But it seems, you know, unwise to be advocating for the implementation of a policy (starting in less than a year!) that seeks to shift the world to an APC-based publishing model without first addressing how those without funds for APCs might publish their work.

We also heard from Smits that transformative agreements need not actually be transformative, in direct contradiction to the published Plan S implementation guidance (which a member of the audience helpfully read out loud to Smits just to be sure!), which states: “The negotiated agreements need to include a scenario that describes how the publication venues will be converted to full Open Access after the contract expires.” Smits nonetheless insisted that the just-announced Projekt DEAL agreement with Wiley (more on this in a moment) was not only Plan S compliant, but should be used as a model for other national consortia! This is odd for two reasons. The first is that Germany has notably not adopted Plan S so its compliance or lack thereof with Plan S seems irrelevant. The second is that Wiley has not agreed to flip any journals to gold OA, which, per Plan S guidance, is an essential requirement for a Plan S compliant transformative agreement.

But perhaps the most startling comment of all was Smit’s acknowledgment that each cOAlition S funding agency would interpret Plan S individually. Which is to say that Plan S at the moment appears to be no more than some policy aspirations held in common (but likely implemented via separate requirements) by (largely) European funding agencies representing approximately 3.5% of the world’s research output. One might understand why publishers and learned societies are not rushing to implement sweeping changes to their publishing programs quite yet.

One of the more baffling aspects of Smit’s talk was his suggestion that China has adopted Plan S, which is simply not true. While there has been some indication of “support” for Plan S, there is no sign that China appears ready to adopt Plan S from a policy perspective. While Smits did not include China on his slide showing the list of participating funders, he did later explicitly include China in his estimates of Plan S’s current share of global research output, which he put at 20% (see the 28:25 mark in the Plan S Q&A video). The best independent estimate (by Delta Think) is that Plan S encompasses about 3.5% of the research output (Smits himself put it at 3% without China). Smits further stated that Plan S would soon (by March 1!) encompass 30% of the global research output, but provided no specifics as to what additional funding agencies would be signing on.

The trumpeting of China’s moves toward open access was not limited to Smits. Gerard Meijer, Director, Fritz-Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, reported on the efficiency of China’s top-down approach to open access policymaking enabled by one-party rule (see the 13:45 mark in this video). During the related Q&A, Rafael Ball, Director of ETH-Library Zurich, proffered that perhaps we should not be too quick to praise the benefits of autocracy and might instead prefer the messiness and inconveniences of policy making in democracies. Meijer erupted, denying he had praised China, and reprimanding the Swiss librarian for his suggestion (watch this Q&A session video starting at the 33:30 mark).

Once things settled down a bit, publishing consultant Matthias Wahls offered the insight (starting at the 40:50 mark in the same video) that China’s growing interest in open access (but not, as far as anyone knows, Plan S) coincides with China’s interest in fostering more prominent Chinese (English language) research journals. If China launches (via one or more of its academic institutions) a new portfolio of research journals, it would be very difficult, expensive, and time consuming to sell subscriptions to such journals globally. If the aim is to gain more influence in primary research publishing, it is far easier to simply start OA journals and require (or incentivize) Chinese authors to publish at least some of their best work there.

Amazingly, as we touched on above, Plan S was not even the biggest story of APE 2019! Wiley upstaged Smits and everyone else in announcing that it had reached what may be the industry’s first “publish and read” (PAR) agreement (not to be confused with “read and publish”) with Projekt DEAL, the German national consortium. The deal was announced in spectacular fashion by Wiley Executive Vice President for Research Judy Verses. Verses’ talk followed that of Robert-Jan Smits (who remained in the audience in the first row). There was no hint of the announcement on the program nor, for that matter, during most of Verses’ talk. The announcement came only at the end of her talk, following a fusillade in which Verses’ noted that the rollout of Plan S is about as politically adroit as that of Trump’s infamous border wall. It is well worth watching the video of the talk. Skip the first 22 minutes and come in right at 22:00. The bombs start dropping at the 25-minute mark. Bring popcorn.

Kudos to APE organizer and impresario Arnoud de Kemp for an informative, entertaining, controversial, collegial, and rambunctious 14th APE meeting—and for getting the videos of the conference out so quickly. It is well worth finding the time to watch these—better than Netflix (who needs Bird Box when you have APE?!). More videos are forthcoming—check the APE 2019 website for updates.

Source: APE 2019

STM & Professional Publishing


While the contract between Wiley and the Projekt DEAL consortium won’t be made public until later in the month, this has not prevented early analysis. The two most cogent pieces thus far on the deal come to us from Marcel Knöchelmann at Lepublikateur and Lisa Hinchliffe at the Scholarly Kitchen. Both articles hone in on the distinction between “publish and read” (PAR) and “read and publish” (RAP). Often used interchangeably, it turns out these are different models (who knew!). In a RAP deal (such as these between publishers and VSNU, the Dutch national consortium), the fee paid by the consortium is largely based on subscribed content, with an add-on for making published papers from consortium researchers open. In the RAP model, the prices are fixed (with annual incremental increases) for the contract term, no matter how many papers are published (or articles read).

In a PAR deal, the fee paid by the consortium is based on the number of papers published from consortium researchers and there is no fee associated with accessing subscribed content (but consortium members can still access subscribed content but it is, like, free—or rather “free”). So in a PAR deal, depending on the contract language, it might be the case that the consortium pays a lot more—or a lot less—from year to year if consortium researchers have big swings in the number of papers they publish with the publisher as that is the basis of fee calculation.

The most obvious implication of PAR over RAP (or a traditional site license) is that the primary incentive of the publisher is now to publish as many papers as possible from the consortium’s authors. Given Germany’s relatively high research output (and the high quality of its research), will this put pressure on other publishers to ink similar deals or risk seeing their share of Germany’s research output decline?

Source: LepublikateurScholarly Kitchen, VSNU


Too much was written about Plan S this past month to summarize (or even link to) it all here. We have highlighted below a few of the more notable organizational responses:

  • Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences (and former editor of Science) penned an editorial in PNAS describing the costs associated with running a world-class selective journal and why flipping to a pure OA model (as opposed to a hybrid model) would be extremely problematic.
  • The University College of London (UCL) issued a blistering critique (PDF) of Plan S: “UCL researchers call for a wholesale re-think of the strategy.” The response  is particularly notable as UCL has long been a prominent advocate of open access, with UCL Press being an entirely open access press. The UCL response to Plan S is juxtaposed against its announcement of a new open access “mega journal,” UCL Open.
  • UCL is not the only university with serious reservations about Plan S. The libraries of Harvard and MIT issued a joint response to Plan S. The two celebrated American universities take the European plan to task for giving Green OA short shrift (“OA repositories can provide bona fide open access. Suggesting otherwise is simply inaccurate…”). They also point out the lack of support for no-fee OA titles: “Providing support for no-fee OA journals will avoid the perverse effect of giving no-fee journals an incentive to start charging fees.”
  • The Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) has issued a policy briefing on Plan S. The document is an excellent overview, situating Plan S in the context of the wider open access policy map and scholarly publishing ecosystem. OSI’s take is that Plan S essentially came out of nowhere and was developed without public input and with little transparency: “… the details and potential consequences of this plan have not been carefully and broadly considered yet and … important stakeholders in the current system (notably working researchers) were apparently given little opportunity to provide input into the formulation of its principles.”
  • The STM Association echoed OSI in noting the lack of engagement with researchers in developing Plan S and how it is out of step with not only researcher needs but the great many open access initiatives (hybrid, green OA) already underway in the industry.
  • The American Historical Association (AHA) has indicated it will not change its policies to be Plan S compliant. The AHA pointedly takes Plan S to task for (as with much open access policy) assuming “that all academic publishing has the same imperatives and exigencies as research in the biomedical and physical sciences.” The AHA further challenges the narrow definition of “open” promulgated by Plan S: “‘openness’ is an ethic that must refer to the production of scholarship as well as to its consumption.”

Numerous other societies and professional associations have submitted feedback to cOAlition S as part of the comment period that closed on February 8. We look forward to seeing the public release of these and other comments in the near future.

Source: LPNAS, University College of London, MIT Libraries, Open Scholarship Initiative, STM Association, American Historical Association


Plan U has been mooted by John Inglis and Richard Sever of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Michael Eisen of the University of California, Berkeley. While the names of the three authors do not appear on the document, they acknowledged authorship via Twitter last week at the same time that the document was released. Drs. Sever and Inglis are, notably, the founders of bioRxiv, the preprint repository managed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and a recipient of significant funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Professor Eisen is a co-founder of PLOS.

The idea of Plan U is simple: Research funders would simply mandate deposit of manuscripts on preprint servers prior to, or in conjunction with, formal publication. Basically, this is already happening (without mandates) in physics and related fields. The Plan U authors suggest simply extending this practice to the rest of the sciences. This has the benefit, over Plan S, of (a) being simple, and (b) having a track record (in physics) that actually works.

A bit of digression is called for on the emerging naming convention of funder mandates. No one knows what the “S” in Plan S stands for, but the joke (which has the benefit of being plausible!) is that it stands for “Smits.” Shortly after Plan S was released, Tim Vines offered an alternative which he archly referred to as “Plan T,” in part because “T” follows “S” in the alphabet but also (spoofing Smits) because of the “T” in “Tim.” So the “U” in Plan U is following the alpha-order convention, but not (sadly, we might add) the convention of working in a reference to the policy architect’s name (there is nary a “U” in any of the three Plan U authors’ names). We asked Richard Sever what the “U” stood for and he said “universal,” but he obviously made that up on the spot.

Source: PlanU.org, Scholarly Kitchen


Another big story in a month of big stories was the announcement that Clarivate Analytics intends to go public much sooner than many observers anticipated. While the timing of the deal is surprising, so too is the method of entering the public markets. Clarivate has announced a “merger” with Churchill Capital Corp. Churchill is what is known as a special purpose acquisition corporation (SPAC). A SPAC is an entity that is formed for acquiring a company and taking it public. Basically, investors put their money into the SPAC, which is a public entity, and then the SPAC goes and buys another company and voilà, the acquired company is now public too. While the mechanics are straightforward, the motivations are not. It seems like Clarivate was only just formed—surely the time horizon its private equity owners had in mind for growing the value of the company they put together was longer than 3 years? Second, if the owners were seeking an exit in the public markets, why not just, you know, issue an IPO (or a direct listing, which is now apparently a thing)? On the other hand, the merger with Churchill brings a big cash infusion into Clarivate, money that can be used for acquisitions and investment in operations. It may be noteworthy that Clarivate’s back-door IPO through Churchill comes not long after the failed IPO of Springer Nature, suggesting that working with a SPAC represented a less risky route for Clarivate’s owners.

Source: Clarivate Analytics, Wall Street Journal


Another editorial board of an Elsevier-owned journal has resigned en masse and is launching a new replacement OA journal. The Journal of Informetrics is owned by Elsevier, and you can’t really fault them for not agreeing to just give away the journal or for wanting to maintain its hybrid business model. Nor can you fault the editorial board, who are associated with the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics (ISSI), for wanting the society to have its own journal. That is a reasonable thing to want. They should have a journal that they actually own (and now they do!). So everyone did the reasonable thing even if there was a bit more drama than was absolutely necessary.

But the interesting thing here (the real story if you will), is not the breakup drama but rather how ISSI ended up with its own journal, which will be called Quantitative Science Studies (QSS). QSS is being published not by another commercial publisher nor by the society itself but via MIT Press. More interesting is that the funds to launch the new journal are coming from libraries. MIT’s own library is providing funding for establishing and marketing the new journal. And APCs for the journal “will be fully covered by the Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB) – Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology for the first three years of operation.” The use of library funding, and university press expertise, to help launch a society journal of this nature is a novel and interesting approach.  

The launch of QSS has been characterized as a “flip,” but that is not entirely accurate. The Journal of Informetrics has not been “flipped” out of Elsevier—Elsevier will continue to publish the journal (with the same editor, at least until his contract expires). Vincent Larivière, the interim editor of the new journal, is quoted as saying “A journal is a shell. It’s what’s inside the shell that counts. What we’ll have at this new journal is exactly the same group of people, the same topics, the same science.” This is an interesting comment. One could imagine a scenario where only half the editorial board resigned (or two-thirds or whatever). Is the new journal then still a continuation of the original journal? Is the original journal somehow now a different journal (especially given it will have the same editor, at least for the remainder of his term)? This may be largely a philosophical question (if only this were a philosophy journal!), but it is also a business question (Toby Green explores some of the business and wider industry implications in an excellent posting on Medium). If you were given the option of owning a well-known, established journal with a deep archive of seminal papers and a respectable impact factor but an recently vacated editorial board, or a contract with the last editorial board of that same journal with which to launch a brand-new journal, which option would you choose?

Source: Inside Higher Ed, MIT News, Medium


This is a familiar story. The world’s research, which was paid for by taxpayers, is locked up behind the paywall of big commercial firms (the research was paid for by taxpayers, publication is not; nearly every publisher offers open access options so publicly funded research can be published openly). The publications are so expensive that even Harvard can’t buy them any more (the amount Harvard spends on serials is barely a rounding error in the university’s annual budget). The “so-called impact factor” (why “so-called”? that’s what it is called) influences the way researchers, especially those starting out, submit articles for publication. Alexandra Elbakyan and Sci-Hub are characterized as carrying the mantle of Aaron Swartz in crusading for open content (without acknowledging that Sci-Hub appears to engage in phishing schemes aimed at gaining access to university networks containing information beyond publisher PDFs). And so on. This story, with the usual bromides and misleading statements, would be worth passing over except that it happens to be by Joi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab and a member of the management board of MIT Press. The latter part of the piece is a quick but noteworthy survey of new software tools to enable open scholarship, including the Media Lab’s own PubPub. We wish that Ito had just stuck to the overview of MIT initiatives and left aside the diatribe on the publishing industry, but Ito has to be taken seriously. We look forward to hearing more about PubPub.

Source: Wired, Scholarly Kitchen


The impressive growth of China as an economy has a parallel in the growth of Chinese science. Science recently reported that Chinese research accounts for 18.6% of global output, the largest contribution by any single country (including the United States). According to a new study by Nikkei and Elsevier, this Chinese lead (as measured by output of papers) is even more pronounced in critical technology fields related to growing industry. These include fields such as genome editing, sodium ion batteries, organic thin-film solar cells, immune therapy, nano generators, photo catalysts, and so on. Across 30 key fields, China holds the lead in 23. “More than the U.S. or Japan, China has focused its investment in areas with commercial potential, with a particular focus on material science for applications in electronics and electric vehicles, Elsevier said.” The report also notes that the quality of Chinese research, while still relatively low, is improving. “It accounted for nearly 11% of the papers that made the biggest impact, based on such factors as the number of citations, between 2014 and 2016.”

This raises the question of whether a society that frowns on free expression can become the place where critical, independent scientific inquiry can flourish. The Economist explored this very question in a long piece last month. “The authoritarian system in which they are embedded makes it hard for Chinese science to speak truth to power, or escape challenges to its integrity. This gnaws at the scientific body politic, and saps resources, both financial and moral.” The Chinese approach to research may be effective, however, and the West should not be complacent about its prospects for dominating scientific inquiry throughout this century. “But the idea that you can get either truly reliable science or truly great science in a political system that depends on a culture of unappealable authority is, as yet, unproven.”

Source: Science, Nikkei Asian Review, The Economist


Can you publish in Nature if you have never published in Nature before? This is the question posed by authors of a new study published in PNAS (where Nature is the stand-in for similar high-impact journals) that explored the extent to which the principal investigator of a paper has previously published in the same journal as a junior author. The study found that “chaperoned” researchers who first publish in a journal as nonsenior authors are more likely to be published in that same journal as principal investigators. The benefit of chaperoning is strongest in medical and biological sciences and in prestigious multidisciplinary journals—a researcher is unlikely to appear as senior author in a high-impact multidisciplinary journal if that researcher has not previously published within the same journal. Reporting on the study, Science offered this insight from study co-author Roberta Sinatra (network scientist at Central European University, Budapest): “The take-home point really is that it’s getting harder to break into one of these journals if you haven’t been chaperoned into it.”

Source: PNAS, Science

Higher Education


Shades of the old Blockbuster video rental stores! College bookstores now support rental programs for textbooks, but they come with a catch: not returning a book on time can trigger a huge late fee. Sometimes the late fees may be greater than the rental charge. In some states these practices may be illegal. All the big names are cited here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Follett. An interesting wrinkle in this business is that the stores do not charge a fee by the day but instead use a flat fee; thus returning a book one day late can incur the total fee. These are precisely the kind of practices that inspired the OER movement in the first place.

Source: HuffPost


The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, which bears some superficial similarities with the Open Access movement, has reached a pivotal point. Whereas the original “selling point” for OER was that the texts would be free for students, now OER advocates recognize that that is just the starting point; for there to be widespread adoption of OER, there has to be demonstrated improvement in the experience and outcomes for both teachers and students. In the words of Nicole Allen, who heads up the OER program at SPARC, “The true value of open isn’t about reducing costs, but it’s about creating the ability for people to make content better.”

Source: EdSurge


More on the evolution of OER. In the past few years Open Educational Resources have gone from a fringe activity in higher ed to a measurable and growing proportion of classroom texts. Part of the reason for this is that while the traditional emphasis has been on “open” as in “free,” increasingly instructors are exploring “open” as in “configurable.” In a recent survey of OER in higher ed we learn that OER has made significant inroads: “22 percent of people who teach introductory courses, subjects in which free textbooks are most commonly available, use it as required material, up from 15 percent last year.” OER is not moving forward as an inexorable force, however; some instructors have some questions about quality. As the survey’s authors sum up the situation, “While we see no diminishing among the proportion of teaching faculty who report that they will or are willing to consider OER that would indicate that the growth might end, we also do not see any increased enthusiasm among these same faculty that would indicate increases [sic] levels of growth.”

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education, Babson Survey Research Group

The Book Business


One thing we did not think we would be talking about in 2019 is paper shortages. Paper shortages are resulting in delays in printing books, leaving some titles to go temporarily out of stock and resulting in reduced sales. The problem is being experienced in all segments of print publishing, but has special implications for university presses, which are for the most part too small to lock up supply for long periods. The problem goes beyond paper to access to printing equipment itself; according to Greg Britton of Johns Hopkins University Press, “The companies that manufacture books are inundated with work… There’s been a lot of consolidation and now there’s less capacity. In the past when there were delays, we might have been able to shift work to a different printer—now those printers don’t exist.” While this may seem like a short-term aberration, it is part of a secular trend, in which a diminishing print sector suffers a loss of industrial efficiency, which will ultimately drive up prices and further accelerate the migration to digital formats. For books all roads lead to Amazon (see next item).

Source: Inside Higher Ed


Amazon presents such a friendly face to consumers—it is after all, the “everything store”—that complaints from businesses that must work with it are usually overlooked or dismissed as mere whining. Now, in a long piece in The Verge, which is to be commended for supporting this brand of journalism, Josh Dzieza issues an indictment that will be hard for any policymaker to ignore, including, one hopes, the antitrust units at DOJ. We first encountered the business implications of Amazon’s behavior—incorrect listings, poor metadata, delisting for no clear reason, struggles to get relisted—in our work in the university press world, but Dzieza goes far beyond that, documenting a litany of shady practices by commercial rivals, for which Amazon turns a blind eye. Attempts to remedy matters thrust small merchants, who sell on Amazon, into a bureaucratic maze worthy of Kafka (whose books you can buy on Amazon, of course!). Amazon’s market share of the book business continues to grow, and digital migration serves to accelerate this. We are fast approaching a situation where a single commercial entity will control a significant portion of cultural output.

Source: The Verge



Yuval Harari on AI and autonomous vehicles: “Tesla could produce two models of the self-driving car: the Tesla Altruist and the Tesla Egoist. In an emergency the Altruist sacrifices its owner to the greater good, whereas the Egoist does everything in its power to save its owner, even if it means killing … kids. Customers will then be able to buy the car that best fits their favorite philosophical view. If more people buy the Tesla Egoist, you won’t be able to blame Tesla for that. After all, the customer is always right” (p. 61).

Source: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century


Here come the GDPR rulings. Google has been fined $57M in France for violations reported by activist group noyb.eu (aka “None Of Your Business”). Noyb has plenty of other companies in its sights, including YouTube (part of Google), Netflix, Spotify, Apple, and Amazon. Those readers who can still remember their migraines from May 24, 2018 will no doubt want to keep a bottle of aspirin handy as authorities begin to interpret and enforce the new regulations.

Source: Washington Post, The Verge



Physics Today has put together a list of the eleven science policy issues that they think will dominate conversation in 2019. These range from climate change to policy changes at the Environmental Protection Agency. Among the notable items are an intensification of attention to quantum information science and discussions to integrate the U.S. lunar exploration program with commercial entities.

Source: Physics Today


Keep your tidy, spark-joy hands off my book piles, Marie Kondo.

Source: Washington Post


If you are looking for a long read in popular science this month, we recommend a fascinating piece on the intersection of genetic analysis and archaeology. This article, which is exceptionally well written, focuses on the work of Harvard’s David Reich, whose research into ancient human lineages has overturned, or is attempting to overturn, long-held views of the migrations of peoples around the globe. Trained in the lab that demonstrated that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens bred together, Reich has offered new views of the populations of Europe and developed a controversial perspective on the various settlers on islands in the South Pacific. There are questions about Reich’s practices, however, and resentment about the fact that his is one of a small number of labs equipped to do the kind of research that has made Reich a notable figure. The controversy extends to Reich’s publications, many of which have found a place in Nature. Critics of Reich’s work have questioned the peer review process that led to some of Reich’s scoops. This article is a mini-epic of science and science publishing.

Source: New York Times Magazine

From Our Own Pens


Joe coauthored, with Katherine Daniel and Roger Schonfeld of Ithaka S+R, “Library Acquisition Patterns,” a research paper underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The report covers books, both print and digital, in academic libraries by drawing on data from library management systems. The conclusions of this report are interesting; Amazon, for example, is shown to operate as a significant wholesaler of print titles to academic libraries, with a 10% market share. Joe also wrote a blog post about this study, noting some of the methodological issues that prevent analysts from getting a comprehensive view of this market.

Source: Ithaka, Scholarly Kitchen

Meetings & Events

We will be attending the following events. Let us know if you would like to set up some time to chat. We’d love to hear from you (info@ce-strategy.com).

  • STM US Annual Conference, April 10–13, 2019, Washington, DC
  • Council of Science Editors Annual Meeting, May 4–7, Columbus, OH
  • Society for Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting, May 29–31, 2019, San Diego, CA
  • Association for University Presses Annual Meeting, June 11–13, Detroit, MI

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself. — Eleanor Roosevelt