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Journals Express Concerns Over European Open-Access Initiative

Publishers of high-profile journals, such as Nature and Science, have indicated that they will not be able to comply with Plan S, an open-access publishing initiative led by European funders.

In September 2018, a group of European research funding organizations, with support from the European Commission and the European Research Council, launched cOAlition S, an initiative built around Plan S and dedicated to open-access publishing.  The group includes 18 research funders.  In November 2018, cOAlition S released a guidance for implementing Plan S, requesting feedback from the community and stakeholders.
 
According to the guidance, starting 2020, researchers supported by cOAlition S funders will be required to either publish their research in open-access journals or make a copy of their accepted publication or near-complete manuscript publicly available in a “Plan S compliant repository.”  Additionally, researchers could publish in hybrid journals, which publish some papers behind a paywall but charge a fee to make others openly accessible, only if they are covered by a “transformative agreement” that has a “clear and time-specified commitment to a full Open Access transition.”  However, funders would not cover the cost of publishing in hybrid journals. 
 
The implementation plan also states that the group will commission an independent study to determine a “fair” processing fee that publishers can charge and establish a potential cap on the costs involved in quality assurance, editing, and publishing.
 
In order to comply with an open-access model, publishers of selective journals would need to drastically modify their approaches.  Robert-Jan Smits, Open-Access Envoy European Commission, said that prestige journals need to develop new business models, Nature News reported.  “This has happened to the music industry and the film industry, and now it is happening to academic publishing,” he says.
 
In response to the request for feedback, several publishers expressed disagreement with the details of the implementation plan and concerns that the timeframe allowed for the transition was too short.  Prestige journals argued that their internal costs of publishing were very high as they employ in-house editors and complying with the fully open-access model would compromise the quality of their publications. 
 
NatureNews reported that Springer Nature estimated the cost of publishing one article in a Nature journal averages around €10,000 to €30,000, which would be difficult to recover from the fully open-access model.  The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which publishes the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS), indicated that in order to publish an open-access article, it would need to charge around $6,000 and the journal would still need to spend millions of dollars to transition to a fully open access model.  “I do not know of many scientific societies, including the NAS, that have financial reserves of that magnitude to transition their journals to full [open-access],” NAS President Marcia McNutt wrote in their feedback.

(AIBS)