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Alternatives to ‘dysfunctional’ open-access model sought

Image: Grace Gay for Research Professional News

Plan S funders ask sector to suggest other options to article processing charges

Funders participating in the Plan S initiative have invited the research sector to join them in trying to rethink the “dysfunctional” model of open access in scholarly publishing.

Under Plan S, the Coalition S group of funders is requiring immediate open access to papers reporting research they have supported. The group announced on 27 June that it will establish a working group to identify business models other than the prevalent article processing charges.

APCs are per-article fees paid to publishers for open-access services. They are typically paid using funds from either a research funder or a research institution, removing researchers from a direct need to worry about the cost.

But there is concern about their growing individual and total costs among funders, institutions and policymakers: last month the Council of the EU member state governments agreed a stance that “the increasing costs of…scholarly publishing cause inequalities and are becoming unsustainable”.

The Council agreed the importance of supporting the development of publishing models “that do not depend on APCs or similar per-unit charges”.

The problem

“Viewed through an economic lens, separating responsibility for choice (the researcher) from responsibility for payment (the librarian or funder) creates a dysfunctional system,” Coalition S said when announcing its plans.

But giving researchers the responsibility for covering the costs of their publications would “overlook the deeper incentive system at work while simultaneously negating the ability of libraries or funders to engage in collective negotiation on researchers’ behalf”.

APCs have shown that open-access scholarly publishing “is possible”, but they “create perverse incentives, administrative expenses and burden for researchers”, according to Coalition S. Merely waiving APCs for researchers who cannot afford them is “not a sustainable solution”.

Coaltion S said that libraries unintentionally make the situation worse as their budgets predominantly go towards the largest publishers via transformative agreements. These transition away from the paywalled subscription model but “lock in” APCs and “lock out” publishers trying different business models, it said.

Searching for a solution

Coalition S has partnered with the UK’s higher education IT firm Jisc and the open-access publisher Plos to invite members of the research community to take part in the working group to identify business models other than APCs.

It expects the group to consist of up to 12 people representing “the three key stakeholders”: funders, publishers, and institutions or their libraries. Organisations seeking involvement must be committed to not paying or charging APCs.

The group will consider how APCs can be replaced by more equitable payment models and explore how money from research funders can be used to best support a “non-APC publishing ecosystem”.

It is expected to meet six times and develop a model, or multiple models, that would enable “equitable participation in knowledge exchange”.

Applications to join are open until 25 August.