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Gates open-access policy change ‘anticipates’ Coalition S direction


Coalition S acknowledges Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ditching support for article-processing charges

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has adopted a policy on open-access publishing that the funder group Coalition S says “anticipates” its own planned change of direction.

The Gates Foundation, which primarily funds health research and is a member of Coalition S, announced last week that it was updating its open-access policy to ditch its support for article-processing charges and to require its grantees to post preprints of their work.

APCs are fees that publishers charge authors to make papers openly available in their journals. Preprints are initial versions of research papers that are published online ahead of peer review and acceptance by a journal.

Coalition S is a global group of research funders that came together about five years ago, creating the Plan S initiative to align their publishing policies around requiring the researchers they support to publish open access. The group is consulting on what policies it should adopt for the future.

“Five years on since Plan S was first published, it is entirely appropriate that funders are reviewing their open-access policies to ensure they are effectively meeting their goals,” Johan Rooryck, executive director of Coalition S, said on 29 March. “The updated policy from the Gates Foundation builds on what has been learnt, responding to the increased recognition of the value of preprints in the research enterprise.”

Criticism of APCs

APCs are largely associated with the ‘gold model’ of open access, in which papers are made openly available in the journal that hosts their version of record. This model has been the predominant method of achieving open access over the past decade, but there are concerns that APCs are becoming unaffordable and cause inequalities. Posting a preprint of an article in an online repository, alongside its publication in a journal, is one method of achieving open access while avoiding APCs.   

The growing criticism of APCs has led to plans from Coalition S to move in a new direction with a proposal for a “responsible” scholarly publishing system. The proposal is still under development, but an early draft indicated that Coalition S will want the scholarly record to include the full range of outputs created during the research cycle, including preprints and peer review reports.

The Gates Foundation’s planned policy update is in line with that proposal, Coalition S said. “The foundation’s policy refresh anticipates elements included in the Towards Responsible Publishing proposal—most notably its support for the early sharing of preprints and the post-publication peer review model,” the group said.

The Gates Foundation said its new policy will kick in from the beginning of 2025 and that it will release full details soon. It added that the policy will not pose any restrictions on where and how grantees can publish their work once they have posted a preprint.

This means that authors can choose to publish in a subscription journal alongside posting a preprint. Alternatively, they can use other funding sources, such as institutional support, to pay APCs alongside their preprint.

More freedom for authors

The foundation told Research Professional News: “While grantee authors can continue to publish in their journal of choice, preprints will help prioritise access to the research itself as opposed to relying on the policies of a particular journal. This will allow grantees to have more freedom, agility and ultimately impact in their work.”

It added that it is “working on funding preprint infrastructure so open-access research can be made easily accessible to the widest possible audience”.

The foundation said it had invested in a new preprint service called VeriXiv. This “will set new standards for preprint checking that will enable a preprint to be published formally (eg as the version of record) in a journal of the grantee’s choice, seamlessly”.

It added: “Once we transition away from paying individual APCs, we can then fund infrastructure and more equitable open-access models, like diamond [with no fee for authors]. The goal is that any research can benefit from the funding and not just those [researchers] funded by the foundation.”

Additional reporting by Craig Nicholson.