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What role for “intermediaries” in open access?

Wellcome Trust and JISC discuss merits of public v private organisations

A study commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and JISC compares the pros and cons of the public sector and private companies carrying out the operations and administration of open access in the UK.

Open access has created commercial opportunities for private companies, many of whom are already talking to universities, funders and publishers about the role they could play. The report explores what these companies are doing and how they might manage the costs of article processing charges (APCs). The report describes such companies as “Intermediaries”–organisations that aggregate payments between universities and publishers, and provide services that ensure articles are published on open access terms.

The report says that funders, universities and publishers should decide whether intermediary services should be left to the market and, if so, how such a market might be stimulated.

It states: “All five of the intermediaries we have consulted are actively engaged in discussions with publishers and universities in the UK about the kinds of services they might offer, though some are more advanced than others.”

As an alternative to working with private companies, reads the report, the respective groups could themselves decide to take direct charge. The report claims that, under such an approach, a decision would need to be taken as to whether there should be a single provider or multiple providers; a new body or an existing one. Also, to what extent should a new body be commercially oriented, and how it should be funded.

The report says that the evidence demonstrates “widespread concern that the systems and processes for the payment of APCs – and all that is involved in tracking and checking the progress of open access articles – are less than satisfactory”. It also says “that many of the problems arise from difficulties in ensuring efficient flows of data and information both within and between publishers, universities and funders; and that these problems will become more serious as the volume of open access publications increases.”

The companies surveyed in the Wellcome/JISC report, which was published on 27 November, include the Copyright Clearance Center, a US not-for-profit company that provides collective copyright licensing services for users of copyrighted materials. Other companies surveyed in the report include EBSCO and SWETS, which sell package subscriptions to journals and research databases (including Research Professional).

The work was conducted by the Research Information Network for the Open Access Implementation Group. The group consists of the Wellcome trust, Research Councils UK, JISC, the Public Library of Science group, Universities UK and the University of Edinburgh.