ATG Original: SSP UKSG Pre-Conference Report

by | May 18, 2020 | 0 comments

By: Heather Staines, Head of Partnerships, Knowledge Futures Group  

Heather Staines

On April 2, 2020, nearly one hundred attendees joined a virtual event that replaced what would have been an in person pre-conference at the UKSG annual meeting in Brighton, UK. Co-sponsored by the Society for Scholarly Publishing and the Charleston Library Conference, “Seeking Sustainability: Publishing Models for an Open Access Age” was modeled after another co-sponsored pre-conference held in November 2019 in Charleston, “Chaos or Complexity: Transforming Publishing Models in the Plan S Era.” While the earlier event was heavily interactive with round table discussions and participant report-backs, the scaled-down virtual version included an introduction to alternative models by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an expert panel moderated by yours truly. 

While most folks in the scholarly communications space have been familiar with basic open access funding models via APC, sponsorship, or, in the case of Knowledge Unlatched, collective funding agreements, for some time, the discussion around alternative models shifted into high gear after the Coalition S announcement in September 2018. When planning began for Charleston pre-conferences in the spring of 2019, there was considerable interest in exploring the topic. On November 5, 2019, an enthusiastic group of attendees gathered to hear an overview, a panel discussion, and to participate in round table sessions. Both the Charleston Library Conference Planners and the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s Adjacent Events Group thought that the UKSG Conference would provide another excellent opportunity to bring together librarians and publishers to discuss these new models. When the physical conference was canceled due to the Covid 19 Global Pandemic, organizers wanted to find a way to continue the conversation in an online forum. Ultimately, we would pick up several more registrations after the conversion, perhaps from folks who hadn’t intended to travel to the conference at all. 

Having worked with both SSP and the Charleston Library Conference for a number of years, I was particularly excited to be involved in the planning and presentation of this pre-conference. Since assuming my role at the Knowledge Futures Group a year ago, I’ve been fortunate to work with open access publishers and communities on PubPub, our open source collaboration space. Many of them, for a variety of reasons, do not follow the APC model. Regardless of disciplinary focus, size, or publication format, all are concerned with finding a sustainable model during a time when so much of the world is in flux.

After words of welcome from Mary Beth Barilla, Program Director for SSP, and an electronic poll of the audience to assess their familiarity with various alternative models, Lisa kicked off her talk, “Seeking Sustainability: Publishing Models for an Open Access Age.” If you aren’t familiar with Lisa, she’s served as a librarian for a range of institutions from a community college, to a comprehensive university, to a research university. She’s a past president of ACRL, an editor for Library Trends, and a chef at the Scholarly Kitchen

Before diving into alternative models, Lisa provided a helpful background on library subscriptions (characterized as “pay to read”) from print to electronic, including the evolution of the big deal and the growth of large content platforms and aggregators such as Project Muse or JSTOR. She shared warnings around sustainability of the Big Deals from as far back as 2001. 

Next, she detailed an array of open access models at both the article level: gold, green, and bronze, as well as the journal level: hybrid, gold, and platinum/diamond. She drew an important distinction between articles that are gratis (free to read) versus libre (free to reuse). She enumerated levers and catalysts for open access. These include Mandates and Policies, from institutional to governmental, from funders or societies. Also key are Communities of Practice, coalitions of institutions or libraries, coalitions of funders, or knowledge sharing and networking organizations, encouraging support of open content and infrastructure.

This groundwork enabled contextual understanding of the Landscape of Models that we would spend the rest of the session discussing. Lisa broke these down into Transformative Agreements, including Read and Publish, as well as Publish and Read, with associated add ons like rebates or society memberships; Pure Publish Agreements; Subscribe to Open; Library Partnership/Institutional Membership; and Funder Investments, via grantees or platform development. If the original Big Deal was a bundling of content that, in effect, precluded the cancellation of individual titles, the “New Big Deal” of Transformative Agreements “seek to shift the contracted payment from a library or group of libraries to a publisher away from subscription-based reading and towards open access publishing.” (Hinchliffe, Transformative Agreements–A Primer, The Scholarly Kitchen, April 23, 2019) Lisa differentiated the two main transformative agreement models, explaining that “a Read and Publish Agreement is an agreement in which the publisher receives payment for reading and payment for publishing bundled into a single contract,” while a “Publish and Read agreement is an agreement in which the publisher receives payment only for publishing and reading is included at no additional cost.” (Ibid.)

To set the stage for the upcoming discussion panel, Lisa detailed a number of issues for consideration. Within the publishing industry, would transformative agreements simply “crown” the major publishers as “OA Royalty” and increase the prospects of smaller independent publishers being acquired? Would they lead to a “lock in” effect with ongoing APC increases because publishing is a “prestige goods market”? Would they harm the negotiation position of libraries in that such an agreement would be very difficult to cancel? And what of the author perspectives, as there have been some indications of author opt-out, as well as issues around academic freedom? And finally, but not inconsequentially, what about the vast implementation challenges and questions remaining around unfunded mandates?

Our notable panelists included representatives from both the publishers and library sides, with expertise in both STM and the Humanities. Unfortunately, Dr. Jasmin Lange, Chief Publishing Officer at Brill, was unable to join us for the webinar, but we were honored to hear from:

  • Scott Delman, Director of Publications for the Association for Computing Machinery
  • Steven Hall, Managing Director of IOP Publishing
  • Ruth Harrison, Head of Scholarly Communications Management at Imperial College London
  • Dr. Martin Paul Eve, Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck College, University of London and Visiting Professor of Digital Humanities at Sheffield Hallam University.

Scott began the discussion, explaining ACM Open, the Association for Computing Machinery’s new Read and Publish Model. ACM wants to ensure the long term viability of their publication program as it shifts to open access in a process projected to take five to seven years, and also to maintain funding for the community initiatives that the program supports. Scott stressed the importance of having your data in order. It was important to ACM to understand the article output of institutions in specific customer tiers and how that information correlated to current revenue generated by those tiers. As a result of this investigation, ACM has decided to publish their financial information, operating under the premise that transparency around the model and the revenue it generates will be key to its success. 

The ACM currently sells Digital Library access licenses to approximately 2700 institutions worldwide. It publishes between 20,000 – 25,000 articles per year. Approximately 80 percent of those articles come from about 1000 institutions with the remaining 20 percent being spread out across approximately 1,700 institutions. As a result, ACM’s new ACM Open model shifts the financial burden from the long tail of 2,700 institutions to the smaller group of approximately 1,000 large universities that publish most actively with ACM year after year. Some institutions will be asked to pay substantially more than they do now for access to the ACM Digital Library, while the vast majority of institutions will pay the same or less than they currently pay as they transition to the ACM Open model. To make pricing predictable across the term of the agreement, ACM worked with a pilot group of institutions to develop a tier-based system using average annual article publication ranges to determine tier placement, then offering a set price for the term of the agreement. The model provides for unlimited OA publishing (and reading), moving away from a “per article” charge. This should save institutions in time and administrative costs. (More about ACM Open Here).

Following, and keeping the conversation rolling in the STM space, Steven Hall added perspective on routes to open access under Plan S, including publication in an OA journal of platform; publication in a subscription journal with deposit of the Version of Record (VoR) or Accepted Manuscript (AM) in a repository with a CC4.0 license; or publication in a subscription journal under a transformative agreement. While IOP views the first and third of these options as sustainable, it does not view immediate deposit of an article with a CC-BY license as so. Why? A significant part of the publisher’s investment occurs prior to the Accepted Manuscript stage, including peer review and journal development to ensure robust submissions. In the case of IOPP, which manages peer review in-house through a team of 70 professional staff, this is close to half its total cost of publishing an article, including relevant technology costs and overheads. The immediate availability of a substantial portion of deposited articles for distribution and reuse by third parties will harm subscription revenue. Thus, this represents an appropriation of the publisher’s private investment by funders and institutions. It is both economically unsustainable, he noted, and, as an appropriation of a significant investment by the publishers, morally wrong.

Steven offered further details around the sustainability of transformative agreements, both opportunities and challenges. Such agreements enable researchers to publish in the journals they consider best for their research while complying with funder and institutional policies. These agreements can lead to full open access publication at the local level–institutional, consortial, and national. They work best when they involve close coordination between institutions, funders, and publishers as, for example, in Austria, where IOPP is now publishing close to 100 percent of articles by Austrian authors on an open access basis. Still, there is no one size fits all model; they will vary according to the research-intensity of the participating institutions. In the foreseeable future such agreements are more likely to be transformative of local research output than to be transformative of the global business model. He is concerned that the issue of winners and losers is not being addressed: that is, in any transition to full open access a small number of research-intensive institutions (or countries) will bear a significantly higher share of publishing costs, while many less research-intensive institutions would be likely to see savings. How will funding be redistributed to enable this? 

Ruth Harrison provided a UK perspective with a STM research-intensive bias. Imperial wants researchers to be able to make their work available open access, either through journal publication or through repository deposit. There is strong support for both academic freedom in selecting publications and in retaining copyright. Higher Education libraries are working in consortia through JISC on transformative agreements and open models. Affordability is key. Imperial seeks to balance the responsible spending of public money with ensuring that researchers have the right publication options. They want to encourage publishers to experiment with different models. Ruth emphasized that this solution needs to look beyond just the corresponding authors to serve all authors. 

Rounding out our panel was Martin Paul Eve who explained the offering of Open Library of the Humanities, a collectively funded non-profit that includes a megajournal and twenty seven individual journals. Operating across disciplines where funding via APCs is not practical, OLH has been able to get commitments from three hundred institutions in five years. The collective funding model is similar to the newer “subscribe to open” model where subscribers pledge to keep subscribing to keep the journal open, but, as an OA platform starting from scratch OLH had no subscriber pool to draw upon.

Martin did not want to sugar coat the success of OLH. Starting a new business model involves substantial outreach and education and the labor involved in marketing was significant. The growing demands around transparency around revenue and expenses concern him, as a small publisher. If smaller organizations need to hire dedicated staff merely to address growing transparency requests, that alone will increase their costs. He also struck a cautionary note around funder mandates which are currently heavily focused on the APC model. If the goal is true innovation in the ecosystem, we need to enable flexibility for folks to come up with new ideas. 

Lisa joined the panel to take further questions. Attendees submitted queries via the platform, and a discussion ensued around library support for multiple alternative models, given current budget constraints. One attendee questioned whether Subscribe 2 Open was compliant with Plan S, given that journals could, in theory, revert to closed access if subscriber pledges fell short. (Raym Crow, who was amongst the attendees and who developed the S2O model, noted in the chat that there is a guaranteed OA option for Plan S authors. Both Martin and Scott noted the resource intensity of explaining these new models to a global library base. 

While we certainly missed out in being able to meet together in Brighton, we appreciated being able to reach a wider audience, while ensuring appropriate social distancing during this uncertain time. Speaking as the moderator, I had more questions than the available time would allow, so I look forward to continuing the conversation with the panelists, and with all of you, in coming months. Please do not hesitate to reach out with ideas and feedback around these new models.

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