A major push by some science agencies to make the research they fund open access on publication ̵
The funders, together called Coalition S, say they are so now prepared to give publishers more flexibility in how they transform paywalled or part-paywalled journals into fully open-access titles to become compliant with Plan S, and they will not necessarily be placed on journals 'open-access publishing fees as they' d previously stated. The group of 19 mainly European funders behind the plan made the changes after a public consultation hundreds of responses from publishers, academic libraries and researchers (see 'Five key changes to Plan S').
“2020 was considered to be too ambitious by the research community and publishers genuinely wishing to change, ”says Marc Schiltz, president of Science Europe, a Brussels-based advocacy group that represents European research agencies and officially launched the policy last year.
" It gives more breathing space to those who have to effect this transition, ”says Paul Ayris, director of library services at University College London. "But 2021 will still be a challenge."
Coalition S has also added a principle to the plan that states that when considering who the fund will ignore the prestige of the journals in which researchers publish. That change is addressed to arguments that it will be difficult for scientists to change their publishing behavior if the profession's reward system is largely based on publishing in highly selective, prestigious journals, many of which currently have paywalls.
That emphasis could be on the plan from some in the scientific community, says Robert-Jan Smits, the original architect of Plan S and head of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.
Several publishers, including Wiley and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science have welcomed the delay and policy changes, but some say that the plan still poses challenges.
Response to feedback
Coalition S funders – which include national agencies in Britain, France and Sweden, as well as the Wellcome Trust in London and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington – more than 600 responses to detailed implementation guidelines that they published last November.
The thrust of the policy remains the same: from 1 January 2021, research papers resulting from work funded by these agencies must be open access on publication. Researchers can publish in open-access journals or on online platforms that measure Plan S's rules, or they can post their published paper, or its peer-reviewed accepted manuscript, in an approved, open repository under a liberal publishing license. Nature and Science – don't currently allow researchers to post papers or manuscripts publicly immediately on publication, meaning that unless they change their models, researchers funded by Plan S will not be able to publish in them.
In the revision, funders have tweaked one of Plan S's most controversial aspects: the way in which they propose "hybrid" journals, which make some papers open access for a fee but keep others behind paywalls, be phased out. As before, Plan S will cover the costs of publishing open-access papers in such journals until 2024 (now pushed back from 2023), and only if these journals are part of agreements that Coalition's departments 'transformative', because publishers have committed to make the titles open access on a defined timescale. (Some 'read and publish deals' between publishers and library consortia, which cover the cost of open-access publishing in particular journal bundles, could be considered transformative.)
But the coalition now says that it is also willing to consider individual hybrid journals 'transformative' outside such agreements – and thus compliant with Plan S – as long as the titles have a defined plan to publish more open-access papers over a set time. That wiggle room might give some subscription-based journals a new path to becoming open access.
In response to the changes, Steven Inchcoombe, chief publishing officer of Springer Nature, says that this route could open the door to an open-access option for its flagship title, Nature . Inchcoombe had proposed the idea of "transformative journals" in a blog post earlier this month, in which he also proposed that Springer Nature as a whole could be termed a "transformative publisher" – so that all its journals would be Plan S compliant – if it Increased open-access take-up across all its journals. ( Nature 's news team is editorially independent of its publisher Springer Nature.)
Springer Nature's concepts are "interesting", but Plan S are still waiting to see and assess commitments from the firm on its open-access ideas, says John-Arne Røttingen, head of the Research Council of Norway and one of the leaders of the group deciding how funders will implement Plan S.
Plan S also changed their proposal to limit the costs of open-access publishing by capping what they would pay in 'article processing charges'. Rather than automatically imposing a cap, the funders now ask journals to be more transparent about the cost of publishing papers – although they say they could still introduce and limit. "We don't want to pay for brand value, we want to pay for services," says Røttingen.
A handful of other tweaks concern the rules around public copyright licenses and other open-access publishing mechanisms. The guidelines now allow researchers to use slightly more restrictive open licenses when publishing their work in some undefined circumstances. That might ease the concerns of some publishers and researchers who have extremely open licenses to permit the text of a work.
And funders have changed the word about open-access publishing mechanisms that don't involve paying journals fees, to make clear that these options are acceptable ways of complying with Plan S; critics said that previously paid them attention. These routes include posting peer-reviewed manuscripts online, or using journals or platforms that are free to read and publish in, for instance because their costs are covered by government grants.
Inchcoombe says that Springer Nature is deeply concerned with the idea of allowing researchers to immediately archive accepted manuscripts online during liberal licenses, because "this could have serious unintended consequences" – for example, "the commercial giant of primary research by others who have made no contribution to the work's production".
Other publishers also continue to express caution about Plan S, despite the changes. More action is needed to mitigate unintended consequences and the potential cost implications for unfunded researchers, says Emma Wilson, director of publishing at the UK Royal Society of Chemistry in Cambridge.
A spokesperson for Wiley also raised concerns that plan's "blanket requirements" The limit can be changed to open access in other communities.
Plan S remains "tremendously exciting and ambitious" but it still faces major obstacles, says Ayris. The funders support only a fraction of research worldwide, he says, and unless more than one can sign up it could be difficult to achieve a global flip to open access.