It’s been a busy week for the open-access movement, the effort to make all scientific journal articles immediately free to read. Making that change would require a major shift in most journals’ business models, from one that charges subscribers to read articles to one in which authors pay to publish. Among the developments:
- Many journals aren’t prepared to meet the requirements of Plan S, the proposal largely by European funders to require grantees to publish articles that are immediately open access, a report from a science publishing analytics company says.
- Springer Nature, one of the largest publishers of scientific journals, and the networking website ResearchGate began an experiment making some articles open access through authors’ profiles on the website.
- eLife, a leading, purely open-access journal, named Michael Eisen, one of the founders of the PLOS journals, as its new editor-in-chief.
- One of the largest U.S. research institutions, the University of California (UC) system, said it will stop subscribing to journals published by the largest scientific publisher, Elsevier, because of a disagreement over open access.
The report on Plan S, released 1 March, examines several ways in which the proposal could affect and challenge journals. It comes from Clarivate, the analytics firm that tracks journals in its Web of Science database and assigns them journal impact factors. Clarivate examined 3700 journals that in 2017 published at least six articles acknowledging a Plan S funder; of these, 3200 are not in the Directory of Open Access Journals, a comprehensive listing, and so cannot be compliant with Plan S.
The Clarivate report describes how Plan S may have a significant effect on authors even in countries whose funders don’t sign on: It identified 40,000 articles published in 2017 that involved collaborations between researchers in a European country and those in the rest of the world. At several U.S. universities—including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena—more than 15% of papers listed Plan S funding. Papers produced with any Plan S funding would be required to publish in a Plan S–compliant journal.
The publisher Springer Nature in London began a pilot project allowing the networking website ResearchGate to post some full-text, freely accessible articles from select Nature-branded journals, including the flagship. The 3-month pilot will upload at least 6000 articles, published after November 2017 in 23 subscription-only journals, to the ResearchGate profiles of the scientists who authored the articles. Berlin-based ResearchGate, which counts 15 million scientists and researchers worldwide as members, has been sued by other publishers for copyright infringement for allowing its users to upload paywalled journal articles to their profiles.
In a 1 March news release, Springer Nature said the pilot will gather feedback from scientists and institutions to allow it to develop new models for providing access to articles; in another statement, ResearchGate said it hopes the experiment will increase collaborations among scientists. “This pilot project represents the first significant experiment with the syndication of publisher content to a content supercontinent,” writes Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, a librarian at the University of Illinois in Champaign, on The Scholarly Kitchen blog.
Michael Eisen, named on 5 March as the new editor-in-chief of eLife, helped pioneer multidisciplinary, purely open-access journals through his work starting PLOS Biology in 2003 and other PLOS journals. A professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, he stepped down from PLOS’s board in 2018 but has remained a vocal advocate for open access.
In a news conference, Eisen said eLife and other journals should experiment to find ways to remain or become financially viable while expanding access to their content. Open-access journals may need new funding models beyond charging authors article-processing fees, he said, in part because selective journals, such as Science and Nature, would likely have to charge prohibitively high author fees to cover the costs of reviewing the many articles they reject.
Eisen said it was too soon to comment on how and when eLife might no longer require subsidies. Since it was founded in 2011, the journal has been subsidized by the Wellcome Trust of London and other funders because revenues haven’t covered expenses, even after the journal began to charge an author fee of $2500 in 2017.
A rift over open access opened between one of the world’s largest research universities and its largest scientific publisher. After monthslong talks broke down, the UC system announced 28 February it will stop paying to subscribe to journals published by Elsevier, headquartered in Amsterdam. The university says Elsevier would not agree to a package deal that would make all articles published by UC authors immediately free for readers worldwide while providing a break on subscription fees.