AOASG April 2016 newsletter

In this month’s newsletter

What’s new in OA & scholarly publishing in AU & NZ
What’s new in OA & scholarly publishing globally
Has academic publishing reached its Napster moment?
Are funders of OA getting good value for money?
Upcoming events in OA & scholarly publishing
Recent writing & resources on OA

What’s new in OA & scholarly publishing in AU & NZ

It was Open Data Day on March 5 and as part of that the Queensland Government Science Division of the Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation highlighted a number of data sets that are available for use and re-use through the Queensland Government Open Data Portal,

In an article for the Conversation, Roxanne Missingham from ANU discussed the cost of textbooks and how an open access model could be the answer.

Linda O’Brien from Griffith University  highlighted the need for access to research to support the Australian government’s Innovation and Science Australia agenda.

What’s new in OA & scholarly publishing globally

March 7-11 was Open Education Week . A nice visualisation of initiatives is shownhere. One specific one worth calling out is Poland’s national program of open textbooks.

An analysis written for the Smithsonian Institution on The impact of open access on galleries, libraries, archives, and museums concluded that “A strengthened institutional brand, increased use and dissemination of collections, and increased funding opportunities have been some of the benefits associated with open-access initiatives.”

The Open Library of the Humanities expanded with all eleven sites of the University of California Library system joining its Library Partnership Subsidy scheme.

Knowledge Unlatched launched a new German branch and announced it will be scaling up more in 2016.


The European Union Presidency Conference on Open Science kicks off on April 4. The conference preamble notes that “Open Science is a key priority of the Dutch Presidency. The Netherlands [who hold the presidency currently] is committed to open access to scientific publications and the best possible re-use of research data, and it would like to accelerate the transition this requires.”

The follow up to the Berlin 12 meeting was launched in March. The initiative, called OA2020 has as its aim “the swift, smooth and scholarly-oriented transformation of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to open access publishing.”  The site is worth looking at with its suggestion of the steps needed for such a transition, which include crucially “a better understanding of publishing output and cost distribution.” Thus far theexpression of interest has 39 signatories, most from Europe.

Meanwhile, it seems that France is heading towardsgreen open access

The UK’s HEFCE OA policy began on 1st April 2016. The policy requires that to be eligible for submission to the next Research Excellence Framework, (REF), authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts that have been accepted for publication must have been deposited in an institutional or subject repository.

At the Research Libraries UK conference OA was a prominent topic including a presentation from  Gerard Meijer of Radboud University, Nijmegen on the OA transformation in the Netherlands.

The Open Data button launched – a follow up to the Open Access Button.


The review commissioned by Harvard University’s Library Office for Scholarly Communication on Converting Scholarly Journals to Open Access: A Review of Approaches and Experiences – more informally known as “Journal-flipping” opened for public comment.

A draft code of conduct for altmetrics providers & aggregators has been launched and is available for comment on the NISO site.


A new open science site for Japan launched with links to policies, events and updates.

Want more OA news?

We can’t cover everything here! For daily email updates the best ways to keep up to date is the Open Access Tracking Project. Our Twitter account has posts throughout each day and our curated newsfeed on thewebsite is updated daily.

The newsletter archive provides snapshots of key issues throughout the year.

Has academic publishing reached its Napster moment?

Last month we reported on debate around Sci-Hub. Since then the debate has reached the mainstream media in a big way with discussions in the New York Times, and Washington Post. Whatever comes next it is clear that the site has stirred up much debate and has re-focussed attention on the problem of lack of access to academic papers.

Meanwhile an interesting parallel debate has been provoked by the two recent global health crises of Ebola and Zika virus. Again, as we discussed last month scientists have committed to sharing data and science publishers have committed to make access to this research free – at least for the duration of the epidemics, not necessarily long term. The Economist reported on how new models of publishing are desperately needed in such settings, but as yet are slow to catch on. Meanwhile,NPR reported on the concern that many who work in countries affected by these epidemics have when western scientists “parachute in” to do all the interesting analyses which may or may not be shared, and rarely includes local scientists in a meaningful way.

Are funders getting good value for money?

The Wellcome Trust published its 2014/5 analysis of where its money goes in OA. It’s worth comparing with last year’s analysis. All the data are on Figshare.

Points to note include:

  • As in 2014 hybrid publishing is the most expensive model.
  • OA journals published by subscription publishers tended to have higher APCs then their “born digital” counterparts.
  • Elsevier is the most expensive publisher
  • 392 articles for which the Wellcome paid an APC were not available OA – ie in PMC or Europe PMC. As they say “In financial terms this equates to around £765,000.  Spending this level of money – and not having access to the article in the designated repository – is clearly unacceptable.”
  • 50% of Wiley papers were non-compliant with the policy
  • There were  many examples of papers where the licence cited on the PMC article  was different to the licence cited on the publisher web site.

The blog ends by noting that the Wellcome will be developing “a more detailed set of principles and requirements which have to be met before we regard a journal to be compliant.  Journals which confirm that they can meet these will be compliant with our policy; those which don’t, will not.” They add that they will still fund hybrid journals for now but “If hybrid publishers are unable to commit to the Wellcome Trust’s set of requirements and do not significantly improve the quality of the service, then classifying those hybrid journals as “non-compliant” will be an inevitable next step.”

A critical issue in the acceptance of OA via the APC route has to be that it guarantees OA and hence the Wellcome’s statement on what it is doing in compliance is important. It’s worth noting that SCOAP3 has > 99% compliance for its OA model – which has now published more than 10,000 articles.

A useful briefing paper on costs in scholarly publishing was released by Alma Swan on behalf ofPasteur4OA. This is one of a series of Pasteur4OA resources.

Upcoming events in OA & scholarly publishing

The FORCE11 FORCE16 conference will be in Portland Oregon on April 17 -19, 2016. 

OASPA’s  8th Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP) will be held on the 21st & 22nd September, 2016.

Recent writing & resources on OA

Peter Suber’s book Knowledge Unbound: Selected Writings on Open Access, 2002–2011 was published  and is OA to read.

Creative Commons launched its 2016-2020 strategy

Follow the money: tracking Article Processing Charges at the University of Canterbury

Anton Angelo writes on how hard it can be to figure out who is paying what in Article Processing Charges

A thousand dollars, a hundred thousand or a million?  Peter Lund, the UC Research Support Manager and I asked ourselves that question last year as we tried to work out how much the University of Canterbury pays in Article Processing Charges (APCs).  We wanted to know how much we paid for articles to be published as Open Access, and it was turning out to be surprisingly hard to find out.  It was even difficult to ascertain what order of magnitude APCs were in.

Our first attempts – in an All the President’s Men ‘follow the money’ approach – were stymied. We talked to our finance department, but university financial systems were not granular enough to see what was being put into publisher’s hands out of research grants.  We were not even sure if research grants were the source of funds in the first place – any budget could conceivably be paying APCs.

A phase of heroic data-wrangling came next.  I grabbed the output of our Current Research Information System, “Profiler”, for the last few years, and popped it into MS Access.  That held all the details for articles submitted for the NZ research funding exercise Performance Based Funding Review (the PBRF), including the journal title for each research output.  Another table, sourced from the Directory of Open Access Journals included the title, and if the journal accepted APCs.

A bit of Structured Query Language later and I had a list of all the articles by Canterbury researchers for which APCs could have been paid for by one of the authors.

Then, came the figures. I looked up the APC rates of the 10 top journals Canterbury scholars published in, multiplied them up and got an answer:  tens to hundreds of thousands of NZ dollars.  This back of an envelope method didn’t give us actionable figures, but it did sharpen our minds.  Canterbury is still suffering the effects of a major natural disaster, as well as the twin prongs of fiscal austerity and a demographic shift leading to fewer undergraduate age students.  In short, we’re strapped for cash.

Our first question, knowing the magnitude of the sum, led, of course to more questions.  Could we refine that figure further?  We decided that we needed harder figures.   From our first investigation we now had a list of Canterbury researchers that might have paid APCs to enable their research to become Open Access.  Problems with the data were that fees could have been waived, or co-authors at other institutions might have paid them (a good reason to collaborate with someone in the UK, and their block grants) so we decided to do the hard thing, and go out and ask them.

Like all academic librarians, we are leery of putting extra workload on researchers and teachers.  With all the traditional roles, they are suffering Herculean amounts of extra administration – reports, copyright reviews, applications for research funding, and these tasks are increasing regularly.  We spent time with questionnaire designers creating something that would give us the most wisdom for the least input.  The result was a 50% response rate of a population of 100 researchers we knew had published in OA journals charging APCs.  Our results, published in our repository the University of Canterbury Research Repository [1] and the data in figshare [2] had some startling implications.

  • We were correct that the magnitude of APCs was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • The source of funds for APCs was varied, including in some cases the researcher’s personal funds.
  • Researchers were paying APCs to support Open Access, but more importantly because they believed that Open Access journals were the best places to publish that specific research.
  • Researchers expected to pay more APCs in the future.

So, this confirmed that there was a problem: funding was required to pay for APCs. The next question was how to fund these fees.  Our approach was to suggest a central fund for those who may not be able to draw on other sources, and the story of how that has developed, dear readers, is in the next episode.

 Anton Angelo is Research Data Co-ordinator, University of Canterbury.

[1] Angelo, A., & Lund, P. (2014). An evolving business model for scholarly publishing: exploring the payment of article processing charges (APCs) to achieve open access. Retrieved from

[1]      Angelo, A., & Lund, P. (2014, September 2). Raw dataset for University of Canterbury APC study. Retrieved from

Australian Chief Scientist comes out in support of Open Access.

Ian Chubb recommends in his newly released STEM strategy that the government “enhance dissemination of Australian STEM research by expanding open access policies and improving the supporting infrastructure.” and “Support the translation and commercialisation of STEM discoveries through: … a modern and flexible IP framework that embraces a range of capabilities from open access regimes to …” Check out pages 18 and 28 of the full report [pdf]

Open access update May 2014

This blog is a short update of events and developments in open access to late May 2014. It includes: Open Access NewsNew open access policies – internationalReports & ResearchAlternative ways to value journals and Events

Open Access News

AOASG a signatory on COAR Statement about embargoes – 29 May 2014

AOASG has become a signatory to the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) ‘Statement about embargo periods’, joining other international associations. The statement says embargo periods are a transitional mechanism to help facilitate a wholesale shift towards Open Access.

Open Access Week 2014 theme is Generation Open

SPARC have announced the theme for Open Access Week 2014 – Generation Open – with a focus on early career researchers and students. This provides considerable potential for activities and events.

Predator-watch 1 – ‘Hijacked’ journals list – 18 May 2014

This is a new predatory scam where someone will create a counterfeit website that pretends to be the website of a legitimate scholarly journal. The website creators then solicit manuscript submissions for the hijacked version of the journal, pocketing the money. In some cases the legitimate versions of the journals are only published in print form and they may not have websites.Jeffrey Beall now has a new list- Hijacked Journals

American Society Of Civil Engineers Issues take down notices – 16 May 2014

There have been over 1200 requests to Google to take down content. This move reflects Elsevier’s requests to take down the publisher’s versions of work at the end of 2013. It has caused considerable discussion including “Publisher targets university researchers for ‘pirating’ their own research

Librarians should be across OA & APC payment options – May 2014

That’s the conclusion of Christine Fruin and Fred Rascoe in their article “Funding open access journal publishing: Article processing charges” in College and Research Library News Vol 75, pp.240-243

Elsevier expenditure – 24 April 2014

Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers sent out a series of FoI requests to find out what UK libraries are spending on Elsevier. His comprehensive blog on his findings notes “A striking aspect of these amounts is just how much they vary.” This has sparked considerable discussion, not least “The cost of academic publishing”.

Predator-watch 2 – another ‘sting’ – 21 April 2014

Another predatory journal ‘sting’, from a Canadian journalist who wrote a rubbish paper and had it accepted by several open access publishers. His article about it was publishing in Ottawa Citizen “Blinded by scientific gobbledygook

Declaration on open access for LIS authors – March 2014

This Declaration for LIS authors states the “undersigned, pledge to make ALL OF OUR WORK open access by all means possible, including especially placing versions of our work in institutional and disciplinary repositories, publishing in open access journals”. The text is being crowdsourced.

Complying with mandates – March 2014

The final version of the Guide to Tagging Institutional Repository Records Related to ARC/NHMRC Grants  is now available on the CAUL website. This document was prepared by: Paula Callan (QUT), Mark Gregson (QUT), Kerrie Burn (ACU) and Tony McCall (ACU).

Predator-watch 3 – Beware VDM publishing – 23 March 2014

A good read and clear warning for PhD graduates considering publishing with VDM Publishing from Joseph Stromberg: “I Sold My Undergraduate Thesis to a Print Content Farm” in Slate: Future Tense

New open access policies – international

Chinese Academy of Sciences Open Access Policy – 16 May 2014

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) open access policy will require its researchers and graduate students to deposit final, peer-reviewed manuscripts of research articles into the open access repositories of their respective institutes within 12 months of their official publication in academic journals.

Mexico national legislation on open access and repositories – 8 April 2014

Mexico is the third country in the region which now has national legislation related to the issue of open access. This legislation is intended to place Mexico into an ‘information society’. The Act provides for the establishment and operation of the National Repository of Science, Technology and Innovation Information.

Reports & Research

Open-Access Repositories Worldwide, 2005–2012 – 2 May 2014

This study Open-Access Repositories Worldwide, 2005–2012: Past Growth, Current Characteristics, and Future Possibilities by Stephen Pinfield et al reviews the worldwide growth of open access finding they typically use open-source OAI-compliant software but have immature licensing arrangements. Major factors affecting both the initial development of repositories and their take-up include IT infrastructure, cultural factors, policy initiatives, awareness-raising activity, and usage mandates.

British Academy study on OA journals in HASS – April 2014

The report Open Access Journals in Humanities and Social Science is a British Academy Research Project by Rebecca Darley, Daniel Reynolds and Chris Wickham

UKSG special issue on OA monographs – April 2014

This OA monograph supplement to the UKSG journal Insights (Vol 27, Supplement 1) is fully open access

Aligning repositories – March 2014

The report from the COAR Aligning Repository Networks Meeting in March 2014 is now available – “Towards a Seamless Global Research Infrastructure

Analysis of deposit rules of 100 largest journals

The study found 80.4% allow deposit of author’s manuscript or publisher’s pdf within 12 months of publication. Mikael Laakso’s Green open access policies of scholarly journal publishers: a study of what, when, and where self-archiving is allowed” also found that publishers are substantially more permissive with allowing accepted manuscripts on personal webpages (78.1% of articles) or in institutional repositories (79.9%) compared to subject repositories (32.8%).

Alternative ways to value journals

Journal Openness Index

In Librarian, Heal Thyself: A Scholarly Communication Analysis of LIS Journals, Micah Vandegrift and Chealsye Bowley propose a new metric to rank journals, the J.O.I. Factor (Journal Openness Index) which grades journals based on how “open” they are, as opposed to citation impact or h-index.


For biomedical researchers a new beta release JournalGuide provides a matching service for authors to help them identify the right journal for their article. Information on a journal’s scope, speed of rejection or approval, publication speed and cost plus the open access policy.

Quality Open Access Market

A European initiative Quality Open Access Market aims to provide ‘Journal Score Cards’ ranking quality of service against price and also lists the publication fees of journals. The score is out of five and attained by author’s input ranking on: Editorial info, Peer review, Process and Governance.

Open Review

This new service from ResearchGate offers a way of researchers reviewing a published paper.


Stop blaming open access: what’s wrong with scholarly communication and why it’s not the fault of open access, Dr Danny Kingsley, Executive Officer, Australian Open Access Support Group
6.00 – 7.30pm Thursday 12 June Ainslie Football Club, 52 Wakefield Ave, Ainslie ACT. Presented by Canberra Skeptics

Recent Developments in Open Access and Scholarly Communication: The case of History in Britain. Professor Miles Taylor  – Institute of Historical Research, University of London.
12.30 – 1.30pm Wednesday 18th June McDonald Room, Menzies Library, Australian National University

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Open access update April 2014

This blog is a short update of events and developments in open access to late April 2014. It includes: International open access news, Publisher OA newsReports & ResearchAustralian open access newsAOASG news

International OA news

Holding back funds results in compliance with OA policies – 9 April 2014

This news article from Nature shows compliance has increased for NIH and Wellcome Trust  since withholding funds for non-compliers. Wellcome Trust withheld funding on 63 occasions last year because of non-compliance with their policy. The NIH’s compliance rate — the percentage of papers placed in the PubMed Central database for public access no later than a year after publication — now stands at 82%. It had flatlined at around 75% for two years, says Neil Thakur, who oversees policy for the NIH’s Office of Extramural Research. The Wellcome Trust’s compliance rate is 69%, up from 55% in March 2012, says Robert Kiley, head of the trust’s digital services.

Policy for OA in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework – March 2014

This policy states that to be eligible for submission to the post-2014 REF, authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts must have been deposited in an institutional or subject repository on acceptance for publication. Deposited material should be discoverable, and free to read and download, for anyone with an internet connection. The requirement applies only to journal articles and conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number. It will not apply to monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data. So… If they don’t deposit it in AT TIME OF ACCEPTANCE they can’t count it. This is big news for open access in the UK.

Paying for hybrid does not mean article is OA – 27 March 2014

The UK’s Times Higher Education ran this story: “Elsevier: bumps on road to open access” – that is, they are keeping paid hybrid OA articles behind paywalls .

The State of Open Access – 21 March 2014

Richard Poynder has written his perspective on the State of Open Access – which follows on from his series of 19 interviews last year with prominent people on the open access space (including AOASG’s Dr Danny Kingsley). His views are interesting – he is a journalist not an OA advocate. Basically, he says the research community needs to get organised or the OA future will be controlled by publishers.

OERRH Ethics Manual – 5 March 2014

The OERRH Ethics Manual provides an overview of ethical issues that arise in research and offers strategies for best practice. It discusses some of the particular challenges for openness in research, including confidentiality of data, implications for dissemination strategies, and discusses some of the challenges that may be brought about specifically by ‘working in the the open’.

Blog to help library management of OA – 4 March 2014

A Wiki/blog has been launched to help direct librarians faced with managing OA workflows. The blog notes the current situation is similar to the early years of the Big Deal and librarians are struggling to implement new workflows to manage both green and APC-funded Gold OA.
The site provides basic information about article processing charges and the management of them plus information about open access generally. The wiki allows people to contribute to the site.

Publisher OA news

Nature launches ‘partner’ OA journals – 2 April 2014

new development from Nature – a ‘partner¹ series of OA journals. They have teamed up with a series of research groups and universities to create these journals. With a $4000 APC they are sitting at the pricey end of open access journals – presumably it is the Nature brand that justifies this cost. It seems the Nature brand is the benefit to the partners, who “also have the option of NPG’s internal editorial office to manage and administer the peer-review process”. The website does not indicate where the APC goes, to Nature one suspects rather than to the partner.

New application form for DOAJ – 19 March 2014

DOAJ have launched a new and much extended form for journals wishing to be included in the DOAJ. The form has been structured to collect upfront from the publishers as many quality indicators as possible about the journal. These indicators will be assessed as part of a journal’s application. The form also introduces the DOAJ Seal, a mark of approval that shows how a journal strives towards Best Practice.

Elsevier STM publishing profits rise to 39% – March 2014

An OA blog has discussed the March Reed Elsevier annual report, noting the revenue and adjusted operating profit for the Scientific, Technical & Medical portion of the business. The profit margin of 39% includes a $76 million USD increase in profit in the past year. The blog notes the number of researchers that could be employed for that alone.

Wiley goes (embargoed) green – February 2014

Since 1 January 2014 Wiley have changed their policy and now allow authors to make their Accepted Manuscript available in a repository after 12 months (24 months for Social Sciences and Humanities). They have been making the relevant changes to the language of their Copyright Transfer Agreements during February February 21, 2014. Good news. Well done Wiley, it is a very good step in the right direction.

Elsevier launches its text and data mining policy – 31 Jan 2014

Elsevier’s text and data mining policy now allows researchers in a subscribing institutions to register at the Elsevier developers’ portal to receive a key to the Application Programming Interface (API) of ScienceDirect, which provides full-text content in XML and plain-text formats optimal for TDM. Some commentators like the European Association of Research Libraries have indicated this policy restricts researchers rather than opens up the research by forcing people to use a specific tool.

Reports & Research

Nature – Can author pays compete with reader pays? – 14 April 2014*

This article compares the publishing industry with the car industry noting that publishers receive money from the consumer and the supplier (even in subscription journals – through page charges). (*NOTE – This article first appeared in 2006, it arose in another discussion on 14 April. Thanks to Pippa Smart for identifying this date discrepancy).

Monitoring Progress towards Open Access in the UK – 7 April 2014

This report stemmed from a recommendation of the Finch Report that a working group of representatives of the different stakeholder groups should collect reliable, high-quality indicators on the key features of the changing research communications landscape, including the precise configuration of the indicators, data definitions, protocols and methodologies.

The Value & Impact of Data Sharing and Curation – 2 April 2014

This synthesis report aims to summarise and reflect on the findings from a series of recent studies, conducted by Neil Beagrie of Charles Beagrie Ltd. and Prof. John Houghton of Victoria University, into the value and impact of three well established research data centres – the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS), the Archaeology Data Service (ADS), and the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC). It provides a summary of the key findings from new research and reflects on: the methods that can be used to collect data for such studies; the analytical methods that can be used to explore value, impacts, costs and benefits; and the lessons learnt and recommendations arising from the series of studies as a whole.

Developing an effective market for APCs – March 2014

Report Developing an Effective Market for Open Access Article Processing Charges looks at the article processing charges (APC) situation coming up with three scenarios for discussion within the industry. Suggestions include: the reduction of subscription cost for a particular institution in line with the amount they have spent in APCs with that publisher, funders offering a level of funding for APCs based on the ‘value’ the publisher provides, and funders having a cap on what they will fund with the author having to find the remaining money. Read a blog about it.

Wellcome Trust publish spend on funded OA articles – March 2014

Robert Kiley from Wellcome Trust has published a spreadsheet of every single paper they have sponsored as paid (“Gold”) open access. In the fiscal year 2012-2013 the Wellcome Trust spent over US$6.5million on OA publication fees.  Peter Murray Rust however noticed that at least some of the Elsevier ‘OA’ papers are still offered as paid access on their journal website.

Australian OA news

Note the AOASG now has a webpage listing Australian OA Developments which is constantly being updated.

Victoria University partners with CLOCKSS – 4 April 2014

The CLOCKSS Archive  has partnered with Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, to preserve their ejournals and ebooks in CLOCKSS’s geographically and geo-politically distributed network of redundant archive nodes, located at 12 major research libraries around the world. This action provides for content to be freely available to everyone after a “trigger event” and ensures an author’s work will be maximally accessible and useful over time.

CAUL updates its statement on open scholarship – 26 March 2014

CAUL has an Open Scholarship page which covers developments such as open access, open science, open education and other “open” initiatives.  CAUL’s Statement on Open Scholarship explores the idea that the free flow of information and ideas underpins excellence in scholarship in detail.

NHMRC revises its OA Policy webpage – 25 February 2014

The NHMRC have expanded their advice and information about their Open Access Policy on the  Dissemination of Research Findings. There is more detailed information on how to report the open access status of published funded work, plus a new useful Guide for Authors.

ALIA open access statement – 24 February 2014

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) has adopted a full open access policy. This means they will provide full access for the majority of their own reports, conference papers and other grey literature; member-only access for certain unique, high value materials, and green open access for our scholarly journals. ALIA supports Australian libraries in their efforts to work towards open access.

New open access journal – 12 February 2014

Victoria University recently launched a new open access journal,  the Victoria University Law and Justice Journal (VULJ). The journal uses the Online Journal Systems (OJS) platform which enables journal editors to manage the stages of issue creation from author submission through to publication. The University offers technical set-up,  and support with referencing, indexing, peer review models, copyright, licensing, ISSN and DOI registration. It is assumed that peer review and editorial tasks are performed by the journal’s editorial committee/board.

New OA journal for Flinders University – February 2014

Writers in Conversation is an international online open-access literary journal specialising in well-researched, in-depth interviews with writers in all literary genres (including criticism), concentrating on their work, their ideas and related matters, to be published jointly by Flinders University and the University of Central Lancashire. The journal will be published twice each year, in February and August.


AOASG gets a rap

Open Science campaigner Peter Murray Rust wrote in his blog:

  • If you are confused by “Open Access” you are in good company. So am I. It’s horrendous. Here Danny Kingsley and the  Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG) have created an excellent series of blog posts on Open Access. They are readable and authoritative. After it you will be less confused and more authoritative. But it will still be horrendous.

See what he’s raving about: the AOASG Paying for Publication series is comprehensive and wide ranging.

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An effective market for APCs?

Worldwide, the recent increase in open access policies has led to funds supporting the costs of open access publishing in OA journals (or hybrid OA in a subscription journal). This trend towards paid gold open access has raised concerns over rising costs to research-intensive institutions paying multiple article processing charges.

A recent report called Developing an Effective Market for Open Access Article Processing Charges aims to address some of these issues.

Discussion starters for administrators

The Report, by Professor Bo-Christer Björk of the Hanken School of Economics, Finland, and Professor David Solomon of Michigan State University, USA, is intended for research funding organisations and policy makers. It aims to “ensure a competitive and transparent market for scholarly journal article processing charges (APC)s”.

The authors suggested three scenarios as a starting point for discussion on how funding agencies might influence the APC market to encourage transparency and competition:

Scenario A addresses double dipping. This scenario does not suggest a change to article processing charges but the publisher comes to an arrangement where the individual institution is given some saving in subscription costs when researchers pay to publish in their hybrid journals.

Scenario B looks at ranking journals according to the ‘value’ they provide the author. This scenario suggests a price cap system based on the service provided by the journal. Those that provide high value (quality peer review, fast turnaround etc) have a higher cap than those which do not meet these standards. The funder only provides the money up to the cap for the particular journal. If the journal charges more than the funded cap it would be up to the author to find the money for the gap if they wished to publish in the journal.

Scenario B is very interesting from the perspective of the reward system in academia. Currently journals are ranked as being of high or low quality from a count of the citations of their articles – the Journal impact Factor. But this proposed ranking system would be considering the publisher’s ability to do their job well – the process of publication – as a means for assessing a journal’s ‘value’.

Scenario C is where the funders agree to only pay a fixed proportion of the article processing charge. By asking authors and their institutions to cover a portion of the cost of an APC this scenario ensures cost is one of the considerations in the choice of where to publish. The goal is to to provide an incentive for keeping the APC market (both full OA and hybrid) competitive and reasonably priced.

While Scenario C would be administratively very difficult to manage at an institutional level, the advantage of having only part of the article processing charge covered is it introduces an incentive for authors and their institutions to evaluate the benefit of publishing the article in question. This is, indeed one of the advantages of a move from subscriptions to article processing charges generally, they open up the researchers to the costs of the scholarly publication system. (For more discussion on this issue, the AOASG Managing APCs page).

Each scenario is discussed in full in the Report, with a full background rationale and an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).

The authors argued that irrespective of which scenario is chosen “that funding agencies should set minimum standards that must be met before APCs are paid to any journal.” To that end the authors provided two sets of journal criteria: one for fully OA journals, another for hybrid OA in a subscription journal.

Issues with management of article processing charges

The authors suggest that one of the major impediments to a switch Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 12.18.33 pmfrom a subscription model to funded OA publication can be put down to a “lack of effective administrative and work-flow structures for payments”.

Some of the broader issues relating to management of article processing charges, they argue, include the considerable transaction costs for handling the payments – both for publishers and the institutions of the authors. This was also noted in the 2012 Finch Report

There are also challenges posed by management of funds – such as situations where:

  • articles have authors from many institutions and countries
  • articles are published outside the time limits of the grants they stemmed from
  • managing the rules for waivers for authors without access to funds to pay, and
  • the added issue that decision making about rationing the use of funds will fall on the administrators of such funds, given that there is likely to be a scarcity of money to meet all requests.

The authors speculated what the APC market would look like if it worked on similar terms as the subscription market. They concluded it would result in a loss of transparency and would be very detrimental to smaller OA publishers and innovative companies wishing to break into the market.

The mega journal revolution

The Report observed that mega journals have become the fastest growing segment of the APC funded OA journal market. There are now at least 19 mega journals with another eight slated to begin publication within a year. PLOS ONE continues to lead this market,  publishing over 30,000 articles in 2013.

It is worth noting that many of these mega journals use a model where the journals accept papers that have been rejected from other journals in the publisher’s catalogue (with the accompanying reviews). This is referred to as the ‘cascade model’ in the case of the Royal Society’s new Royal Society Open Science, which accepts “articles referred from other Royal Society journals”.

While there are some advantages to this cascade approach – it does prevent people wasting precious time re-reviewing articles – the issue is it gives the impression to the academic community that these mega journals are the ‘slops bucket’ for rejected papers.

A cascade model for mega journals risks devaluing the open access brand.

Uptake of open access

The Report analysed the uptake of open access globally, noting that 11% of all articles indexed by Scopus were published in full OA journals (APC funded and others). Sixteen delayed OA journals add another 5% as well as an estimated 1% in hybrid journals. The authors extrapolated these findings to 2014, and estimated a share of almost 15% for gold OA, which would increase to around 20% if they added delayed OA journals.

The authors concluded: “It is evident that the article volumes of established OA journals are approaching the average of subscription journals”.

The Report found hybrid was quite prevalent – it is available for most subscription journals (at least from the bigger publishers). But the overall uptake of hybrid OA is still very low. A recent Elsevier report mentions an uptake for all publishers of only 0.5 % of Scopus articles.

The Report did attract some criticism from the publishing industry. In a news report from the Times Higher Education Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, is quoted as saying the Report’s claim of low take-up of hybrid open access options was not borne out by publishers’ experience. He is quoted: “We haven’t got hard and fast figures but, anecdotally, some publishers are seeing three-figure percentage increases in take-up since April 2013”.

Wellcome Trust expenditure on APCs

Possibly coincidently, in the same week as the release of the report “Developing an Effective Market for Open Access Article Processing Charges”, the Wellcome Trust released details of its open access spend in the year 2012-2013. The Wellcome Trust has been an early supporter of open access, and since 2005, the Trust has provided funds to pay article processing charges within their research grants.

The Wellcome Trust open access spend was released as a raw data set, which Cameron Neylon from PLOS subsequently analysed and released back out as Wellcome Trust Article Processing Charges by Article 2012/13. This analysis has itself been re-analysed by Ernesto Priego to standardise the publisher names, released as Wellcome Trust APC spend (2012-2013) Spreadsheet with Publisher Names Refined.

The numbers are almost staggering at first glance. In the fiscal year 2012-2013 the Wellcome Trust spent over US$6.5million on OA publication fees. This paid for 2,127 articles, with an average cost of US$3,055 per article. This is equivalent to the subscription spend of a medium sized university.

Five publishers received 63% of the APCs in that year, in order: Elsevier, Wiley, PLOS, Springer/BMC and Oxford University Press. Elsevier ‘s share was 25%. This heavy weighting towards some publishers has resulted in calls by some commentators that the ‘Matthew Effect’ is dominating in this field.

Kent Anderson commented:

It’s interesting to contemplate exactly what Wellcome bought with its US$6.5 million, as many subscription journals in the fields covered are subject to 12-month embargoes. One could argue that Wellcome paid an average of US$254 per month per article to make the articles free early. Put even more starkly, Wellcome is now paying the equivalent of US$542,000 per month in aggregate this year to make these 2,127 articles free for the 12 months we’re in, rather than paying no APCs and allowing the articles to be published in a subscription journal that honors 12-month embargoes.

Another blogger noted that the figures indicate there is a ‘mere inversion of the business model’ where the high prices traditionally charged to libraries is shifting to researchers (through their funding agencies). The blog concludes: “Aren’t we clearly rushing towards a new “OA serials crisis”, where publishing is still dominated by the same major publishers who partly led to the serials crisis in the first place?”

The release of both the Wellcome Trust figures and the APC management report highlights some of the many substantial issues in the payment of article processing charges (many of which have also been explored in the AOASG Paying for Publication series).

The Developing an Effective Market for Open Access Article Processing Charges report was commissioned by a consortium of major research funders by the Wellcome Trust: Research Councils UK, Jisc, Research Libraries UK, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the FNR (Luxembourg) and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics.

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer, AOASG