UK Open access: review of implementation of the RCUK policy

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.31.55 pmOpening up access to research outputs is undoubtedly vital to achieve optimal return on public investment in research, increase national benefit from research, increase international visibility and future research collaboration.

The UK has taken a difference approach to open access than that of most other nations. The April 2013 policy of the seven UK funding councils under the umbrella term Research Councils UK  (RCUK), follow the recommendations of the 2012 Finch report to the UK Government. The policy has been the subject of much scrutiny because it was a policy position based on the gold model which required funding – it is funded primarily by block grants to UK institutions to pay article processing charges – APCs. As Richard Poynder has noted the Finch Report “ignited a firestorm of protest, not least because it estimated that its recommendations would cost the UK research community an additional £50-60 million a year”.

The Research Councils UK have now published an independent report on the first 16 months of the implementation of their OA policy – one that adds a remarkable amount of data.

Care is taken by the authors of the report to state that it is not a review of the policy, nor to enter into a debate about green versus gold access. The scene is set by the existing policy, although the figures do, in themselves, raise issues about the approach the UK has taken to open access. On a positive the reports says “One common factor amongst all stakeholder groups was a general acceptance and welcome given to the concept of open access.”

The headline figure is significant – £UK16.9 million was spent from the UK Open Access fund in 2013/14. While the early concerns about reaching around half a million pounds has not been reached, it is a very significant expenditure. It should be noted that the limit on costs is affected by a wide variety of factors including organisational capabilities.

Studying slightly over half of the institutions funded through the Fund (55 of 107), the report identifies that implementation of the policy occurred without a streamlined cost-effective monitoring or data collection process. Parallel systems for gold and green access appear to have caused complexities and confusion. The report notes “it is apparent that larger, more distributed organisations have been unable to fully track publications that have been made open access through the deposit of author final manuscripts in repositories”.

The data on the actual APC costs is revealing:

  • Maximum average  APC is £UK3,710
  • Minimum average publisher APC is £UK72
  • Median average publisher APC is £UK1,393

Perhaps the most interesting figure is the number of publishers who received revenue from the fund:

  • 80% of papers were from 14 publishers
  • 90% were from 24 publishers

Who are the largest recipients of APCs (ie publishers)? The report lists the largest recipients in a very useful appendix – Elsevier and Wiley are by far the largest and only two fully open access publishers, PLOS and BMC, are in the top 10:


Clearly with the concentration of publishing in the hands of such a small number of publishers any change in payment policy and practice of fewer than 10 of them for example would have an extremely strong impact on the system.

Written and oral evidence to the review panel found that academics were “’confused’ and ‘disengaged’” in relation to the policy. There was especial confusion over the licenses required. This raises the question of the role of RCUK and other research bodies  and institutions in communicating the policy and the transparency of OA on impact. Danny Kingsley in her blog post on the report notes that the report’s comment that the RCUK preference for gold is a barrier to implementation is anecdotally found at Cambridge University.

Four major areas raised by the report are very important for future developments in OA.

The first is undoubtedly the cost and who receives the funds. The £UK16.9 million has been paid to publishers for many in addition to the revenue received through traditional processes such as library subscriptions and author payments. Double dipping has been the subject of considerable debate by RLUK and others it is notable that (as in Wellcome’s report) and the highest APCs were for hybrid journal articles. The fundamental question raise by librarians has been around whether it is sustainable to increase revenue to a fundamentally small number of publishers.

Second, the sustainability of the existing model. There are signs that publishers may be open to approaching funding of scholarly publishing differently. The Jisc project on the total cost of ownership seeks to develop models where payments to publishers are negotiated on the basis of reducing subscriptions to balance the open access payments. Springer and Jisc have announced a new arrangement to implement a model that takes account of the open access payments.

Third, the issue of embargoes is central to future developments of green and gold access. The report note the continuing concerns of humanities and social sciences researchers about short (i.e. 6 or 12 month) embargoes. A discussion of continued long embargoes is included in the report as well as in the HEFCE commissioned report on monographs and open access. The argument from scholarly societies is around ensuring continued revenue from journal publishing – based on the assumption that primary revenue model in some areas will continue to be based on subscriptions. The report notes that the “panel feels that there is not enough information available at this early stage to come to an evidence-based conclusion on the issue of embargoes and, therefore, its recommendation is to ensure that continued attention is given to the matter in subsequent reviews”

Fourth, it is clear that there is substantial administrative burden associated with the policy implementation and compliance monitoring – for researchers, institutions and the funders involved. The report recommends further thinking in this area, but specifically suggests that RCUK should mandate the use of ORCiD identifiers (something that has just been supported by Australia’s NHMRC and ARC)

This is a must read for all interested in OA and its costs. As the reports says “the conversation on the need for an accelerated transition to open access is no longer one reserved to librarians and open science advocates, but has matured into an international collaboration” Whether the policy is a success or failure will depend upon your views – the costs are significant, however achieving access to 10,066 publications via fully gold open access in the first year (as well as 4,410 publications via the green route also reported in the review) is an important step forward in open access.

Roxanne Missingham, University Librarian (Chief Scholarly Information Services), The Australian National University, Canberra

Virginia Barbour, Executive Officer, AOASG

Published April 21, 2015

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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This work is licensed by AOASG under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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