Christmas is over for journal publishers

On 12 October 2015, the League of European Research Universities, or LERU, issued a public Statement on Open Access. The statement looked at both the 'Green' and 'Gold' routes for Open Access – the Green involving self-archiving in a repository and the Gold involving publishing in a fully open access journal or website. It identified challenges that need to be addressed in both areas of activity.

As of the beginning of December, 7,300 individuals and organisations had signed this statement. What led to the production of the statement? What does it say? And what action will follow on from this declaration?

The foundations of the statement are to be seen in the LERU Roadmap Towards Open Access, which was issued in 2011. Here, LERU considered the implications of both the Green and Gold routes for LERU universities and the likely development of each approach. At the end of 2015, it is a little clearer what trajectory Open Access is taking in Europe.

Driven by funder policies, both the UK and the Netherlands have a preference for Gold Open Access. Research Councils UK have a policy which prefers Gold. The Charity Open Access Fund will also provide funding for research-intensive universities to pay Article Processing Charges, or APCs, for Gold Open Access.

The Dutch position on open access is based on a letter to the Dutch Parliament of November 2013 and an update letter of January 2015. Here the views of the Dutch Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science Sander Dekker are clear – Dutch researchers should choose Gold Open Access or else go for Green.

An announcement on 26 November from the Dutch funder NWO indicates it has tightened its conditions for grants in the area of Open Access with effect from 1 December. In concrete terms this means that all publications emerging from a 'call for proposals’ published by NWO after this date must be immediately accessible to everybody from the moment of publication.

However, alongside Article Processing Charges to pay inter alia for Gold Open Access in hybrid journals, university libraries also pay subscriptions to access content. So universities are sometimes paying twice for the same content – once for the subscription and once for the Article Processing Charges for Open Access. This is known as Total Cost of Ownership, or ‘double dipping’.

The amounts of money involved are not small. The average APC paid by University College London is around £1,500 (US$2,260) per article. This is on top of the subscription costs for accessing the journal from a publisher’s server.

The LERU Open Access Statement says that “Christmas is over”. Money from the public purse should not go to publishers who charge both subscriptions and APCs for the same content.

As Harvard University already announced in 2012, many large journal publishers have rendered the situation “fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive”, with some journal subscriptions costing as much as US$40,000 per year (and publishers drawing profits of 35% or more). If one of the wealthiest universities in the world can no longer afford it, who can?

No extra charges

What does LERU think should happen? LERU wants universities, which pay for subscriptions, to be able to use their current spending level to “offset” subscriptions against payment for APCs for journal articles in hybrid journals. As part of any agreement, publishers should permit all papers published by university researchers taking up the deal to be made open access for no extra charge.

Such an approach would provide a new business model for supporting research outputs, allowing ground-breaking European research to have maximum impact in informing future research activity.

The LERU statement also points to challenges in pursuing the Green (repository) route to Open Access. These include the areas of Intellectual Property Rights and embargo periods, during which materials deposited in a repository cannot be made available in open access.

Some publishers have differential embargo periods, depending on the country from which the author emanates. LERU feels this is wrong and against natural justice. Embargo periods should also be as short as possible. There is currently a wide variety of embargo periods (six, 12, 24 months) which is confusing for authors, readers and repository managers; there is a need for fruitful dialogue to achieve agreement between stakeholders.

The LERU Statement highlights all these issues, developments which have taken place since the publication of its original Roadmap, and calls for concerted action across Europe.

LERU will:
  • • Call upon the research community to sign up to its Open Access Statement, asking for future procurement activities across Europe to embrace a position which offsets costs for Article Processing Charges against subscriptions;
  • • Call upon the research community to sign up to its Statement, asking for greater consistency in embargo periods for Green Open Access;
  • • Submit the support for this statement to European Commissioner Carlos Moedas and the Dutch EU Presidency at a suitable moment in the first half of 2016;
  • • Make the statement the subject of a high level summit during the Dutch presidency, organised by the European Commission directorate-general for research and innovation;
  • • Declare support to the Dutch, UK and other universities and their networks in working to change the scholarly communications landscape in Europe, with a focus on the issues outlined in the statement.
Commissioner Moedas has already indicated his support for the LERU position. Along with Sander Dekker, he has called on publishers to adapt their business models to new realities.

Some 7,300 organisations and individuals have signed the LERU statement. The incoming Dutch Presidency of the EU will make Open Science (including open access) one of the features of its Presidency. The LERU statement therefore has the power to change the way research is published and disseminated across the globe.

LERU’s call for signatures will be open at least until Christmas 2015. If you care about the future of scholarly publishing, make a difference and consider signing the statement.

Paul Ayris is chair of the League of European Research Universities, or LERU, Community of Chief Information Officers.