Learned society pilots transitional open access deal

The Microbiology Society has become the first small learned society publisher to strike a transitional open access deal through Jisc, the national consortium in the United Kingdom.

Not-for-profit Jisc and the Microbiology Society – one of the largest microbiology societies in Europe with a worldwide membership based in universities, industry, hospitals, research institutes and schools – have announced a two-year pilot transitional open access agreement.

The ‘Publish and Read’ deal will allow researchers at participating institutions to publish an unlimited number of open access articles, as well as access to the society’s full portfolio in return for a cost neutral fixed fee.

The deal is innovative as most small learned societies have not had the opportunity to work with national consortia to transition towards open access, due to their size. Jisc, with funding from the Wellcome Trust, has recruited extra resources specifically to work with smaller society publishers to negotiate these deals.

Under the terms of the agreement, which will be effective from 2020, scientists will be able to publish in the Microbiology Society’s six journals, two of which are born open access journals, the other four subscription and-or hybrid journals.

The latter are subscription journals that allow authors to pay a fee if they want their article to be open access.

Kathryn Spiller, licensing manager at Jisc, who has worked with the society to negotiate the agreement, told University World News that under this particular model readers pay a single fee to gain access to all content behind the paywall and at the same time all of the output of participating institutions is published with open access.

“So we are combining the subscription model with the open access model via a single fee. This is a transitional model that allows 100% of UK output to be published open access on a cost-neutral basis,” she said.

Jisc Collections undertakes negotiations and licensing for 180 United Kingdom universities and is close to agreeing similar deals with Portland Press, the International Water Association and the European Respiratory Society.

Spiller said the initiative follows a global project funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK Research and Innovation and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, and run by Information Power Ltd consultants from January to September this year, which explored ways to help learned societies transform to open access in alignment with ‘Plan S’.

It worked with learned societies across the world and produced a toolkit for these types of agreements that anyone can use globally and a report on the project, Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S (SPA OPS).

Spiller said the UK is at the forefront of this development. The learned societies in the project were mainly from the UK, the United States and Europe and the Microbiology Society is the first from the cohort to launch a pilot. But she is already working with five other societies and they are working with other consortia as well.

Dr Peter Cotgreave, chief executive of the Microbiology Society, commenting on the deal, said: “We are delighted to have forged this agreement with our first national consortium for the benefit of microbiology researchers in the UK. As a small publishing society, we are keen to introduce models to promote new, innovative and country-wide open access publishing across our portfolio of journals.”

Robert Kiley, head of open research at the Wellcome Trust, the independent foundation which campaigns for better science, said: “Following the work we [jointly] commissioned to help learned society publishers transition to full and immediate open access, I am pleased to see these cost-neutral transformative agreements come to fruition and I hope others will follow the lead of the Microbiology Society.”

Funders driving push to open access

Spiller said the push for learned societies to transition to open access is strongest in Europe, including the UK, and North America, where funders are driving it.

The SPA OPS report says such developments are timely and important, not only because stakeholders are pushing for a change in business models to ensure research publications are openly available at the time of publication, but also because there is “real pressure from funders, libraries, research institutions, universities and some researchers for publishers to reduce the costs to academia of the publication system”.

The report points out that with UNESCO tracking open access policies in 156 countries, it is possible to see a “growing pattern of commitment by a growing number of influential stakeholders in the research information landscape to a worldwide transition to open access”.

Jisc, which is funded by the UK higher and further education and research funding bodies and member institutions, provides a super-fast national research and education network, with built-in cyber security protection.