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The Conundrum of Meeting Researcher Needs While Remaining Financially Viable

Marcie Granahan,
NFAIS Executive Director
The European Commission’s goal of 100% open access (OA) compliance by 2020, by all accounts, will be difficult to achieve. According to preliminary research data from Delta Think, Inc., OA currently accounts for 22.1% of all articles published, and approximately 5.4% of all journal revenue [see PowerPoint presentation here]. Hybrid, or Green, OA accounts for 17.1% of all open access articles, and 20.8% of the revenue. Open access is growing but not at a rate many funders would like.

To help drive OA and reach the 2020 goal, a coalition of 11 European science funders, who are committed to ensuring all grant-funded research is published through a full and immediate open access model, has announced Plan-S [see full article here]. Coalition members provide an estimated $8.8 billion in grants for scientific research.

It is still unknown what impact Plan-S will ultimately have. Although the Academy of Finland was the first national funder to join Plan-S [see full article here], some have speculated that without the support of the US and China, the impact could be insignificant. Delta Think speculates, that without widespread adoption and the banning of hybrid journals, Plan-S would only reduce market value by .25% over the course of seven years [see full article here]. However, more widespread adoption could yield a 1.83% market value reduction.

Currently the National Institutes of Health and many US government funders follow the hybrid OA model, which allows a delay of up to one year before funded papers must be made openly available. The US government provides an estimated $140 billion in grants for scientific research, which is why the European Commission’s senior adviser on open access, Robert-Jan Smits, is in Washington this week and is hurriedly trying to get support of Plan-S from US policymakers [see full article here].

Despite funder support, Plan-S has researchers feeling uncomfortable. Since only about 15 percent of journals worldwide are gold open access, Plan-S would prohibit publication in all of the top journals. For academics on the tenure track, the pressure to publish in the top journals of their field is immense. And in a recent study at the University of Chicago, the number of publications in the top five journals were perceived to have the most influence on tenue and promotion [see full article here]. Lucrative subscription models for top-tier journals will be among the last OA holdouts. Not because of a lack of commitment to OA but, as Delta Think’s figures suggest, a shortfall in the revenue necessary to fund journal operations.

Open access, advances in technology, greater scrutiny of publishing and peer review, and the emergence of new models, like preprints, are having profound implications for journals—such as the New England Journal of Medicine [see full article here]. Both commercial and nonprofit journals are being challenged to rethink current business models, reduce expenses, and seek out alternate sources of revenue.

Will new models like “Rea more

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