From now on, science journals will have to divulge the prices of publishing articles in order for them to be paid for by a coalition of research funders pushing for open access.
The price transparency rules will take effect in July 2022, announced today by cOAlition S, a group of 22 international organizations, European national research agencies, and foundations. In 2018, cOAlition S launched a scheme called Plan S that will, beginning in January 2021, require grantees’ work to be open access, meaning it can be read free of charge immediately on publication. One route to accomplish this is for authors to pay journals a fee for each article published this way.
cOAlition S wants the rules to help keep these fees commendable. The rules require publishers to provide a breakdown of their prices: what percentages go to cover the cost of services such as proofreading, copy editing, and organizing peer review. If they don’t, “We will not meet any publication fees associated with that publisher,” says Robert Kiley, interim coordinator of cOAlition S and head of open research at the Wellcome Trust, one of the coalition’s members. “The intention is to provide more granular information about the value components of each journal article price point,” says Steven Inchcoombe, chief publishing officer of Springer Nature, which publishes the journal Nature.
Springer Nature was one of 10 publishers that participated in a pilot trial of price transparency between January and March. The rules announced today allow publishers to choose between two different sets of transparency criteria. One is a framework based on the template used in this year’s pilot. The other is an existing framework drawn up by the Fair Open Access Alliance (FOAA) and already in use by Frontiers, the MIT Press, Copernicus, and MDPI. “Either framework is fine,” Kiley says.
According to him, the two frameworks are comparable but he suspects big commercial publishers will be more comfortable with the one based on the pilot. It allows profit estimates in the price breakdown to be spread evenly across categories of costs, whereas the FOAA framework asks for profit margins in each category. Another difference is that the FOAA criteria ask publishers to provide a single, portfolio wide breakdown of pricing practices, whereas the framework based on the pilot allows publishers to distinguish between different journals, and to group those with the same pricing. Kiley says cOAlition S endorsed the FOAA criteria because they emerged while work on Plan S was underway, and if publishers are already complying with them, “we didn’t want to say, ‘Well that’s not good enough.’”
Publishers also can satisfy cOAlition S’s rules through a “green open access” route if they permit authors to post their manuscripts the “author accepted” version, which journals have accepted and peer reviewed but not yet published nor copy edited to open repositories or personal websites. Plan S also permits “read and publish” deals, where universities’ subscriptions to paywalled journals allow researchers at those universities to publish open-access work.
WallaceMay, Nicholas, et al. “Open-Access Science Funders Announce Price Transparency Rules for Publishers.” Science, 18 May 2020, www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/open-access-science-funders-announce-price-transparency-rules-publishers#.