cOAlitionS announces revised PlanS principles and implementation

After several months of anticipation and intense speculation, the revised version of PlanS proposals have been released. The cOAlitionS website now features a formal response to the feedback, rationale for revisions and the newly revised Principles and Implementation plan. The new version takes into account the statements received from 600 universities, learned societies, publishers, associations, and individual scholars from more than 40 countries. The Coalition has used this feedback to refine each of the over-arching principles to make both the intent and path to compliance clearer, as well as refining the guidance on how the principles should be implemented. When the original plans were announced, they were positioned as an aggressive, radical action to more rapidly usher in a world of fully accessible research to enhance the efficiency of the academic process, and the accessibility of vital information for the wider populace. While the latter part of that goal is still evident, the tone of the approach, and the assertive immediacy, appears to have been muted somewhat. This is likely in response to the apprehension of societies and publishers having to make such potentially and immediate drastic changes to their business models. While sudden change is not an inherently bad thing, there is some evidence to suggest that suddenly swiping the rug out from under subscription journals may have significantly detrimental effects on the operations of research organisations that are providing this valuable knowledge in the first place, and could inhibit some of the qualities of modern publishing we take for granted. Key revisions to the documents include:

  • Extension of the timetable, to begin PlanS from 1 January 2021. This extra year until implementation gives journals the time to develop more reliable and robust strategies models to increase sustainability, rather than relying on potentially less stable temporary interventions.

  • Extension of support for transformative agreements until 2024. Itself an extension of the first point, enabling journals to develop new models, and transition at a more manageable, less hurried, pace.

  • More options for transitional arrangements: The Plan now describes three more defined paths to compliance:

  • Transformative agreements - strategies which gradually withdraw reliance on subscription publishing and divert those funds to Open Access models.

  • Transformative model agreements - The definition of this is somewhat unclear. Positioned in between "Transformative agreements " and "Transformative journals", it suggests publishers should have in place, or be seeking guidance on implementing transformative strategies (such as the Read and Publish deals, which allow open access publishing and full access to a defined range of content for the organisation - not true Open Access, but still providing a less restrictive form of access).

  • Transformative journals - Journals which are on a confirmed plan to covert from subscription to open access.

  • Clearer descriptions of how to comply are provided, along three routes:

  • Open Access publishing venues (journals or platforms);

  • Subscription venues (repository route);

  • Transition of subscription venues (transformative arrangements).

Three routes to compliance

The repository route would appear to give all subscription journals quite a simple pass to become compliant, with the straightforward policy change of allowing immediate CC-BY deposition of the accepted version of articles. Though this is the Coalition's least preferred option, explicitly stated with the line "cOAlition S urges individual researchers, research institutions, other funders, and governments not to financially support ‘hybrid’ Open Access publishing when such fees are not part of transformative arrangements", they have nevertheless included this as a viable option for compliance, and it may be the option that comes easiest to publishers. However, there have been a steady number of investigations into the success rates of such repository mandates (Borrego, 2015, Picarra, 2015, Vincent-Lamarre, 2016, Piwowar, 2018, Winter, 2019 for just a few examples) and they tend to show that the struggle to comply would shift from publisher policy and business model to researcher behaviour. Possibly the easier of the two to address, but perhaps not. Which leads to the next big comment in the new Principles:

  • Greater emphasis on changing the research reward and incentive system is now included in the rationale. The new Principles include explicit reference and support for the DORA initiative (the call to reduce and remove reliance on metrics from researcher assessment) and pledges to ensure all its members implement the principles in their own policies by January 2021. Addressing the ways in which metrics are implemented in researcher and employee assessment across the world has long been one of the burning issues of academia, and a source of considerable friction between publishers and researchers. The addition of more funders to supporting DORA principles (Wellcome Trust is already a signatory, for example), may drive the direction of the debate closer to a conclusion.

  • Relaxing of the technical requirements for repositories. This change, and clarification, in the principles and implementation guidance goes hand-in-hand with the repository compliance route, making it easier for organisations to create compliant means of facilitating the immediate Green-OA route.

  • The use of CC BY-ND licensing will be allowed on a case-by-case basis. The strict CC-BY mandate of the previous version was an express concern of arts and humanities scholars, and the Coalition now recognises "that misrepresentation of contentious work is an issue that requires increased safeguards and community standards." This new dimension to the policies allows funders to determine which licence would be most suitable while remaining compliant.

  • No price cap of APCs has been specifically defined, but the rationale states “If publication fees are levied, these should be commensurate with the publication services delivered. This point has been an area of great speculation and consternation during the last few months. A hard price cap on APC's had the potential to upset everyone involved in a number of different ways, with concerns ranging from restricting the level of services journals can offer to wiping out entire societies, to creating a surge in pricing of all journals to charge the cap, regardless of previous models. It appears none of these things may come to pass just yet, with this new definition of pricing bringing me to address one final key point that has interested me the most of these revised Principles....

  • Transparency of costs and prices cOAlitionS intends to define various services which make up the publishing process, such as triaging, peer review, editorial and production work, and publishers will be asked to price each of these services accordingly. This is something which I do for publisher and journal clients quite often, for various reasons not just to extract costs, and there are a whole range of results which I expect to see pulled out of this, if it does indeed come to fruition as stated on the cOAlitionS site. Unbundling parts of the peer review process, particularly as a commercial enterprise, has had mixed success over the years, with Rubriq and AxiosReview never quite getting off the ground but (the arguably more radical) Peerage of Science going from strength to strength. The PlanS proposal is somewhat different to what any of these organisations attempted, by simply asking publishers and journals to reveal the costs associated with each stage of the process. But if these figures are to be provided at scale, it will be interesting to see whether new business models, and new insights into the process, can be established by opening the windows into all these areas.

There is plenty more to dig into in the statements posted by the Coalition that the parts I have covered here, I have only touched on a few that struck me immediately. The new 10 Principles, from the Principles & Implementation page, now looks like this:

The Plan S Principles

I look forward to reading reactions and developing insights from across the research and publishing communities.

Visit the following links for the full details of changes from the cOAlitionS website. Both documents can be downloaded as pdfs. Rationale for Revisions: Revised Principles and Implementation: This is an extended version of my post which first appeared on the EASE Blog

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