Open Access Week and an unstoppable change

This week has seen “Open Access Week” with large numbers of events, announcements and similar awareness-raising activities. It’s an excellent indication of the current environment that we can talk about having an open access week — an international open access week — quite seriously and have a sufficiently large number of events and engagement to back up the rhetoric.

JISC has been active in this, being a joint organiser of Open Access Week itself, as well as many of its projects either putting on events, releasing updates, upgrades or announcements.  JISC has released a booklet, which makes interesting reading  which reviews its achievements in its continued and long-term support of open access.  The whole field has now been going for long enough for developments to be tracked over time.  A summary of JISC’s achievements is available online, including the fact that it has been active in this area for over 10 years.

There have been several number-based announcements this week that on reflection are actually quite significant indicators of scale and pace — the University of Salford announcing the world’s 100th open-access mandate; OpenDOAR putting in its 1,500th repository; the fifth birthday of PLoS Medicine — all signs of the scale of open access and further evidence that this is very probably now truly an unstoppable movement.

If this is unstoppable,  then whatever the timescale the alarm bell has to ring and businesses (not just publishers — including universities) have to accept that change is inevitable and plan quite carefully to deal with it.

For some years it has been apparent that significant change to traditional publication is coming in some form.  Here I am including e-journals as pretty much a translation of traditional publishing into another medium, rather than a true change in product, process or business model: the true change has yet to roll-out.  Open access is just one thread in a changing environment of business and investment practices, public and academic expectations, and the requirements from other technical and social developments in scholarly communication.

As in any period of rapid evolution, some smaller, fragile players may disappear, often because it is in the nature of small fragile players to be unstable.  Some more major players will survive because their sheer size means that they can take an inefficiency hit during transition, while others will diminish because their size has bought inertia. But whatever the size — businesses will have to respond.  In dealing with this larger change, at least there are business models available to help deal with that part of developments which is open access.

Four years ago the Wellcome Trust, after producing a report on open access publishing, introduced the idea that they would pay for open access publication as an additional charge, to give publishers additional income on top of normal subscriptions.  This was not simply a reward for offering an open access option, but a deliberate offer to help fund a transition period while publishers experimented with and adopted true open access business models.

So far, evidence for any reduction in serials’ subscription costs as a result of additional open access income has been thin on the ground, with the OUP being a notable exception. Publishers say, with some justification, that it can be difficult to balance a true pro-rata reduction in subscriptions to open access income: however, there is an existing and growing expectation on behalf of subscribers that change now has to be seen.

It is for this reason that I think that one of the most significant developments this week has been a press release from the Wellcome Trust

In this, Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, comments:

“We would like to see a commitment from publishers to show the uptake of their open access option and to adjust their subscription rates to reflect increases in income from open access fees,” says Sir Mark. “Some publishers, for example Oxford University Press, have already done this and we would like to see all publishers behave the same way.”

The fact that this view is now being openly stated – by those that are providing the funding –  puts further pressure on the pace of change.

In terms of numbers, some truly significant numbers are those from the Houghton Report, showing a financial benefit to the UK overall simply from greater accessibility to research in the government-funded sector of an additional £172 million per year.  For higher education institutions, a shift from subscription to open access publishing has been identified as giving a potential of £80 million of savings.  This report was produced in January 2009 and with an openness to match its subject, the model itself made available for use by anybody who wanted to use different financial assumptions.  To my knowledge, there has still not been a serious challenge to these original estimates.

In the coming squeeze on public finances, which will be deep and last long, it is inevitable that numbers like this will attract attention.  It is likely that the change coming down the track will now come very fast indeed and will require businesses on both sides of the equation to be inventive and agile in their response. The Wellcome Trust statement is one that cannot be ignored.

Bill

Welcome Trust and research mandates

The Wellcome Trust held an event yesterday (24th Sept 2009) on Open Access and Funder Mandates at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre on Euston Road. This drew together representatives of research funders, institutional research support offices and institutional repository managers to discuss compliance with funder mandates. This is a very useful mix of roles: it is this mix of people that will make funders’ mandates work in practice.

Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at the Wellcome Library, characterised the main issue when he reported that compliance with OA grant conditions for Wellcome Trust authors was only running at 36% or thereabouts (although the percentage was climbing). How could compliance with all funders’ mandates be raised, to achieve the OA benefits they are meant to bring?

One significant difficulty was identified as a lack of clarity for academics in what, quite, to do in order to comply: another was the ready identification, by authors and by institutions, of funding for OA publication charges where these are necessary.

After presentations and discussions, the joint response was for developing support structures and information; improving workflows and clarity; and for increasing collaboration between funders, research support offices, and other institutional staff.  All these efforts are vital if we are to move forward.

Teasing out some of the ideas and proposals:

*  authors need to be alerted to the need for compliance and its importance as a part of their funding requirements. This is a task for research support offices as much as libraries and their other open access work.

*  institutional mechanisms to check compliance have to be put in place.  Someone needs to know what outputs have come from a grant and check that publishers have filled their contracts by making them openly accessible, or that the author has complied in some other way. Who is that someone and where do they get their information?  There is an explicit responsibility on institutions from the Wellcome Trust to check compliance: OA support staff (typically repository managers), research support offices and funders can and should work together on solving this.

*  funding for OA charges is in place within grants from most funders (and all of the UKPMC funders except Cancer Research UK). Identifying or reserving this funding is a task for institutions – and then support has to be given to make sure that authors are given clear and step-by-step instructions for using this funding. Establishing a central OA fund is one option to assist this.

*  authors need a single smooth, supported workflow to allow them to comply with mandates, with relevant information on their responsibilities, the options they have and the funding available to them.

The presentations from this event are available from the UKPMC Blogspot

I was invited to speak on the University of Nottingham’s experience in creating a central fund for OA publication charges and on using RoMEO and JULIET to support processes. Chad Pillinger spoke on administering such a fund at Cambridge University – a clear workflow; Robert Kiley spoke on funder policies, including a very concise summary of the common features of UKPMC funders’ policies; Alison Henning, Ernie Ong and Paul Davey previewed developments to UKPMC and Nicola Perrin led the discussion groups which developed our thinking during the day.

Bill