A new report published today identifies options through which funders can help ensure that the rapidly growing open access market delivers high-quality services and value for money for the research community.
The report, which was commissioned by a consortium of major research funders*, is intended to stimulate discussion and debate among funders and other stakeholders who are committed to ensuring free and open access to the published outputs of research.
Over recent years, a growing number of funders across the world have introduced open access policies requiring that peer-reviewed articles resulting from the research that they support are made freely available to access and re-use. In turn, an increasing number of journals are providing an option to authors whereby, in return for a fee known as an article processing charge (APC), papers are made openly available immediately on publication. Some journals (known as ‘full open access journals’) operate exclusively through this model, whereas other journals (‘hybrids’) allow individual papers to be made open access while other papers are only accessible through subscription. Several funders have started to make dedicated funds available to pay APCs.
However, these developments have sparked some concerns over rising costs during a transitional period in which both APCs and subscriptions are paid, and whether the future market for APCs would be transparent and functional.
This new report, authored by Professor Bo-Christer Björk of the Hanken School of Economics, Finland, and Professor David Solomon of Michigan State University, USA, sets out to examine the potential risks associated with the APC open access market, and begins to explore how they could be addressed. It is important to acknowledge that there are other routes to open access (see below), but this study focused specifically on the APC market.
The economic analyses undertaken provided a strong indication that the full open access journal market is functioning well in creating pressure for journals to moderate the price of APCs. On the other hand, however, the current hybrid market was found to be extremely dysfunctional, with significantly higher charges and low levels of uptake. Indeed, the average APC in a hybrid journal was found to be almost twice that for a born-digital full open access journal ($2,727 compared to $1,418).
Based on their findings, the authors developed a series of scenarios for the full open access and hybrid markets. They then undertook a more detailed analysis of the opportunities and risks associated with three scenarios which they judged to hold the greatest potential.
In the first, funders would only reimburse APCs for hybrid journals which had systems in place to ensure institutions which paid these received equivalent reductions on subscription payments.
The second scenario suggests that funders could adopt a ‘value-based pricing’ model in which they would set tiered caps for the maximum payment they would contribute toward an APC for a particular journal based on the quality of the services it provides to authors.
In the third scenario, funders would pay a set proportion of an APC if the price exceeded a certain threshold.
The report does not recommend a single approach, but rather that funders, universities and other stakeholders involved in open access consider and adapt these possible models depending on their individual needs and goals.
Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at the Wellcome Trust, said: “We hope this report, which is both authoritative and innovative, will spark widespread discussion and debate. In supporting this work, we as funders have signalled our commitment to ensuring the future open access market delivers value for money and meets needs of the research community.”
Tony Peatfield, RCUK Policy lead on open access, said: “This report is a timely and valuable addition to the evidence base, as funders around the world push for free and unrestricted access to research publications. It will be a key input to the planned review of the implementation of RCUK’s open access policy later this year.”
* The report was commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, Research Councils UK, Jisc, Research Libraries UK, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the FNR (Luxembourg) and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics.