International Open Access Week – Publishers talk about OA (Part I)

Happy International Open Access Week! We are delighted to take part with a series of blogs that take a closer look at OA and at how publishers have adopted different models in the continuous effort to make research open and accessible. Some fantastic publishing professionals and true OA experts have helped answer some of our questions around OA, and debunk some myths as well!  Thank you so much to Charles Lusty (former Head of Publishing Operations, The Royal Society), Claire Moulton, (Publisher, The Company of Biologists), Rod Cookson (Managing Director, IWA Publishing), and Sarah Cooper (Promotions & Marketing Manager) and Gaynor Redvers-Mutton (Head of Business Development & Sales) from Microbiology Society, for their precious and insightful contributions!

Before diving in: Don’t really know what Open Access is? Check out this amazing podcast Open Access & Plan S - A podcast with Tasha Mellins Cohen  

How can Open Access be profitable?

There has been a great deal of talk about OA as the new frontier to make content and research accessible to anyone, anywhere, but does that mean that it is completely free? Not exactly.

As Sarah and Gaynor from Microbiology Society point out, “no publishing process is entirely cost-free, and the challenge for publishers comes in finding a model that is fair, sustainable, and that serves the needs of their community.” This is usually done by moving the source of income from paying to access “closed content” to paying to produce “open content”, and well-oiled publishers can still run profitably. Rod from IWA Publishing explained that many publishers share some anxiety around switching from familiar revenue streams to other models, but that engaging with funders, consortia managers, librarians institutions, and even other publishers is crucial to a successful transition to OA, as they look for solutions that work for everyone involved.

Key to a smooth and profitable transition is an internal transformation of operational systems, which will enable a publisher to operate in a cost-efficient manner in the future. Rod sees OA transition as two distinct but parallel transformations: the commercial one, and the re-invention of internal systems.

We do also understand that OA might not be as profitable as subscriptions, as Charles from the Royal Society highlights, and that to achieve sustainability there will need to be an adjustment of rates and costs over time, so society publishers especially will need to recoup costs in other ways. Claire (Company of Biologists), looks at the different costs associated with OA sustained by smaller vs. larger publishers, and suggests that “with the economy of scale and automated workflows of larger companies it’s easier to cover the costs and OA could even be profitable.” She suggested that smaller publishers can introduce cost-neutral agreements with libraries and combine elements of subscription and OA revenue, actively working together with librarians to ensure everybody is getting value for money.

What are some of the myths and misconceptions around OA?

Even though the move to OA has been in the works for a while now, many changes are just happening now, and the publishing community is still wrapping their heads around the concept of Open Access. Sometimes, confusion arises, and we’ve asked our publish experts to shed some light on some misconceptions around OA:

  • “OA content is of lower quality than traditional subscription content” – Some have the feeling that the digital-first nature of OA content would hinder its quality, but actually OA and hybrid journals still go through rigorous peer-review and quality checks. The only thing that has changed is the licence for access and reuse, not the quality.
  • “OA is free, or cheaper than subscription models” – One of the biggest misconceptions is that OA comes without costs, or with lower costs, when the reality is that the majority of costs remain the same (high quality peer review, ethics checks, copy-editing, etc.) and printing costs are replaced by online content preservation, XML workflows and metadata. In some cases, disruptive innovation can also add costs at a system level
  • “OA is just a phase” – With increasing demand and support around Open Access, including various initiatives like Plan S, and more and more researchers expected to publish OA, publishers think the trajectory for OA is set and it will not fade away.
  • “All OA does is making content free-to-read” – Making research Open Access is not just a matter of making digital content free. OA articles are published under different licenses, making content available for copy, re-use and combination with other work. Open Science goes beyond accessibility of content, to commit to make data easily, consistently and persistently available, to promote actions that better support reproducibility of published results, and to promote collaboration and cooperation within research.

Keep an eye out this week for our next blog post, where we look at the different OA models and types of accessible content!

If you are interested in getting into Academic or STM publishing, check out our latest roles here, and don’t forget to sign up to our Vacancy Update Service to receive the latest alerts about new publishing career opportunities.