Tag Archives: COAF

Whose money is it anyway? Managing offset agreements

Sometimes an innocent question can blow up a huge discussion, and this is what happened recently at an RCUK OA Practitioner’s Group meeting when I asked what was appropriate for institutions to do when managing money they receive as refunds from publishers through offsetting arrangements.

When an institution pays for an article processing charge (APC) in a hybrid journal, it is doing so in addition to the existing subscription. This is generally referred to as ‘double dipping’.  I have written extensively about the issues with hybrid in the past, but here, I’d like to discuss the management of offset agreements.

Offset agreements are a compensation by a publisher to an institution for the extra money they are putting into the system through payment of APCs. Most large publishers have some sort of offset agreement for institutions in the UK which are negotiated by Jisc, based on the principles for offset agreements. (There is one significant publisher which is an exception because it insists there is no need for an offset agreement because it does not double dip.)

Offset agreements are not equal

While offset agreements are negotiated nationally, there is no obligation for any institution  to sign up to them. Cambridge makes the decision to sign up to an offset agreement or not through a standard calculation. If we are spending RCUK and COAF funds on the offset it must show benefit to the funds first. If the numbers demonstrate that by signing up to (and sometimes investing in) the agreement, the funds will be better off at the end of the year then we sign. The fact this agreement may have a broader benefit to the wider University is a secondary consideration. The OSC has a publisher and agreements webpage listing the agreements Cambridge is signed up to.

In a fit of spectacular inefficiency, all offsets work slightly differently. Here’s a run down of different types:

  • In some instances we have a melding of the costs into one payment and there are no transactions for open access. The Springer Compact is an example of this. At Cambridge we have split the cost of this deal between the subscription spend the previous year with the top up being made by our funds from RCUK and COAF in proportion to the amount we publish between these two funders with Springer.
  • Other offsets are internal – where the money does not leave the publisher’s system. The Wiley OA Agreement is this type. By signing up we receive a 25% discount on each APC that is managed through their dashboard. We also receive a 50% discount in a given year based on the number of APCs we bought the previous year. This money is calculated at the beginning of the year and the ‘money’ is put into a ‘fund’ held by Wiley. The APC payments for future articles can be made out of this credit. It is is bit like a betting app – you can’t get the money out without some difficulty, you can only ‘reinvest’ it
  • There is a different kind of internal offset where the calculation is made up front based on how much you spent the previous year on APCs. These manifest as a discount on each APC paid. Taylor and Francis’ offset works this way which is a bit of a hassle because you still have to process each APC regardless of whether you spend $2000 or $200 on it. But again there is no extra money anywhere in this equation because the discount is applied before the invoice is issued. 
  • A different kind of arrangement relates more to fully open access journals. These include a membership where you get a discount on APCs for being a member. Sometimes there is a payment associated with this (BMC for example, which for an upfront membership you can get 15% discount), and others where there is no payment (MDPI – 10% discount for now). Alternatively you can ‘buy’ membership for researchers in exchange for the right to publish for free (PeerJ).
  • The last type of offset is the most straightforward – where the institution gets a cheque back based on the extra spend on APCs over the subscription. Currently IoP is the only publisher with whom Cambridge has this type of agreement.

Managing offset refunds

When Cambridge received its first IoP cheque in 2015 there were questions about what we could or could not do with it. The Open Access Project Board discussed the issue and decided that the money needed to remain within the context of open access. Suggestions included paying our Platinum membership of arXiv.org with it, because this would be supporting open access.

The minutes from the meeting on 31 March 2015 noted: “Any funds returned from publishers as part of deals to offset the cost of article processing charges should be retained for the payment of open access costs, but ring-fenced from the block grants and kept available for emergency uses under the supervision of the Project Board.” We have since twice used this money to pay for fully open access journal APCs when our block grant funds were low. 

Whose money is it anyway?

When the issue of offset refunds and what institutions were doing with it was raised at a recent RCUK OA Practitioners Group meeting it became clear that practices vary considerably from institution to institution. One of the points of discussion was whether it would be appropriate to use this money to support subscriptions. The general (strong) sentiment from RCUK was that this would not be within the spirit, and indeed against the principles, of the RCUK policy.

I subsequently sent a request out to a repository discussion list to ask colleagues across the UK what they were doing with this money. To date there have only been a handful of responses.

In one instance with a medium-sized university the IoP money is placed into a small Library fund that is ring-fenced to pay for Open Access in fully Open Access journals only. This fund has the strategic aim to enable a transition to Open Access by supporting new business models and contributing to initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched, hosting Open Journal Systems, as well as supporting authors to publish in Open Access venues when they have no other source of funding.

A large research institution responded to say they had a specific account set up into which the money was deposited, noting, as did the other respondents, that the financial arrangements of the University would mean that if it were deposited centrally it would never be seen again. This institution noted they were considering using the funds to offset the subscription to IoP in the upcoming year due to a low uptake of the deal.

Another large research institution said the IoP cheques were being ‘saved’ in the subscriptions budget.

Sussex University

In their recent paper “Bringing together the work of subscription and open access specialists: challenges and changes at the University of Sussex” there is a section on how they are managing the offset money. They note: “It seemed a missed opportunity to simply feed it back into the RCUK block grant, but equally inappropriate to use for journal subscriptions or general Library spending”.

The decision was to support APCs for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) who did not have any other access to money for gold open access, and could only be spent on fully open access journals. They noted that this was a welcome opportunity to be able to offer something tangible and helpful in their advocacy dealings with postgraduate researchers.

Only the start of the conversation

This discussion has raised questions about the decision making process for supporting access to the literature.

Subscriptions are paid for at Cambridge through a fund that is not owned by the Library – the fund consists of contributions from all the Schools plus central funds. Representatives of the Schools, Colleges and library staff sit on the Journal Coordination Scheme committee to decide on subscriptions. However decisions about open access memberships and offsets are made by the Office of Scholarly Communication. Given the increased entanglement of these two routes to access the literature, this situation is one the University is aware needs addressing. The Sussex University paper discusses the processes they went through to merge the two decision making bodies.

This is a rich area for investigation – as we move away from subscription-only spend and into joint decision-making between the subscription team and the Open Access team we need to understand what offsets offer and what they mean for the Library. This discussion is just the beginning.

Published 30 June 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley 
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An open letter to Blood

The Office of Scholarly Communication routinely advises Cambridge authors about their publishing options, and in the vast majority of cases we can help authors comply with funder mandates. However, there are a few notable journals that offer no compliant open access options for Research Council UK (RCUK) and Charity Open Access Fund (COAF) authors. One of those journals is Blood. We’ve previously called them out on their misleading advice:

Today we are urging Blood to offer their authors either self-archiving rights without cost and a maximum 6 month embargo or immediate open access under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence. If Blood does not offer these options we will advise our researchers that they should publish elsewhere so as to remain compliant with their funders’ open access policies.

You can click through and read the open letter in full below:

If you would like to add your name to the list of signatories, please email info@osc.cam.ac.uk

 

Hybrid open access – an analysis

Welcome to Open Access Week 2016. The Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge is celebrating with a series of blog posts, announcements and events. In today’s blog posts we revisit the issue of paying for hybrid open access. We have also published a related post “Who is paying for hybrid?” listing funder policies on hybrid.

Recent years have seen a proliferation of funder open access mandates, the terms of which can differ markedly, adding to the confusion of an already complex area. The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP) lists 80 funders with open access requirements, and the list continues to grow.

Within the UK, policies fall into three broad categories: those that mandate green Open Access without paying a fee, such as the HEFCE policy; those that prefer gold but make no additional funds available, such as the NIHR policy, and those that have a preference for gold and offer block grants to institutions to help cover the associated costs, such as the Research Councils UK (RCUK) and Charities Open Access Fund (COAF) policies.

Accompanying this expansion of mandates, unsurprisingly, has been an increase in the amount being spent to support Open Access. The Open Access Directory lists 179 funds for OA journal articles worldwide, compared with 81 in early 2014.

All this brings into sharper relief the question of how open access funds support hybrid publishing. But first a quick history lesson.

Hybrid origins

Hybrid journals provide open access to specific articles where an Article Processing Charge has been paid in an otherwise subscription journal. A few learned societies offered hybrid options in the early 2000s. Hybrid open access options were first offered by large publishers in 2004 with Springer’s Open Choice product charging USD3000 per article. This price has not changed in the past 12 years. In the UK the Springer Compact now pays for hybrid under a different model.

Wiley Online Open’s trial began the same year, charging USD2500. Today the price ranges from USD1,500 – 5,200. Oxford Open launched in 2005, and in 2006 Elsevier Open Access and Sage Choice began. In 2007, Taylor & Francis Open Select, Cambridge Open and Nature Publishing Group’s open access offering began.

The uptake of hybrid began slowly. It is very difficult to obtain statistics on what percentage of journals have hybrid Open Access content but in his 2012 analysis The hybrid model for open access publication of scholarly articles – a failed experiment?, (open access version here ) Bo-Christer Bjork found the number of hybrid journals had doubled in the previous couple of years to over 4,300, and the number of such articles was around 12,000 in 2011. This represented a small proportion of eligible authors (1-2 %).

That analysis was published the same year as the Finch Report which recommended a gold path to Open Access. The resulting RCUK Open Access Policy and RCUK Block Grants to fund Open Access APCs has dramatically increased the  expenditure on hybrid in the UK since 2013. According to a report published in 2015, “the UK’s profile of OA take-up is significantly different from the global averages: its use of OA in hybrid journals and of delayed OA journals is more than twice the world average in both cases, while its take-up of fully OA journals with no APC (Gold-no APC) is less than half the world average and falling.”

At Cambridge University we have spent literally millions of pounds on hybrid Open Access – which constitutes approximately 85% of our total APC spend. This is a higher percentage than estimates across the country, which are a 76% spend on hybrid Open Access.

Double dipping

Hybrid represents a second income stream to publishers and has raised questions about ‘double dipping’. Some publishers manage this by reducing the cost of subscriptions in proportion to the percentage of hybrid in a given journal, such as Nature Publishing Group. However ‘big deals’ for subscriptions can render this relatively ineffective, and the reduction is spread across all subscribers, regardless of who has paid the article processing charge. This means research intensive institutions (such as Cambridge) are contributing heavily to the system but not receiving a relative reduction.

To address this issue at a local level, several publishers have created offsetting arrangements, where discounts or refunds are provided in proportion to the contribution the institution has made in APC payments above subscriptions. However, each of these schemes operates differently and they can be complicated to administer, or have other preconditions such making large prepayments to publishers.

The biggest problem from an implementation perspective, however, is that they are by no means universal. By far the biggest publisher, Elsevier, for example, offers no form of offsetting at all, although they nevertheless assert that they do not double dip. The result is that in very many cases, institutions and authors continue to have to pay twice for material in hybrid journals, swelling publisher coffers at the expense of research funding.

Very expensive

One of the problems with hybrid is that even ignoring the added cost of subscriptions to the non Open Access material in those journals, hybrid Open Access charges are more expensive than those for fully Open Access journals.

In March last year both the Wellcome Trust and the RCUK undertook a review of their Open Access policies. The Reckoning: An Analysis of Wellcome Trust Open Access Spend 2013 – 14  noted: “The average APC levied by hybrid journals is 64% higher than the average APC charged by a fully OA title”.  In Wellcome’s data, the average APC for a hybrid article in 2014-15 was £2104, compared with only £1396 for fully OA journals. Worryingly, the data showed that fully OA APC costs had risen more than their hybrid counterparts since the previous year.

Similarly in the Research Councils UK 2014 Independent Review of Implementation the observation was that article processing charges for hybrid Open Access were “significantly more expensive” than fully OA journals, “despite the fact that hybrid journals still enjoyed a revenue stream through subscriptions”.

A Max Planck Digital Library Open Access Policy White Paper published on 28 April 2015 noted that The Wellcome Trust had a significantly higher average APC cost than German, Austrian and SCOAP3 figures. This was because the Wellcome Trust pays for hybrid APCs, “which are not only much higher than most pure open access costs but are also widely considered not to reflect a true market value. In Germany and many other countries, hybrid APCs are excluded from the central funding schemes.”

A study undertaken last year considered APCs in the five-year period between 2010 and 2014 found the mean for fully-OA journals published by non-subscription publishers was£1,136 compared with £1,849 for hybrid journals. The same study also found that traditional subscription publishers are capturing most of the APC market. The top-10 publishers in terms of numbers of APCs received from participant institutions (who received 76% of the total APCs paid from the sample) “only included two fully-OA publishers (PLOS and BMC). The others were established publishers (Elsevier, Wiley, Springer and so on) who are mostly gaining APC income from hybrid journals.”

The 2014 report Developing an effective market for open access article processing charges was written for a consortium of research funders comprising Jisc, Research Libraries UK, Research Councils UK, the Wellcome Trust, the Austrian Science Fund, the Luxembourg National Research Fund and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics. The authors noted of the hybrid journal market that it is “highly dysfunctional, with very low uptake for most hybrid journals and a relatively uniform price in most cases without regard to factors such as discipline or impact“.

Value for money?

A second issue which has become apparent as open access mandates have expanded is the extent to which publishers – mostly of hybrid journals – do not deliver the Open Access option that has been paid for. In many cases, the ‘immediate’ Open Access for which an author or institution has paid an APC may take months or even years to be made Open Access; some articles are never made Open Access at all. Even when articles are made available, there is no guarantee that it will have the appropriate licence. It is by no means uncommon for articles to carry more restrictive licences than those requested, or for the appropriate licence to appear on a journal website while the PDF of the article itself bears only a publisher copyright notice and a prominent ‘All rights reserved’.

In March 2016 the Wellcome Trust published a report into compliance among its paid-for articles in 2014-15, concluding:

The good news is that we have seen an improvement in correct and programmatically identifiable licences (from 61% of papers in ’13-‘14, to 70% in ’14-‘15) and a similar increase in overall compliance from 61% to 70%.  The bad news, however, is that in 30% of cases we are not getting what we are paying for.

The source of this non-compliance was overwhelmingly hybrid journals, and the largest publishers were the worst offenders: in the Wellcome data, 31% of Elsevier hybrid articles (and 26% of their ‘fully OA’ articles!) were non-compliant, as were 54% of Wiley’s.

One might conclude, then, that hybrid Open Access represents a bad deal for funders and institutions, with poor service and double-dipping.

Other hybrid issues

To further complicate matters, some have argued that the open access/hybrid dichotomy is too stark. Some journals, particularly coming from learned societies, (e.g. Plant Physiology, from the American Society of Plant Biologists) make all articles open access after a certain period, but charge an optional APC to make them available sooner. This would generally be considered hybrid publishing, but could be seen as a rather different category from the majority of corporate hybrid journals, in which articles never become Open Access unless an APC is paid. There is a possibility that strict funder mandates against hybrid could close off such journals to researchers, exacerbating the anxieties regarding open access felt by many learned societies.

Where does this leave authors and institutions? It’s clear that the situation remains very much in flux. The problems that have existed with hybrid since the beginnings of Open Access are far from resolved, despite the expansion of journal offsetting schemes. Meanwhile, prices continue to rise and while many funders have taken the step of allowing their funds to be used only for fully Open Access journals, it is still a minority of the largest and most powerful funding bodies.

The result is confusion for researchers and an increased administrative burden for institutions, who have to manage and advise on a proliferation of divergent funder and publisher policies, as well as conducting regular and extremely resource-intensive compliance-checking of hybrid publications to ensure publishers have delivered what has been paid for. As numbers of Open Access publications increase, it is questionable how sustainable this will be.

Published 24 October 2016
Written by Dr Philip Boyes and Dr Danny Kingsley 
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