Tag Archives: Dutch

Where to from here? Open Access in Five Years

As part of the Office of Scholarly Communication Open Access Week celebrations, we are uploading a blog a day written by members of the team. Thursday is a piece by Dr Arthur Smith looking to the future.


Academic publishing is not what it used to be. Open access has exploded on the scene and challenged the established publishing model that has remained largely unchanged for 350 years. However, for those of us working in scholarly communications, the pace of change feels at times frustratingly slow, with constant roadblocks along the way. Navigating the policy landscape provided by universities, funders and publishers can be maddening, yet we need to remain mindful of how far we have come in a relatively short time. There is no sign that open access is losing momentum, so it’s perhaps instructive to consider the direction we want open access to take over the next five years, based upon the experiences of the past.

So how much is the University of Cambridge publishing and is it open access? Since 1980, according to Web of Science, the University’s publications increased from 3000 articles per year to more than 11,000 in 2014 (Fig. 1). Over the same period the proportion of gold open access articles rose steadily since first appearing on the scene in the late 1990s. Thus far in 2015 nearly one in ten articles is available gold open access, although this ignores the many articles available via green routes.


Fig. 1. Publications at the University of Cambridge since 1980 according to WoS (accessed 14/10/2015).


The HEFCE policy

By far the most important development for open access in the UK has been the introduction of HEFCE’s open access policy. As the policy applies to all higher education institutions it affects every university researcher in the UK. While the policy doesn’t formally start until April 2016, so far progress has been slow (Fig. 2). We believe that less than a third of all the University’s articles that are published today are currently compliant with the HEFCE policy, and despite a strong information campaign, our article submission rate has stagnated at around 250 articles per month, well off the monthly target of 930.

image03 image04

Fig. 2. Publications received to the University of Cambridge open access service. The target number of articles per month is 930.

It’s understandable that some papers will fall through the cracks, but even for high impact journals many papers still don’t comply with the policy. But let’s be clear, aside from any policy compliance issues and future REF eligibility, these numbers reveal that fully two thirds of research papers produced at the University cannot be read without a journal subscription. And if readers can’t afford to pay for access then they’ll happily find other means of obtaining research papers.

What about inviting authors to make their research papers open access? Since June I have tracked five high impact journals and monitored the papers published by University of Cambridge authors (Fig. 3). Upon first discovery of a published paper, only 29% of articles were compliant with the HEFCE policy, which is consistent with our overall experience in receiving AAMs. But even after inviting authors to submit their accepted manuscripts to the University’s open access repository, the number of compliant articles rose to only 42%. Less than a third of authors who were directly contacted and asked to make their work open access eventually submitted their manuscripts. Clearly, the merits of open access are not enough to convince authors to act and distribute their manuscripts.


Fig. 3. Compliant articles published in five high impact journals. Even after direct intervention less than half of all articles are HEFCE compliant.


The SCOAP3 initiative is a publishing partnership that makes journals in the field of particle physics open access. This innovative scheme brings together multiple universities, funders and publishers and turns traditional journals, that are already widely respected by the physics community, into purely open access journals. No intervention is required by either authors or university administrators, making the process of publishing open access as simple as possible. The great advantage of this scheme is that authors don’t need to worry about choosing an open access option from the publisher, nor deal with messy invoices or copyright issues. All of these problems have been swept away.

Jisc Springer Compact

Like SCOAP3 the recently announced Jisc Springer Compact is a coalition of universities in the UK that have agreed a publishing model with Springer that makes ~1600 journals open access. Following a similar Dutch agreement, this publishing model means that any authors with qualifying institutional affiliations will have their publications made open access automatically. We’ve already started receiving our first requests under this scheme. However, unlike the SCOAP3 initiative which ‘flips’ entire journals to gold OA, the journals under the UK Jisc Springer Compact are still hybrid and only content produced by qualifying authors is open access. While this is great for those universities signed up to the deal, it still leaves a great many papers languishing under the subscription model.

Affiliation vs. Community

So which of these strategies will prove to the most successful? Will universities take ownership of open access publishing or will subject based communities come together in publishing coalitions.

The advantage of subject based initiatives is they flip entire journals for the benefit of a whole research community, making all the work within a specific discipline open access. However, without sufficient cohesion and drive within an academic community it’s likely that adoption will be fragmented across the myriad of disciplines. It’s no surprise that SCOAP3 emerged out of the particle physics community, given this scholarly community’s involvement in the development of arXiv, but it’s unrealistic to expect this will be the case everywhere.

Publishing agreements based around institutional affiliations will undoubtedly become more common, but until all universities have agreements in place with all the major publishers (Elsevier, Wiley, Springer, etc.) then a large fraction of scholarly outputs will still remain locked down.

What does the future hold?

Ultimately I want to do myself out of a job. As odd as that sounds, the current system of paying publishers for individual papers to be made open access is a laborious and time consuming process for authors, publishers and universities. Similarly the process of making accepted manuscripts available under the green model is equally ridiculous. Publishers should be automatically depositing AAMs on behalf of authors. There is no evidence that making AAMs available has ever killed a journal, and besides, the sooner we can reach agreements with all the major publishers and research funders that result in change on a global scale the better it will be for everyone.

Published 22 October 2015
Written by Dr Arthur Smith
Creative Commons License

Dutch boycott of Elsevier – a game changer?

A long running dispute between Dutch universities and Elsevier has taken an interesting turn. Yesterday Koen Becking, chairman of the Executive Board of Tilburg University who has been negotiating with scientific publishers about an open access policy on behalf of Dutch universities with his colleague Gerard Meijer, announced a plan to start boycotting Elsevier.

As a first step in boycotting the publisher, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) has asked all scientists that are editor in chief of a journal published by Elsevier to give up their post. If this way of putting pressure on the publishers does not work, the next step would be to ask reviewers to stop working for Elsevier. After that, scientists could be asked to stop publishing in Elsevier journals.

The Netherlands has a clear position on Open Access. Sander Dekker, the State Secretary  of Education has taken a strong position on Open Access, stating at the opening of the 2014 academic year in Leiden that ‘Science is not a goal in itself. Just as art is only art once it is seen, knowledge only becomes knowledge once it is shared.’

Dekker has set two Open Access targets: 40% of scientific publications should be made available through Open Access by 2016, and 100% by 2024. The preferred route is through gold Open Access – where the work is ‘born Open Access’. This means there is no cost for readers – and no subscriptions.

However Gerard Meijer, who handles the negotiations with Elsevier, says that the parties have not been able to come close to an agreement.

Why is this boycott different?

It is true that boycotts have had different levels of success. In 2001, the Public Library of Science started as a non-profit organization of scientists ‘committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature freely accessible to both scientists and to the public’. In 2001 PLoS (as it was then) published an open letter asking signatories to pledge to boycott toll-access publishers unless they become open-access publishers. The links to that original pledge are no longer available. Over 30,000 people signed , but did not act on their pledge. In response, PLOS became an open access publisher themselves, launching PLOS Biology in October 2003.

In 2012 a Cambridge academic Tim Gowers started the Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier which now has over 15,000 signatures of researchers agreeing not to write for, review for, or edit for Elsevier. In 2014 Gowers used a series of Freedom of Information requests to find out how much Elsevier is charging different universities for licence subscriptions. Usually this information is a tightly held secret, as individual universities pay considerably different amounts for access to the same material.

The 2015 Dutch boycott is significant. Typically negotiations with publishers occur at an institutional level and with representatives from the university libraries. This makes sense as libraries have long standing relationships with publishers and understand the minutiae of the licencing processes . However the Dutch negotiations have been led by the Vice Chancellors of the universities.  It is a country-wide negotiation at the highest level. And Vice Chancellors have the ability to request behaviour change of their research communities.

This boycott has the potential to be a significant game changer in the relationship between the research community and the world’s largest academic publisher. The remainder of this blog looks at some of the facts and figures relating to expenditure on Open Access in the UK. It underlines the importance of the Dutch position.

UK Open Access policies mean MORE publisher profit

There have also been difficulties in the UK in relation to negotiations over payment for Open Access. Elsevier has consistently resisted efforts by Jisc to negotiate an offsetting deal  – where a publisher provides some sort of concession for the fact that universities in the UK are paying unprecedented amounts in Article Processing Charges on top of their subscriptions because of the RCUK open access policy.

Elsevier is the world’s largest academic publisher. According to their Annual Report the 2014 STM revenue was £2,048 million, with an operating profit of £762 million. This is a profit margin of 37%. That means if we pay an Article Processing Charge of $3000 then $1,170 of that (taxpayers’) money goes directly to the shareholders of Elsevier.

The numbers involved in this space are staggering. The Wellcome Trust stated in their report on 3 March 2015 The Reckoning: An Analysis of Wellcome Trust Open Access Spend 2013 – 14: ‘The two traditional, subscription-based publishers (Elsevier and Wiley) represent some 40% of our total APC spend’.

And the RCUK has had similar results, as described in a Times Higher Education article on 16 April 2015 Publishers share £10m in APC payments: “Publishers Elsevier and Wiley have each received about £2 million in article processing charges from 55 institutions as a result of RCUK’s open access policy”.

Hybrid open access – more expensive and often not compliant

Another factor is the considerably higher cost of  Article Processing Charges for making an individual article Open Access within an otherwise subscription journal (called ‘hybrid’ publishing) compared to the Article Processing Charges for articles in fully Open Access journals.

In The Reckoning: An Analysis of Wellcome Trust Open Access Spend 2013 – 14, the conclusion was that the average Article Processing Charge levied by hybrid journals is 64% higher than the average Article Processing Charge of a fully Open Access title. The March 2015 Review of the implementation of the RCUK Policy on Open Access concluded the 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’.

Elsevier has stated that in 2013 they published 330,000 subscription articles and 6,000 author paid articles. There is no breakdown of how many of those 6,000 were in fully open access journals and how many were hybrid. However in 2014 Elsevier had 1600 journals offering their hybrid option, and 100 journals that were fully open access (6%). Note that the RCUK open access policy came into force in April 2013. It would be interesting to compare these figures with  the 2014 ones, however I have been unable to find them.

While the higher cost for hybrid Article Processing Charges is in itself is an issue, there is a further problem. Articles in hybrid journals for which an Article Processing Charge has been paid are not always made available at all, or are available but not under the correct licence as required by the fund paying the fee. Here at Cambridge, the five most problematic publishers with whom we have paid more than 10 Article Processing Charges have a non compliance rate from 11-25%. With this group of publishers we are having to chase up between three and 31 articles per publisher. This takes considerable time and significantly adds to the cost of compliance with the RCUK and COAF policies.

According to the March 2015 Review of the implementation of the RCUK Policy on Open Access, ‘Elsevier stated that around 40% of the articles from RCUK funding that they had published gold were not under the CC-BY licence and are therefore not compliant with the policy’ (p19).

We support our Dutch colleagues

In summary, the work happening in The Netherlands to break the stranglehold Elsevier have on the research community is important. We need to stand by and support our Dutch colleagues.

NOTE: This blog was subsequently reblogged on the London School of Economics Impact Blog and later listed as one of the Top Ten Posts for 2015: Open Access. It was also listed as one of the blogs that had an average minute per page measurement of over 6 minutes and 30 seconds.

Published 3 July 2015, added to on 22 January 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License