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Open Access Update in 2018: The Significance of the Proposed “Plan S”

Over the past several years new open access initiatives have emerged and taken shape across the scholarly publishing landscape. The advantages and disadvantages of these open access business models have caused significant debate among researchers, publishers, libraries, university presses, and government officials.

One significant open access milestone initiative, launched in September of 2018 by a group called Science Europe, an association of several major Research Funding Organizations (RFOs) and Research Performing Organizations (RPOs) based in Brussels, is called “Plan S.” This newly proposed open access initiative requires researchers, who benefit from state-funded research organizations and institutions, to publish their work in open repositories or in open access journals by 2020. This is a significant requirement because a very large portion of scientific articles would become free to read as soon as they are published, essentially changing the landscape of STEM publishing in two years. In summary, an article posted on the Nature journals website states, “The 11 agencies, who together spend €7.6 billion (US$8.8 billion) in research grants annually, say they will mandate that, from 2020, the scientists they fund must make resulting papers free to read immediately on publication (see ‘Plan S players’). The papers would have a liberal publishing licence that would allow anyone else to download, translate or otherwise reuse the work. “No science should be locked behind paywalls!” says a preamble document that accompanies the pledge, called Plan S, released on 4 September.” This initiative has caused concern among the publishing community specifically because Plan S would bar affected researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including very high-impact, well-known journals such as Nature and Science.

As of late 2017, only around 15% of scholarly journals publish articles immediately as open access. More than one-third of scholarly journals still publish papers behind a paywall, and typically permit online release of free-to-read versions only after a delay of at least six months, which is in compliance with the policies of influential funders such as the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Plan S is centered around the following ten principles:

So what does this mean for scholarly authors? Scientists in poorer developing nations may not be able to afford to publish open-access work because of the costs pushed on authors. And it could mean the end of scientific publishing’s subscription business model; publishers and academic societies will need to rapidly adjust their business model to accommodate this shift.

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