Guest Post – The rise of immediate green OA undermines progress: a response from cOAlition S

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This guest post is in response to a recent open post on the OASPA blog and in line with our recent move to use the blog as a platform for open discussions on issues in open access and open research. The views presented in the guest post are the views of cOAlition S and do not represent the views of OASPA.

This post is by Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research Wellcome & cOAlition S Coordinator and Johan Rooryck, Executive Director, cOAlition S

We thank OASPA for the opportunity to respond to the blog post, signed by 11 who argue that the cOAlition S’s Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) will undermine progress to a fully OA world.  

From the start we would like to make clear that we agree with the authors of the post that the Version of Record (VoR) is preferred to the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM).  

We make this position clear on our website and in all the communications we have done around the Rights Retention Strategy.  Moreover, the Journal Checker Tool – a web-based tool to help our funded researchers understand how to comply with our OA policies when seeking publication in their journal of choice – indicates that publication routes which enable the VoR to be made OA are preferred. 

Perhaps the most significant demonstration of this position however, is the fact the cOAlition S organisations are providing significant funding to support OA publications costs.  By way of example, in this financial year UKRI, Wellcome and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are providing more than £36m to support OA publication costs1.

The primary argument made by the signatories to the blog post is that authors, if they have a choice between making either the AAM or VoR OA, will invariably opt for the AAM on the grounds that they don’t have to pay a publishing cost.  No evidence is provided to substantiate this claim. 

Moreover, this argument is far too simplistic. It ignores the fact that if an institution has participated in, say, a “Read and Publish” deal, it has already paid to make the VoR OA.  For example, Wiley, one of the signatories to the OASPA blog post, have such a deal in place in the UK which in 2020 has resulted in more than 6300 VoR articles being made OA. This equates to around 80% of UK-funded research published by Wiley in this year. In this example, both Wellcome and UKRI OA funds have been used to contribute to the “publish” pot.

The argument also assumes that researchers are paying publication fees directly, and thus would prefer to use those funds on other activities.  In practice however, publication costs are being met directly by the institution (via Read and Publish deals etc.) and/or by the funder. 

Our preference for the VoR however, is not unconditional and at any price. 

One of the initiatives cOAlition S is taking forward is around price and service transparency, so that purchasers can better understand the services provide and the price they charge for these.  The RRS thus provides an alternative route for complying with a funders’ OA policy when the buyer of those services deems that the price for the services offered is neither fair or reasonable.

The RRS also provides a compliant option towards publication in OA for small learned societies and , who may not have the resources to broker transformative agreements, and whose journals only feature publication of a handful of cOAlition S funded authors. In this way, the RRS enables authors to maintain their choice of journal without disenfranchising small .

cOAlition S has a global perspective and is well aware that the funders’ preference for the VoR is likely to be linked to their capacity to pay. Until prices for OA publishing are globally equitable, it is indeed possible that many LMIC countries may avail themselves of the RRS route to OA.

It is also worth noting that the RRS appears to have encouraged several subscription to develop Plan S-aligned publishing options, through which the VoR can be made OA. We warmly welcome this move.

However, even though Plan S was announced more than 2 years ago – and will be implemented within the next four weeks – many have not developed any Plan S-aligned publishing policies.  As such, the RRS provides a means by which our funded researchers can continue to seek publication of their choice and remain compliant with their funders’ OA policy.

We also find the characterisation of repositories – a limbo where multiple, inferior versions of articles are said to languish, with no access to the underlying data etc. – to be painfully at odds with the reality of many repositories.  For example, Europe PMC – supported by several cOAlition S funders including the Dutch Research Council (NWO), the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), WHO, UKRI and Wellcome – accepts AAMs and provides a number of value-added services.  These include mining the text to provide links to chemical compounds, genetic sequences, etc; linking the submission to the relevant grant ID and any preprint associated with the submission; as well as an unambiguous link to the VoR on the publisher site. 

We welcome the fact that the signatories to the post are willing to “work collaboratively and constructively with all stakeholders” to deliver OA.  cOAlition S is equally willing to engage with on these matters and has been doing so for many years but is eager to move past conversations into concrete action. We have supported many initiatives, including the SPA-OPS project (to help smaller and learned society develop transformative agreements) and the development of the Transformative Journal model and are willing to work with to explore other options, including non-APC models.

To conclude, cOAlition S organisations are prepared to pay a fair, reasonable, and transparent fee for the services they provide to make the VoR OA. And, though we believe there is added value in the VoR, to ensure this model is widely adopted, need to demonstrate to the research community that the value provided by making this version OA is commensurate with the price charged.

1 UKRI £24m; Wellcome £8m; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation $6m

Related content

Open post: The rise of immediate green OA undermines progress

Guest post – Correcting the Record: The Critical Role of OA Repositories in Open Access and Open Science

Guest post: A response from Jisc

The OASPA Blog: A platform for open access discussions


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