Open post: The rise of immediate green OA undermines progress

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Please see this post about OASPA’s role in providing a platform for members’ views. The views presented in this post are the views of its signatories and do not represent the views of OASPA.


The signatories of this post are members of OASPA. We strongly support OASPA’s mission to develop and disseminate solutions that advance open access (OA), preserve the integrity of scholarship and promote best practice. We proactively work with stakeholders to make OASPA’s call a reality – the transition to a world in which open access becomes the predominant model of publication for scholarly outputs. The rise and emphasis of immediate green OA as an equivalent or otherwise satisfactory method for delivering OA runs contrary to everyone’s interest in trying to achieve open science. 

The authors of this statement include representatives of the pioneers and early adopters of OA publishing. As individuals we have personally dedicated years, and in some cases decades, to building trusted OA publishing, even before most funders were ready to embrace it. Indeed, we have contributed to bringing on board many of the funders who today mandate OA. Some of us have worked within full OA publishing houses, some have moved from full OA to with mixed models and some have worked from within the mixed model environment. 

As pioneers and early adopters, we know the difficulties of establishing business models to support gold OA (here including so-called diamond, platinum and other models). 

All of us recognise the value of full open access to the Version of Record (VOR). We want to ensure that for those who are committed to OA, this route is fully enabled and supported. 

We all agree that a sustainable Open Research model – where information is credible, accessible, linked and searchable in perpetuity, is the ultimate goal. 

The reaction of the scientific community, decision makers, and civil society during the Coronavirus outbreak has revealed the need for rapid, trusted scientific and epidemiological data sharing and the importance of international scientific collaborations, only serving to heighten the interest and desire to transition towards a sustainable OA future.

We discuss in this post our views on how to achieve this, some of the issues currently facing us in attaining this shared aim, particularly those created by cOAlition S’s recently announced Rights Retention Strategy, and we end with a series of requests to cOAlition S members and other funders.

Importance of the Version of Record 

In order to achieve transition to true and full open research, we need to ensure that researchers and readers have immediate access to the quality-assured, value-added VOR. By enabling access to this authoritative version of the research paper, we are seeking to open the door to a wider open research network, in which the VOR is connected to a range of further open outputs that add value and insight. From preprints, which can provide an early view of work under review, to open research data, open protocols, open code, and transparent peer review reports, open research is about much more than just access to the text of a paper.

Open research seeks to accelerate progress, but green OA can never deliver on this promise of an easily accessible, navigable, and interconnected Open Research ecosystem. Instead, it confuses the scholarly record with multiple inferior versions of manuscripts. Do we want researchers to have to search through repositories for an earlier version of a manuscript, and then spend further valuable time seeking out accompanying data, or checking whether there have been post-publication corrections? Or would we rather that they have immediate access to the trusted and enhanced VOR on the publisher platform, with links to relevant data and other outputs? It sounds like a simple question, but if , funders, and institutions choose to enable green OA as an ‘easy’ alternative to focusing our efforts and resources on driving a transition to immediate access to the VOR, we are condemning ourselves to falling short in achieving full open research at a time when there is evidence of real progress.

Open Access to the Version of Record is growing exponentially 

Open access to the VOR is growing at unprecedented rates. DOAJ now lists more than 15,000 journals and more than 5.3m articles. The ESAC Registry contains information about 125 current transformative agreements in place across 20 countries in Europe, Middle East, Asia and North America. These agreements cover between 3 and 9,500 articles per year, reflecting the diversity of the 33 represented in the database who have committed to making a total of nearly 100,000 articles available per year through these agreements – twice the number that it was last year. An OASPA report published last year showed that members had collectively published more than 350,000 articles under a CC license during the previous year, most of which were CC-BY.

Publishers – of all types and sizes – are committing by their actions as well as their words to a future of open access. Unfunded requirements that deliver an inferior product for all concerned risk undermining and potentially undoing the progress reported here. 

An emphasis on green OA is not constructive 

We are concerned about the growing emphasis on the green route to OA, and how this might establish green as the default at the expense of full OA to the VOR. The Rights Retention Strategy as part of the Plan S approach is argued to be a means of providing OA compliance in subscription journals. Plan S funders state that they support access to the VOR as their preferred approach, however, by giving the immediate green route the same standing and prominence as routes delivering the VOR, the policy risks undermining progress to full OA. This can be seen in the Journal Checker Tool which shows the green option even when gold compliant routes exist.

First, green has never been an ideal route to Open Access. It is wholly reliant upon precisely the model that the OA movement was trying to overturn – namely subscriptions. Driving green OA essentially drives subscription publishing, which we believe is not what Plan S funders are aiming to achieve. Green has been the workaround, not the desired end point. 

Second, the approach of the Rights Retention Strategy erodes the advantages of full OA publishing over green OA. Traditional green policies and practices highlight the advantage of full OA journals over subscription journals; namely, full OA provides immediate access at the point of publication under a CC BY licence to the Version of Record, while the established green route respects embargo periods and typically entails delays in access to an inferior and less reliable version. If mixed model adopt the Rights Retention Strategy, allowing authors to deposit the final version of their work without embargo and under a CC BY licence, this gives authors the opportunity to select subscription journals and the subscription model at the expense of full OA titles. Green becomes “good enough” and compliant at the expense of proper OA to achieve open research more broadly. This “good enough” solution is even more attractive under the current budgetary constraints that the covid-19 pandemic has brought with it. Why spend your research grant money on the cow if you can get the milk for free? 

Third, what incentives do mixed model have to transition their portfolios to full OA and what incentives do institutions have to work with mixed model to develop creative approaches to redirect subscription spending towards OA? Uptake of OA in hybrid journals is likely to wane where the new green approach is applied, slowing the ultimate conversion of these titles to full OA. There is a risk that transformative deals and transformative journals will be negatively impacted if the new green route is adopted. 

For fully OA this too presents a problem; the rise of an ‘easy’ immediate green route to enable open access disincentives funders and other stakeholders to establish and organise the structured funds required to support open access to the version of record. Moreover, where the publishing behaviors of authors were previously being steered toward full OA titles through a growing number of mandates, the Rights Retention Strategy directs authors back to former publishing patterns. 

It may not be the intention of cOAlition S, but the signatories to this post see the Rights Retention Strategy as undermining the progress and commitment we have all made to the OA transition in the recent past. If everyone adopts this new green workaround, rather than pursuing the transition to full OA (VOR under various models), none of us achieve the goal of making open the default.

To conclude

We call upon funders to think very carefully about what they are looking to achieve, and consider whether the policies and strategies that are being put in place are really fit for fulfilling the goal we all share of enabling open access to the VOR. 

We ask funders to recognise the hard work , institutions and funders have done together and the progress we are making. We ask funders not to undermine all that we have achieved, but to support and understand the journey we are all embarking on – and the commitments we have made to reach full OA. 

We are all agreed that a sustainable Open Research model – where information is credible, accessible, linked and searchable in perpetuity, is the ultimate goal. So let us work together on ensuring that this route is financially and technically supported and all our efforts are moving in the same direction, rather than being diverted down conflicting paths. This is a waste of limited resources and detracts from our shared common ambition. 

We now need to work collectively towards a common path to that Open Research future. We stand willing to work collaboratively and constructively with all stakeholders to play our part in making this happen. As part of that collective work, we ask cOAlition S and other funders to devote their full energy and resources to supporting mechanisms that deliver on the full promise of open access to the Version of Record.



Liz Ferguson on behalf of Wiley

Caroline Sutton on behalf of Taylor and Francis

Stuart Taylor on behalf of The Royal Society

Carrie Webster on behalf of Springer-Nature

Emma Wilson on behalf of The Royal Society of Chemistry

Steven Hall on behalf of IOP Publishing

Paul Peters on behalf of Hindawi

Matt Day on behalf of Cambridge University Press

Malavika Legge on behalf of Biochemical Society

David Clark on behalf of Oxford University Press

David Ross on behalf of SAGE


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