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Open Access, Plan S and the future of JNE

Open Access, Plan S and the future of JNE

Author: Sue Thorn, British Society for Neuroendocrinology (BSN) CEO. Sue was previously CEO of the Society for Endocrinology and has many years’ experience of managing learned society journals.

Open access (OA) is nothing new – it’s been around since the late nineties. The two early drivers were saving money (the viability of which is debatable) and that ‘publicly-funded research should be publicly available’. There was a third, unspoken, driver for some people – that publishers should be put out of business and science outputs published in some unspecified, non-profit way that would be less expensive.

How journals are moving towards Open Access

There are now many journals that are fully OA, but most of the long-standing, high-prestige journals adopted a ‘hybrid’ system, whereby access is paid for by libraries, but OA is optional on payment of a fee. This has led to accusations of ‘double-dipping’ or taking money from both sources, although some publishers take steps to avoid this. There are many issues about flipping to full OA. These include review articles (mostly invited, so you can hardly ask them to pay), clinical material, which is often not grant-funded, humanities and social sciences (again, not grant-funded and often cash-starved), and low-income countries, whose researchers would not be able to pay fees and so would be further disadvantaged. There’s no room to go into these in detail here, but it’s important to note them.

Plan S: grant-holders mandate research is published in Open Access journals

Plan S was initiated by the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC) and is also supported by Wellcome and several other funders, but is currently only directly affecting a very small percentage of articles across academic publishing. With effect from January 2021, it mandates publication of research from its grant-holders only in fully OA journals that charge ‘reasonable’ fees. Transitional plans are allowed, but must be working towards full OA by 2025. Two common approaches by publishers are ‘read and publish’ deals, where the university maintains its paid subscriptions and its researchers can publish OA without paying an additional fee; and ‘publish and read’, where the institution (or more often a group of institutions) pays to publish its researchers’ articles and then its researchers and students have access to all content without further payment. Wiley, publisher for Journal of Neuroendocrinology (JNE), has been working hard on negotiating compliant deals and has had quite some success with ‘publish and read’ deals. The biggest of these so far is Projekt DEAL, between Wiley and a group of almost 700 German academic institutions. The consortium will pay the OA fees for all its researchers publishing in Wiley journals and the researchers and students at the consortium’s institutions get free read access to all Wiley journals back to 1997.

Open Access and learned society journals

OA tends to work well for high-volume journals, hence the success of PLOS One, which published anything scientifically valid, irrespective of its perceived value. (Although PLOS One is now not as successful as before and has been losing money.) Learned society journals, including JNE, have typically published small numbers of articles, restricting content to those articles judged by editors and reviewers to be high quality and thus rejecting the majority of submissions. For example, excluding invited material, JNE rejected 59% of submissions in 2019.

Where does this leave JNE and BSN?

Well, we can see from the above that there is a potential tension in the future between academic quality and financial success – or perhaps even financial viability. Given that most of the BSN’s income is derived from JNE, this also has implications for our grant funding and other activities. The BSN Committee have recognised the importance of the current situation and are looking at potential new income sources, whether from publishing or other avenues. There is no immediate risk, and we have plenty of time to develop and test new ideas, but this is a good time to be thinking creatively about the future.