As Open Access Gains in Acceptance Internationally, the Plan S for its Promotion Can Have Unintended Global Consequences

IBM Research – Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2000, South Africa, April 26, 2017 | © Courtesy of IBM Research/Flickr.
IBM Research – Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2000, South Africa, April 26, 2017 | © Courtesy of IBM Research/Flickr.

In Africa, a growing number of scientific journals, such as Scientific African, operate based on different Open Access models, in recognition of their expected contribution to solving development-related problems, validating the output of local researchers and driving the formation of science-related international partnerships. In this respect, the European Plan S aimed at furthering the adoption of Open Access can reduce the market share of its subscription-based models, such as those of scholarly societies, while creating disincentives for EU-based scholars to publish at international journals that fall outside of the purview of this framework.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

In the African continent and elsewhere, Open Access can assist with the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as scholarly journals based on its different models remove payment-related barriers to knowledge that can be translated into solutions for pressing problems globally, e.g., climate change and environmental sustainability. In industrializing countries, such as Kenya, Open Access can both raise the international visibility and citation rankings of local scholarship and promote the patenting of research-based innovations, facilitate international academia-industry partnerships, such as with Bayer, and augment the ability of scientific organizations to obtain funding from national and international organizations.

At the same time, in the developing world both scientists and their funders are not likely to be able to shoulder article processing charges (APCs) of Open Access journals in the West. This raises the importance of locally oriented scientific journals, such as Elsevier-published Scientific African, with accessible APCs, while making it incumbent upon them to rely on hybrid or subscription-based Open Access models, especially in the absence of external funding, to remain economically viable, despite likely low operations costs.

This situation is similar to that of non-profit scholarly societies around that world that cannot necessarily adopt the Gold Open Access model that relies exclusively on APCs, as the Plan S largely envisions, albeit with qualifications that allow for the combination of Open Access repositories with other publication models. Namely, for scientific societies affected by the Plan S, subscription-based hybrid or Green Open Access models may generate reduced revenue streams. In the framework of the Plan S, the funding from the corresponding Open Access mandates is likely to be primarily flowing toward covering the APCs.

This is expected to further change the incentive configuration in the scholarly publishing market, where, for instance, in the United Kingdom, between 2012 and 2016 the output of Gold Open Access journals rose only from 12.4% to 15.2% respectively, whereas in the same period subscription-based hybrid Open Access journals have shown a more robust growth in the number of articles they publish from 36.2% to 45%, relative to the total number of articles indexed by the Scopus database.

The unintended consequences of the Plan S can also have to do with the conditions of possibility that are likely to be unequally distributed internationally or among different market players, such as among emerging-economy or small-scale journal publishers that complement their relatively low APCs revenues with subscriptions.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: IBM Research – Africa,  University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2000, South Africa, April 26, 2017 | © Courtesy of IBM Research/Flickr.

This post is based on an article that originally appeared in OpenScience, 16/1/2019,


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