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Plan S version 2: the right approach to full open access?


Back in May 2019, cOAlition S released revised guidance on Plan S — following a public consultation — and announced a one-year delay on implementation. Key changes to the guidance included:

  • A shift in focus, from a cap on the cost of publishing in an open access journal, to transparency around publishing costs.
  • Individual hybrid journals can now be deemed ‘transformative’ (until 2024), provided that they have a defined plan and timescale for increasing open access publishing.
  • cOAlition S funders pledged to assess research on its own merits, not on journal prestige, when considering grant applications.
  • In some cases, publication will be permitted under open access licenses more restrictive than CC BY 4.0.

Support and readiness for Plan S has been growing, with Wellcome aligning their open access policy with Plan S, and universities preparing guidance for their researchers. However, the changes to Plan S may not go far enough. In a post for The Scholarly Kitchen, Bernd Pulverer (European Molecular Biology Organization [EMBO]) argues that key concerns have still not been addressed.

Sharing high quality, reproducible research is fundamental to the scientific process. This requires selectivity. Pulverer notes that, to maintain this in an open access model based on author payments, journals must choose between reduced income or increased article processing charges (APCs). Pulverer also raises concerns around the use of a “one-size-fits-all cost cap” per research paper — still referred to as a possibility in the revised guidance. He fears that this could undermine high quality open access publishing, while making less selective open access journals sustainable. However, he encourages the financial transparency called for by Plan S as a means to help the scientific community decide which services are valuable, shaping a publication system that fulfils their needs.

Pulverer emphasises that Plan S is an opportunity for cOAlition S funders to tackle broader issues in scholarly research, pushing for improved reproducibility by mandating data reporting standards and reducing reliance on journal metrics. Pulverer suggests that Plan S could define quality attributes on which journals are audited, including:

These attributes could be used to calculate appropriate per-paper costs, avoiding a universal cap on APCs. Further, Pulverer suggests that journals could compete for funding from cOAlition S members, rewarding journals for implementing progressive policies. Similar ideas have already been proposed, although cOAlition S funders have recently focused on the potential for ‘pure publish’ deals between institutions and publishers after the transition to full open access.

Pulverer urges that we must not lose sight of the bigger picture — supporting “the most useful forms of dissemination at the cost required” — and encourages mechanisms to support high quality publishing that move beyond open access, toward open science.


Summary by Beatrice Tyrrell DPhil from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd

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