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OPINION ROB JOHNSON


19.10.16 www.thebookseller.com


business model based on author fees rather than subscriptions. Fast-forward 16 years and author fees are now an established part of the publishing landscape. As the transition to OA advances, innovations continue to come thick and fast—and sometimes from unexpected sources. This summer there were significant announcements on


Open for business I


t’s no secret that Open Access (OA) creates challenges and opportunities for publishers. When BioMedCentral launched its first OA journals, it was a start-up with a risky


both sides of the Atlantic. In June, four US philanthropic organisations—the Simons, Sloan, Arnold and Moore foundations—threw their weight behind ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology), which aims to promote the use of pre-publication proof copies in the life sciences. On the heels of this came the Wellcome Trust’s announcement of a new platform to enable its researchers to rapidly publish and share their output. Behind both developments lies frustration with the slow speed of scholarly communication. While funders seem inclined to flex their muscles in the biomedical and life sciences, libraries and researchers are innovating elsewhere. Launched in 2015, the Open Library of the Humanities (OLH) uses a consortial funding model to spread the cost of OA publishing across libraries worldwide. Though the defection of Lingua’s editorial board to OLH from Elsevier last year garnered the most headlines, OLH continues to add new titles. With its recent announcement that it will consider new applications only from existing subscription journals, OLH’s determination to make flipping to OA a viable option is clear. What these initiatives have in common is a willingness to challenge the status quo. Robert Kiley, Wellcome’s head of digital services, stresses that encouraging “disruptive innovation” in scholarly communication is a key to improving the way research is communicated. Meanwhile, OLH’s co-founder, Professor Martin Eve, thinks OLH “poses a distinct threat to various types of publishers because we have a zero price-point on article processing charges [APCs]. You don’t ever have to pay to publish in one of our journals”.


A ZERO-SUM GAME The temptation is to dismiss these developments as fringe players in the billion-dollar world of scholarly publishing. Analyst Outsell estimates that OA accounted for only 1.1% of the total STM market in 2014. But OA revenues are growing faster than subscriptions, and funders and institutions are diverting funds into publishing initiatives that won’t show up as either subscriptions or APCs. At some point the circle will need to be squared—the system has only so much money. The question is who loses out when the reckoning occurs.


Open Access models are rapidly changing, argues Rob Johnson, and academic publishers need to react quickly—or risk being supplanted . . .


Eve argues that policymakers’ interventionist approach


to publishing is creating opportunities that did not exist a few years ago. Citing the European Commission’s recent commitment to OA by 2020, he notes that EC budget-holders are under pressure to deliver the greatest OA bang for taxpayers’ buck. “Alternative projects that have different funding models or low APCs stand to benefit disproportionately under that kind of fiscal regime,” he concludes. How, then, can publishers respond to these developments?


“First, by continuing to streamline the service provided to authors, trialling new models of peer review, and accommodating the emergence of data and other outputs as first-class research objects. If publishers can’t offer rapid, seamless APC-based publishing solutions, the risk is that funder- led or consortial models will step into the breach. Second, by recognising that their expertise remains indispensable, regardless of the business model adopted. It’s no coincidence that Wellcome has partnered with F1000 Research to develop its new platform, or that OLH is built on Ubiquity Press’ offering. As Phill Jones, director of publishing innovation at Digital Science, observes: “This is an opportunity for publishers to increase their service types and partnerships so they can offer better support to their communities of authors and readers.” Yet Jones believes greater involvement from funders, libraries


and researchers is healthy for the industry: “Stakeholders need to be engaged in the conversation; more people with a legitimate interest in scholarly communication are now involved in driving science forward.” Apparently, openness is the best response to the emergence of this new breed of OA publisher. 


Rob Johnson is the founder and director of Nottingham-based Research Consulting.


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