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On February 17, 2021, FTI Consulting released the report: “Economic assessment of the impact of the new Open Access policy developed by UK Research and Innovation” (full title) prepared for the Publisher’s Association (PA) of the UK. While we are not setting out to provide an extensive review and analysis of this report, we do want to generally refute the assertion that OA via the UKRI policy is economically damaging, and we’ll provide some references that support this position.
Open Access and Open Research are an opportunity
The FTI/PA report asserts that the impact of the new UKRI policy could lead to a loss in revenue to “UK-based journals” and have a broader negative impact on UK competitiveness, economic growth and position as a “global research hub.” This assessment appears to use impact on traditional publication models as the basis for this conclusion. A problem here, however, is that it is considering the scholarly publishing industry as somehow separate from the broader economic impact of making research open. Previous reports from the PA itself have shown that the link to the economy is much broader than this depiction. The UK’s R&D roadmap clearly embraces open research and rapid open dissemination as not just good for science and health (especially during the current pandemic) but as a core part of “a world-leading system that unlocks innovation and growth throughout all parts of the economy.” Open Access enables this entire ecosystem to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. When coupled with Open Research, it brings the additional benefits of increasing trust in science, ever more important during these difficult times.
Open Research (of which Open Access is one part) offers even greater opportunity both in terms of discovery and economic growth. For example, the European Data Portal’s report on the economic impact of open data identifies the potential for 15.7% growth across a range of sectors – including scientific & technical, communication, transport, finance, health, retail and agriculture – and significant cost savings across the economy. We believe that a focus on Open Research, and all the efficiencies it brings, is worth considering for the UK economy especially in light of the combined impacts of the pandemic and Brexit (whatever one’s position on Brexit is).
Furthermore, Open Access is the fastest growing publishing model. A recent report from the scholarly analytics firm, Dimensions, shows that “in 2020 […]more outputs were published through Open Access channels than traditional subscription channels globally.” The report further show that the majority of the growth in OA is fueled by Gold OA, i.e. OA supported by some kind of business or sustainability model. It is ever more futile, in our opinion, to take such a critical and isolated position against UKRI policy when one can argue that OA is an outcome that will simply continue to happen. It is far more beneficial, as the policy itself proposes, to establish the UK as an early adopter, leader, and beneficiary of OA and its opportunities.
Publishers can and should lead
The benefits of OA, the opportunities created by OA, and the desire for OA by the public and funders like UKRI, are clear. Contrary to Section 4.44 of the report, which mischaracterizes PLOS as publishing “at cost”, it is entirely possible to maintain value for authors, funders, and institutions while operating a sustainable, surplus-generating business model. PLOS believes that publishers globally should be leading the efforts to devise and develop the next generation of business models that are able to support their operations in an Open Access context. This will, of course, require deep, and sometimes difficult, work by transitioning publishers. But we strongly believe this work is not outside the acceptable effort level of conscientious members of the scholarly publishing industry that have been aware of Open Access, and its benefits, for at least the last 20 years.
We would like to thank the UKRI for its efforts to hear from stakeholders in the scholarly publishing community, and beyond, regarding the proposed policy. We understand it is a discussion rife with passionate viewpoints and unseen complexities, and so we would like to ensure that one point is clear: to successfully set up the most efficient, frictionless Open Access ecosystem, we should leverage the existing budgets and infrastructures of scholarly publishing but with OA as the outcome. This way, Open Access is not viewed as a destructive force, or something external and different that traditional publishers are not part of, but simply as the new way to publish and communicate research that all publishers can facilitate.