Last year my colleague Lorraine Estelle blogged about how we've unpicked the full cost of publishing in open access (OA). She reported a sharp increase in article processing charges (APCs) from UK universities’ central funds, particularly over the previous two years.
Modelling the true cost of publishing in open access
Lorraine also described our work on modelling and how much it really costs universities to comply with open access policies. During the course of that work it emerged that, even back in 2013, APCs represented an average of 10% of the cost of publication, with administration of those charges adding more to the total figure.
And so, working with a mandate from Research Libraries UK (RLUK), the Russell Group, the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL), and Universities UK (UUK), and in response to an open letter from David Willetts at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), we asked publishers of hybrid journals to work with us on developing offsetting systems.
We asked publishers of hybrid journals to work with us on developing offset systems
These are the subscription journals in which some articles are open access because their author or their institution has paid an APC, and we had some early successes, developing various offset systems with several major publishers, each one designed to offset the cost of the university’s APCs against their subscription fees.
Urgency in the air
Now there is a real sense of urgency in the air as the number of open access articles being published by UK institutions in hybrid journals continues to build. Many UK institutions, especially the most research-intensive ones, are seeing their total cost of publication continue to mount as they increasingly find themselves paying APCs for articles in journals to which they also subscribe.
Over the last four months we have made further strides towards a practical solution. We have worked proactively with even more leading journal publishers to develop offsetting systems that will reduce OA publishing costs for HEIs. So far, each version has been different as it's not been a simple case of a standardised solution to suit all.
We’ll continue to work with our customers and the publishers to monitor progress and evaluate how the offset helps
We’ll continue to work with our customers and the publishers themselves to monitor progress and evaluate how the offset helps, financially and practically. All parties are keen to ensure that publishers are not paid twice but it’s equally important to make sure that any new systems do not add costs elsewhere by being time-consuming to administer. For example, one institution recently reported that completing each APC transaction takes (on average) between three and four hours.
More journal publishers are keen to introduce offsetting systems so we have just published new guidelines, ‘Principles for Offset Agreements’. It sets out the five principles which UK HEIs expect will drive the design of effective offset systems, along with a clear rationale for each, explaining how they will support a managed transition to fully gold open access in the spirit set out in the Finch Report.
Work in progress
This is such a new and fast-developing area that some of the offset systems already in play will almost certainly need tweaks and refinements. To help those publishers as well as others for who this is completely new ground, we have included insights from university library directors explaining the attributes of offsetting systems that will help with the transition to open access, and with the key issues of affordability, transparency and administrative simplicity.
The information in Principles for Offset Agreements is not set in stone - it will be refined and updated as we gather data on the effectiveness of each offsetting model to enable the models themselves to be re-shaped and improved.
But I would urge publishers not to wait for a perfect system to emerge. It is important to make a start on developing a workable offsetting system now; to take a look at the five principles and make a start on reducing the unsustainable increase in publishing costs that UK HEIs currently face.