Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Open Access: “Information wants to be free”?

(A print version of this eBook is available here)

Earlier this year I was invited to discuss with Georgia Institute of Technology librarian Fred Rascoe my eBook “Open access: Could defeat be snatched from the jaws of victory?” for Lost in the Stacks, the research library rock and roll show he hosts. 

Prior to the interview, Rascoe sent me a list of questions. As we did not have time to discuss them all during the interview, I decided to publish my answers on my blog. With the greater space available I also took the opportunity to expatiate at considerable length in doing so. This turned into another eBook!

Please note that what I say in the attached document is built on an interview. It is not intended to be any kind of prediction of the future; it is more an extended reflection after 20 years reporting on the OA movement, coupled with a heavy dose of speculation. Who knows, perhaps this will be the last thing I ever write on open access. Maybe this will prove my swan song.

I would also like to stress upfront that in the critique of the OA movement I make I don’t claim that my knowledge, or predictions, are superior to anyone else’s. This is just what I have concluded after many years observing the movement and reflects my current view on where I think we are today. It does also include a lot of factual data, as well as links and footnotes for those who like them. 

Importantly, while I do not consider myself to be an OA advocate, I admit that I was as naïve as anyone else about what the movement might be able to achieve.

Finally, while what I say might be slightly overweight in European developments, it may not matter if (as I believe is possible) events in Europe end up determining how open access develops globally. 

I say this because it seems possible that European OA initiatives will reconfigure the international scholarly communication system, and in ways that OA advocates will not be comfortable with. 

I would add that the main focus is on science publishing rather than HSS. 

The eBook can be downloaded here. (Health warning: it is 163 pages long). 

A short review of the eBook has been posted on Reddit here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Community Action Publishing: Broadening the Pool

We are today seeing growing dissatisfaction with the pay-to-publish model for open access. As this requires authors (or their funders or institutions) to pay an article-processing charge every time they publish a paper it is felt to be discriminatory, especially for non-funded researchers and those based in the Global South  (see, for instance, here, here and here).

PLOS' Sara Rouhi

As a result, various alternative approaches are emerging intended to move away from APCs, including crowdfunding and membership schemes. Here institutions are asked to commit to paying an annual fee to a publisher, with the aim of pooling sufficient funds to cover the costs of making all the papers in a journal open access.

One of the more successful implementations of this model is the Open Library of Humanities (OLH), which has operated what it calls its Library Partnership Subsidies scheme since 2015.

Clearly, if the costs of the annual fee are to be viewed as reasonable by those asked to take part a sufficient number of institutions need to sign up.

The inherent weakness of the model is that a small group of community-minded institutions could end up paying all a publisher’s costs and everyone else would be able to “free ride”. In effect, those who join a membership scheme could end up shouldering the costs for everyone to have free access.

A key question is how many universities are willing to join an OA membership scheme. OLH co-founder Martin Eve has estimated that there are only around 300 libraries who will do so.

Nevertheless, we should not doubt that there is a real wish to move beyond APCs and many have come to believe that membership schemes are the best way of doing this. To be successful, however, they will need to broaden the pool of those willing to take part.

Annual Flat Fee

With this aim in mind, in October the Public Library of Science (PLOS) launched what it calls its Community Action Publishing (CAP) initiative for its two selective journals PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine. The hope is that the journals can be gradually moved away from having to charge APCs and that the publishing costs can be shared as widely as possible.

Specifically, PLOS is inviting universities to pay an annual flat fee that will give their faculty unlimited publishing opportunities in the journals (there are separate “communities” for each journal) without the need to pay an APC each time. However, authors of institutions who do not join the scheme will be charged a non-member fee (NMF) that will increase in price over time, as below.

The rising cost of the NMF is intended to encourage universities who have not joined to do so in order to avoid their faculty having to pay to publish.

PLOS hopes that the annual fees will be low enough to attract a sufficient number of institutions but that the pooled funds will eventually be adequate to meet all the costs of publishing the journals. In the interim, the NMF means that there will be two separate revenue streams coming in and the free riding issue will be avoided.

The hope is that the NMF can be discontinued when the pilot period ends (it lasts from 2021 until 2023). However, says PLOS Director of Strategic Partnerships Sara Rouhi, that will be dependent on all the large institutions that PLOS is targeting joining the scheme. “If we don’t have a stable membership by then, we might have to offset lack of participation with more NMFs”, she told me. 


The annual fee institutions will be asked to pay will be calculated by looking at their faculty’s publishing activity between 2014 and Q3 2019. Based on that they will then be assigned to a fee tier, as below.

To help broaden the pool, the annual fee will be calculated on the publishing activity not just of the institution’s corresponding authors, but of their contributing authors too. The aim is to ensure that “the cost of publishing is distributed more equitably among representative institutions.”

In other words, PLOS will calculate how often during the historical publishing activity period an institution was associated with both corresponding and contributing authors and then assign a weighting to each type of author. Specifically, contributing-author articles will be weighted at half that of corresponding authors.

As the PLOS FAQ explains: “Publishing activity is counted by determining the number of times an institution was associated with a corresponding author and the number of times an institution was associated with contributing authors. Papers where the institution is affiliated with the corresponding authors are weighted as 1 article and papers where the institution is affiliated with the contributing author are weighted as ½ article. (Multiple contributing authors from the same institutions are counted only once).”

Universities whose faculty have never published in the journals can also opt to pay the tier’s lowest fee in order to “insure” themselves against the possibility that one or more of their faculty might publish in the journal within the time period of the scheme (Jan 1st 2021 –  Dec 31st 2023).

In addition, says PLOS, Research4Life countries are automatically members of each community so researchers in those countries will never be subject to fees. And authors unable to pay non-member fees can apply for waivers as per the standard fee-waiver mechanisms offered by PLOS.

To signal its own commitment to the community PLOS has set targets for each journal and will cap its margin at 10%. Revenue exceeding the community targets will go back to members at renewal.

Time will tell how successful the scheme will be in broadening the pool beyond the 300 libraries who normally join OA membership schemes. Certainly, the challenge will be that much greater given that it is being launched at a time when many libraries are signing expensive transformative agreements with legacy publishers and universities are facing the financial impact of the pandemic. Some have also suggested that, as selective journals, PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine do not publish a sufficient number of papers to make it worthwhile for many institutions to participate.

My initial thought was that PLOS will be targeting three separate types of institution (corresponding-author institutions, contributing-author institutions, and “insurance” institutions). Sara Rouhi suggests that this is not the way to view it. Below is an exchange I had with her.


RP: I understand the PLOS Community Action initiative will target 3 types of institution:

1.       Corresponding-author institutions.


2.       Contributing-author institutions.

3.        Insurance institutions (those institutions whose researchers don’t currently publish with the PLOS journals but who might want to insure against the possibility that one of their researchers will do in the future).

I guess there will be some overlap between 1 and 2 but I assume you will have done some calculations on the numbers of potential institutions for each category. If so, can you share them with me?

SR: While we initially grouped institutions this way, libraries and consortia consistently fed back to us that this was more complicated/confusing than it needed to be. So rather than think of different types of “institutions,” it’s easier to think of different publishing activity “types” – publishing as a lead author, publishing as a contributing author, or publishing with affiliations in both designations.

Given the selectivity and niche of these journals, some research-intensive universities publish little to not-at-all, and smaller institutions publish more frequently as lead authors. Simplifying the participation criterion to just publishing activity elides the traditional distinction of “research intensive” vs. “teaching” institutions etc.

I don’t want to add further confusion by grouping institutions as you’ve indicated. We purposely eliminated this distinction for clarity.

RP: Ok. I ask this question in the context of Martin Eve’s estimate that there are only 300 libraries that will support OA membership schemes. (I should add that he said this in the context of a new initiative from COPIM that aims [like PLOS] to “broaden the pool” of universities willing to join a membership scheme).

SR: As you say, Martin Eve identified about 300 libraries that will support OA membership schemes. There’s some nuance worth flagging, however. 

The TL;DR is that Martin’s statement is true if you assume institutions that are participating for largely altruistic reasons – because it’s the “right thing to do.” The PLOS CAP model couldn’t be predicated on that as a buying motivation. So it helps to go back to “collective action” basics. Credit to Dr. Kamran Naim for elucidating this at the Basel Sustainable Publishing Forum last week.

For collective action schemes to work there are generally two levers you can pull: 


1.       Encourage “pro-collective” behaviour by leveraging group affinity and social incentives


2.       Appeal to economic self-interest (aka “private benefit”)

From my perspective, SCOAP 3 and OLH lean heavily on the first lever. Participating in them is the “right” thing to do so libraries support them.

The challenge with only pulling on this lever is sustainability over time. SCOAP3 relies heavily on CERN’s ongoing support and has the challenge of large beneficiaries like Russia, Brazil and India not participating while benefitting from the open content.

OLH memberships are very small financial commitments that maintain OLH but make growth of the program difficult. Martin talked about this on a webinar we did for UKSG earlier in the year.

A collective model that focuses primarily on the second lever is Subscribe2Open. The primary benefit is getting the community to agree to make content open in exchange for a discount. If all members do not opt-in, the content stays behind a paywall. The combination of a private benefit (the discount) with the public good (making the content open) is a strong motivator for participation and a big part of why the model is so successful.

PLOS Community Action Publishing attempts to pull both levers. The pro-collective/group affinity/social incentives relates to the moral imperative – especially in a time of pandemic – to make biomedical research open to read and open to publish. Jeff Kosokoff’s comment that “Open Access is social justice,” speaks to this. Indeed, we have many commitments based on this mission-aligned priority for libraries. However what has interested partners from mere interest to actual commitment is the equitable fee structure (and relative affordability given the current budget crisis).

That said, without including appeals to economic self-interest, the PLOS CAP model would suffer from the same sustainability issues as other collectives. Hence our implementation of a secondary, “back up” revenue stream – non-member fees (NMFs) for authors from non-CAP members.

These NFMs are not meant to penalize authors but rather to encourage libraries to join rather than expose their authors to fees. For many institutions, the NMFs per article will be higher than the annual fee the library would pay to join one or both collectives.


The NMFs help offset slow uptake of institutions who are not able to find the funds to support a model like this immediately. Thanks to those fees coming in, libraries can take more time to join and we can offer flexibility for institutions that need to leave the collective.

There are several benefits to this:

Enlarging the pool of institutions that would participate in this collective gives us the flexibility to create a much finer tuned fee structure with a long tail of low dollar fee tiers to accommodate institutions that do not publish frequently in either journal.

Those low fee tiers allow institutions strapped for funds and/or infrequent publishing institutions to participate because they support the moral imperative of equity and inclusivity that the model promotes. It simply doesn’t cost them that much to “do the right thing.”

Research intensive institutions then derive benefit from the “research light” institutions participating since they offset some of the cost burden. More institutions of varying publishing intensity means lower fees for everyone.

So, Martin is right if you’re counting only relatively wealthy institutions that want to do the “right thing.” If you start adding other considerations, especially private benefits (aka, we don’t want our authors to see non-member fees) and recognition of contributing author affiliations, you get a much larger pool and set of incentives to motivate ongoing participation.


As for our target institutions:

For PLOS Medicine there are 909 total institutions with some publishing history (some combination of lead and co-author affiliations) in the time period we evaluated.

44 of those are in Tiers 1-4

80 are in Tiers 5-7

The remainder are in Tiers 8-12

For PLOS Biology there are 1,557 total institutions with some publishing history (some combination of lead and co-author affiliations) in the time period we evaluated.

45 are in Tiers 1-5

152 are in Tiers 6-8

The remainder are in Tiers 9-12 

As I say, I wouldn’t necessarily correlate rough groupings of similar institutions as “corresponding author institutions, contributing author institutions, and insurance institutions” especially since it does not include the thousands of organisations with no publishing history who might want to participate. 

However, it’s probably fair to say that the highest tiers have institutions that published a lot in both designations. The middle tiers were a combination but at lower volume, and the lowest tiers were low volume and mostly in the contributing author designation.


RP: In a webinar you gave in September you said that if transformative agreements flourish there probably won’t be sufficient money left in library budgets to support schemes like PLOS Community Action. How big a threat do you think there is here?

SR: This, of course, comes down to how you define “transformative agreements.” If you mean the standard RAP/PAR deals that integrate historic subscriptions with open access publishing that stays revenue neutral, then yes. If these are negotiated with large commercial publishers first, we’re looking at new kind of “big deal” that locks in library monies with subscription publishers of hybrid open-access journals. Non-profits, small societies, and native-OA publishers may very well not make it out the other side of this transition (especially if “read” institutions’ subscription monies exit the system).

It’s hard to know how big the threat is as it ultimately comes down to choices libraries make. Many appear to be balancing both imperatives – looking at where they publish and spend the most and evaluating how mission aligned those outlets are. It’s not easy.

RP: So, what are your expectations about the choices that libraries will make with regard to the PLOS Collective Action Publishing scheme?

SR: It’s totally dependent on region, funding structures (block grants in UK versus how the US does it) and how radical libraries want to be about cancelation and re-negotiations.

I have personally been overwhelmed by the number of cash strapped organisations that are pushing to support this model and find the money.

The December commitment update will tell the tale!

RP: Thank you. And good luck!




Thursday, July 30, 2020

Unbundling the Big Deal: An interview with SUNY’s Shannon Pritting

The Big Deal has been a topic of heated discussion among librarians for some twenty or more years now. When first introduced, the attraction of the Big Deal was immediately obvious, since it allows a library to buy its faculty access to most, if not all, of a publisher’s journals at a much lower “cost per article” (discounted) rate. From the start, however, there were doubters.

Shannon Pritting

In 2001, the Director of Libraries at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Kenneth Frazier, warned the library community of the dangers of signing big deals, or any comprehensive licensing agreement, with commercial publishers.

“The current generation of library directors is engaged in a dangerous ‘game’ in which short-term institutional benefits are achieved at the long-term expense of the academic community,” he warned, adding that big deals would weaken libraries’ ability to manage their journal collections, foist on them journals they “neither need nor want” and increase their dependence on publishers “who have already shown their determination to monopolize the information marketplace.”

Nevertheless, many libraries did sign big deals. And many later regretted it, not least because, having done so, they felt they had no choice but to keep renewing the contract, even as the cost kept going up and devoured more and more of their budget. 

Libraries felt trapped, conscious that if they did not renew they would have to go back to subscribing to individual journals at list price, which would mean being able to afford access to fewer journals, and fearful that when they discovered that journals they wanted were no longer available, faculty would revolt.

Over time, however, a greater willingness to think the unthinkable emerged, and some libraries began to cancel their big deals. And when they did so the sky did not fall in – which allowed other libraries to take heart.

The list maintained here suggests that libraries began cancelling their big deals as long ago as 2008, but the number doing so has been accelerating in the last few years. What has really focussed minds are the recent decisions by both the University of California and MIT to walk away from their negotiations with Elsevier rather than renew their big deals.

But it is not necessary to walk away completely in the way UC and MIT have done. Instead, libraries can “unbundle” their Big Deal by replacing the large package of several thousand journals they are subscribed to with a small à la carte bundle of a few hundred journals, and in the process save themselves a great deal of money.

What is helping libraries to make the decision to unbundle is the knowledge that more and more research is becoming available on an open access basis. In addition, new tools like Unsub are available to advise them on which journals they can cancel without too great an impact, and which journals are essential and so should be retained. 

Given the big savings that can be realised, and the pressure library budgets are under, unbundling is expected to grow, particularly in light of the straitened circumstances that libraries will find themselves in after the pandemic.

This year a number of US universities have unbundled in favour of smaller packages of journals, including UNC Chapel Hill, Iowa State University and the State University of New York (SUNY) -- a system of 64 institutions. Coming in the wake of UC’s decision to walk away from Elsevier these little deals have attracted a lot of attention. 

In Europe, by contrast, there is a greater focus right no on signing transformative agreements. In addition to providing reading rights, these new-style big deals include prepaid publishing rights to allow faculty to publish their articles on an open access basis. Amongst other things, these deals help assuage concerns about double dipping (where a university may end up paying both article-processing charges and subscriptions for the same journals). 

So how is a decision to unbundle made, and what are the issues and implications of making the decision? To get a clearer picture I spoke recently by email with Shannon Pritting, Shared Library Services Platform Project Director at SUNY. In April, SUNY replaced its Big Deal of 2,200 journals with Elsevier with a “little deal” of just 248 journals. By doing so, it says, it has saved about $7 million.

Unbundling raises a lot of questions, and I suspect we may not have answers to all of the questions for some time.

For instance, as more and more universities unbundle, how accurate will the calculations informing the decisions about which journals to give up and which to keep prove to be over time? This could have implications for, amongst other things, how much of the money that has been saved will need to be spent on obtaining paywalled articles through Interlibrary Loan (ILL) and document delivery services.

Moreover, since unbundling appears currently to be mainly a US thing (with Europe favouring transformative agreements) might we see a geographical divide emerge? If we do, what might the implications of this be, especially for the open access movement?

In addition, might unbundling encourage more researchers to use illegal services like Sci-Hub, and might unbundling see university libraries marginalised to some extent, especially if they do not play an active role in funding open access?

Please read on for the interview. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

PLOS CEO Alison Mudditt discusses new OA agreement with the University of California

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) and the University of California (UC) have today announced a two-year agreement designed to make it easier and more affordable for UC researchers to publish in the non-profit open-access publisher’s suite of seven journals.

Under the agreement – which is planned to go into effect this Spring – UC Libraries will automatically pay the first $1,000 of the article processing charge (APC) incurred when UC authors choose to publish in a PLOS journal.

Authors who do not have research funds available can request UC Libraries pay the full APC fee. The aim is to ensure that lack of research funds does not present a barrier for UC authors wishing to publish with PLOS.

The pilot is intended to test whether an institutional participation model that leverages multiple funding sources, rather than only grant funds, can provide a sustainable and inclusive path to full open access.

Below PLOS CEO Alison Mudditt discusses the new agreement and addresses some of the issues that the current trend for universities and consortia to sign so-called transformative agreements with legacy publishers raises for native open-access publishers like PLOS.

The interview begins …

Alison Mudditt
RP: The PLOS/UC agreement is essentially the same deal as UC signed with JMIR Publications in January. Is that correct?

AM: Essentially yes. UC has made their priorities for these agreements clear, so most UC deals will be very similar.

In addition, we are generating custom reporting for the UC to help them evaluate the efficacy of the pilot in bringing new authors to open access publishing while maintaining existing funding streams.

RP: Would I be right in thinking that these deals are native open-access publishers’ response to the transformative agreements that legacy publishers have been signing with universities and consortia like Project DEAL?

AM: While we can only speak on behalf of PLOS, this is certainly one of the drivers for us. We think that there is a significant opportunity for institutions and funders to prioritize partnerships with native OA publishers who stand fully aligned with their OA objectives.

We have been reassured by the commitment from institutions and consortia not to sideline negotiations with (and thereby disadvantage) native OA publishers.

RP: How many articles do you envisage UC faculty publishing with PLOS during the two-year period of the agreement?

AM: If we base it on previous years, then around 600-800 articles.

RP: How many articles a year do UC faculty currently publish with PLOS?

AM: Around 300 per year, across the seven journals.

RP: As I understand it, the agreement means that UC faculty will be able to publish in any PLOS journal and the first $1,000 will be paid by UC libraries. If the researcher has access to no research funds s/he can request full funding from the libraries. Is there any maximum sum agreed with UC libraries such that the funds could run out before the pilot ends?

AM: Yes, we have agreed to a capped total spend of $1.5M USD over the two-year period. This cap reflects library spend plus grant funding declared by authors.

Once that spending cap is reached, PLOS has committed to cover the cost of additional UC publications (assuming UC authors continue to faithfully declare their existing grant funding, a two year spend is most likely to fall between $1.2M and $1.25M).

$1.5M would demonstrate an unprecedented increase in publications from the UC – but of course, a key unknown is the level of demand once the barrier of APCs is removed.

If for some reason, we reach this cap earlier in the agreement period than expected (if at all), we have agreed to good faith renegotiations to ensure that both PLOS and the UC are protected from unanticipated surges in cost.

RP: Will the details of the agreement be published?

AM: Yes – as are all of the UC agreements.

RP: PLOS has an Institutional Account Program, of which I do not think UC is currently a participant. What is the difference between the agreement announced today and UC simply signing up to become a participant of the IAP?

AM: The Institutional Account Program is a simple direct billing program meant to minimize administrative overhead of APCs either through pay-as-you-go monthly invoices or debiting from a standalone account. While useful for mitigating administrative costs, it is not an OA deal, or transformative, in and of itself.

This new deal enables the UC to allow grants to cover APCs when they exist, so they can focus their support on where it is needed most (i.e. where authors do not have the grant funds). It introduces an organized, multiple-payer model of OA, which we think is important to test out.

And it meets our primary goals with new business models of ensuring that any author who wants to can publish with PLOS, regardless of ability to pay an APC.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Open access: Could defeat be snatched from the jaws of victory?

(A print version of this eBook is available here

When news broke early in 2019 that the University of California had walked away from licensing negotiations with the world’s largest scholarly publisher (Elsevier), a wave of triumphalism spread through the OA Twittersphere. 

The talks had collapsed because of Elseviers failure to offer UC what it demanded: a new-style Big Deal in which the university got access to all of Elsevier’s paywalled content plus OA publishing rights for all UC authors – what UC refers to as a “Read and Publish” agreement. In addition, UC wanted Elsevier to provide this at a reduced cost. Given its size and influence, UC’s decision was hailed as “a shot heard around the academic world”. 

The news had added piquancy coming as it did in the wake of a radical new European OA initiative called Plan S. Proposed in 2018 by a group of European funders calling themselves cOAlition S, the aim of Plan S is to make all publicly funded research open access by 2021. 

Buoyed up by these two developments open access advocates concluded that – 17 years after the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) – the goal of universal (or near-universal) open access is finally within reach. Or as the Berkeley librarian who led the UC negotiations put it, “a tipping point” has been reached. But could defeat be snatched from the jaws of success?

For my take on this topic please download the attached pdf

Please note that this document is more eBook than essay. It is very long. I know, I know, people will complain, but that is what I do. 

Any brave soul willing to give it a go but who (like me) does not like to read long documents on the screen may like to print it out as a folded book. I have long used the Blue Squirrel software ClickBook to do this. Alternatively, you can print booklets directly from word processing software like Word, and I am happy to send over a Word file to anyone who would like to do that

Meanwhile, the eBook is available as a pdf file here.

Rick Anderson has published a summary of and commentary on this eBook on The Scholarly Kitchen here

A second post on The Scholarly Kitchen referencing this eBook was posted 10 days later here

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The OA Interviews: K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India

India has announced that it will not, after all, be joining cOAlition S. Instead it will focus on developing an open-access solution better suited to its needs. What has changed?

Last year a group of European research funders calling themselves cOAlition S launched a radical new open-access initiative dubbed Plan S. The aim: to ensure that all research papers resulting from work they fund are made immediately freely available on the internet.

Plan S has been controversial, not least because its principles outlaw** the use of hybrid OA (although a transition period is permitted if time-limited “transformative arrangements” are put in place). By banning** hybrid OA, some researchers have complained, cOAlition S is effectively telling them where they can and cannot publish. This they believe to be an infringement of their academic freedom.

For their part, publishers worry that the plan is being introduced too quickly and has not been thought through properly. As a result, some say, it could have “serious unintended consequences for the integrity of the scientific literature”. And while the initial start date for Plan S has been extended from 2020 to 2021, there continue to be concerns that the timescale is too aggressive.

More importantly, while the Plan S implementation guidelines permit open access to be provided by publishing in open access journals, on open access platforms, or by depositing papers in a repository without embargo, most believe that the practical outcome of the initiative will be a near-universal pay-to-publish environment in which the main beneficiaries will be the publishing oligopoly, not the research community. Essentially, say critics, courtesy of new-style Big Deals (aka “transformative agreements”) commercial publishers will be able to continue profiting excessively by migrating their current exorbitant profits to the new OA environment.

How successful has Plan S been? On launch cOAlition S consisted of 11 funders. Today that number is still just 23. Significantly, the coalition has failed to persuade public funders in the US or China to join (these two countries are the largest publishers of research papers in the world). At the same time, it has lost members: the Swedish funder Riksbankens Jubileumsfond pulled out in June, and the Italian funder Compagnia di San Paolo left cOAlition S in August. On the other hand, some believe that Plan S has so alarmed publishers that the coalition has already achieved its objective (depending on what one believes the objective to be).  

It is, however, clearly problematic that cOAlition S has remained an essentially European initiative. For this reason when, in February, the Indian Government’s Principal Scientific Adviser, Professor VijayRaghavan posted a series of tweets saying that India was joining cOAlition S the news was greeted with great excitement by cOAlition S membersas well as by Plan S supporters like the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas.

The news was greeted with less enthusiasm back home in India, with concerns raised about the cost implications, the likely impact on small journals and publishers, and the way in which it would allow commercial publishers to continue to profit excessively from the research community – see, for instance, here, here and here.

Following Prof. VijayRaghavan’s tweets, however, radio silence set in, with no confirmation that India had formally joined, or any updates on the status of its plans. For this reason many ears pricked up last Friday when, during a lecture he gave at IISc Bangalore to mark Open Access Week, Prof. VijayRaghavan commented, “We are not committed to whatever Plan S does or does not do.” This sufficiently piqued the interest of Vasudevan Mukunth that he sought out Prof. VijayRaghavan and asked for clarification, which led to an interview in The Wire where it was confirmed that India no longer plans to join cOAlition S.

As I had been trying to interview Prof. VijayRaghavan for some months, I too was piqued by his comments and so took to Twitter to again invite him to answer the questions I had sent him in June. He agreed and below are his answers to an updated list of questions I emailed over to him.

Monday, August 05, 2019

The Open Access Interviews: Edith Hall

Open access to research papers in STM journals has always been a controversial topic. When the focus shifts to humanities research, and to monographs, the temperature rises still further – as evidenced by this emotionally charged post by OA advocate Martin Eve in response to a British Academy document on the European OA initiative Plan S.  
Image from Edith Hall's new book *

Why is open access so contentious? In large part, I think, because although OA began as a bottom-up revolution it was never widely embraced by researchers. However, OA advocates managed to persuade governments, funders and institutions that their colleagues should be compelled to embrace open access. This has seen a series of ever more stringent OA mandates being imposed on researchers, increasing the bureaucratic burden on them (amongst other things).

Monographs are a particularly contested area because of their length, their narrative form, and the licensing issues that this raises.

It has not helped that OA advocates promised open access would reduce the costs of scholarly communication. In reality, costs have risen.

This last point is particularly troublesome in the UK context as OA policies have been introduced without providing the necessary funding to support them. As a result, researchers can discover that they have been mandated to make their work open access but cannot afford to pay the article-processing charge (APC) needed if they want to satisfy the government’s preference for gold OA.

This has been a challenge even for researchers at wealthy and prestigious institutions. Last year, for instance, Oxford University library had to inform faculty that its OA fund had been exhausted and so they should delay submitting to journals until it had been replenished. 

At the same time, the bureaucracy surrounding OA compliance has become so complex that universities have had to recruit legions of support staff to interpret and manage the escalating number of policies (some of which have proved contradictory). Indeed, such is the complexity now that even specialist support staff can struggle to decode the rules.

In short, the UK OA policy environment is far too complex, and it is seriously underfunded. For researchers, this is frustrating and depressing.

No one knows this better than Edith Hall, a professor of Classics at King’s College London. (Full disclosure: Edith and I are co-parents).

Free for all

Given the topic of her new book – co-authored with colleague Henry Stead – Hall felt it really important that it be freely available for anyone to read. The book’s theme is the historic exclusion of the poor from education in the Greek and Roman Classics. To not make her work open access, Hall felt, would be an act of hypocrisy.

Moreover, since the organisation that funded the research in the book – The Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) – has had an open access policy in place since 2005 it seemed the correct thing to do.

AHRC was until recently one of the funding bodies of the umbrella organisation Research Councils UK (RCUK), which itself has had an open access policy in place since 2012. RCUK’s role has now moved to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which has inherited both the RCUK policy and the 2014 OA policy of the Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE). HEFCE manages the Research Excellence Framework and the future funding of Hall’s department depends on her and her colleagues submitting their work for REF assessment.

In other words, Hall’s work is subject to several different OA policies, all of which were introduced with the aim of making publicly funded research open access.  

True, only research papers have to be made open access on a mandatory basis today, but all the UK policies recommend and actively encourage researchers to make their monographs open access as well. As the Guidance on Submissions for REF 2021 puts it, “The funding bodies [also] encourage institutions to take a proportionate view of the costs and benefits of making other types of outputs (including monographs) available as open access.”

Complexity aside, the problem these policies face is that they were introduced on the assumption that open access would be less costly than traditional methods, or at least cost neutral. As noted, this has not proved the case. In fact, it was only after it had introduced its OA policy that RCUK realised it had imposed a significant new cost burden on UK universities. In 2013, therefore, it had to provide additional funding to research-intensive universities like King’s in order for them to comply, in the form of annual block grants to pay for APCs. At the time, it was assumed that this would only need to be a temporary measure, but the money has had to be paid ever since. (King’s 2019/2020 block grant is £686,560).

Keen to make her work open access, conscious that OA is now a UK priority, and aware that funding is available to help pay for open access, Hall contacted Research Support at King’s (which manages the RCUK block grant) to ask if they could contribute to the Book Processing Charge (BPC) she would need to pay to make her book OA.

To her joy, Research Support replied that they would be happy to fund the full cost of making the book OA (£10,000). Explaining why they were providing the money, Research Support cited the RCUK Policy on Open Access. Although RCUK’s open access policy does not require mandatory OA for monographs or books, they said, it does encourage “authors of such material to consider making them Open Access where possible.”

In addition, they said, the RCUK policy states that research organisations “may use the block grant in the manner they consider will best deliver the RCUK Policy on Open Access, as long as the primary purpose to support the payment of APCs is fulfilled.”

Confident that the funding was now in place to make their book OA, Hall and Stead signed an open access agreement with Routledge/Taylor & Francis (RTF) and began writing up their research. When the books text was finally accepted by RFT Hall emailed Research Support to ask where the publisher should send its invoice.

Research Support replied, however, that as too many calls are now being made on the block grant, they could no longer honour their commitment to pay. When Hall questioned this change of heart, she was informed that – contrary to what Research Support had told her at the time she applied for the subvention – it was not actually permitted to use money from RCUK block grants to pay BPCs.

Alarmed that if it did not go into production immediately their book would not be published in time to be eligible for the all-important 2021 REF, Hall and Stead concluded they had no choice but to ask RTF to rewrite the contract along traditional lines and accept that their book would not be open access after all.

Wider significance?

Hall’s experience has been demoralising and frustrating. But does it have any wider significance? I think so.

Let’s recall that when the open access movement was founded – at the meeting of the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) – the resulting declaration stated (inter alia) that:

“Removing access barriers to [the scholarly] literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”

This democratic, upbeat vision is a far cry from the expensive, oppressive and bureaucratic environment that surrounds open access in the UK today. And one can reasonably assume that many other UK researchers have been experiencing similar frustrations to Hall. This can only alienate them from the practice and principles of open access, and so delay the transformation to OA the UK government wants to see.

There is, however, a larger and more pressing question we have to ask: Is the open access strategy currently being pursued in the UK affordable, particularly as the government focuses its attention on monographs?

Clearly driven by settled policy rather than financial considerations the UK is now determined to press ahead and mandate OA for monographs. Last year Steven Hill, Director of Research at UKRI told The Bookseller that for REF2027 the current policies on open access as applied to journal articles would be extended to encompass monographs and other “long form outputs”.

But how much will this cost? How will it be funded? This question has led to some anguished deliberation, by both publishers and researchers.

In 2017, for instance, the Pro-Vice Dean Research (Impact and Innovation) at King’s College, Simon Tanner, published a blog post entitled Gold is a dead model for Open Access Books. In the post, he said that Book Processing Charges in a Gold OA environment, “would be utterly unsustainable in a future OA mandated REF environment.”

In reaching this conclusion Tanner calculated that there were 11,861 named submitters to Panel D (Arts and Humanities) for REF2014, with 8,513 books. He explained: “So we have 8,513 books submitted to the REF2014 and probably a similar number to the next one as well. The top 3 most book submitting universities were University of Oxford (511), University of Cambridge (344) and King’s College London (245).”

Tanner added that BPCs range from between £3,500 to £11,000 per book. As a result, he said, “The maths don’t look good if these figures continued into a new OA mandated REF environment. At the lower end (say £3,000 per book) the figures are scary, at the upper end (say £10,000 per book) the figures are impossible to sustain or contemplate.”

This would mean, he said, that Oxford’s 511 books would cost between £1.5 million and £5.1 million to submit to the REF, Cambridge’s 344 books would cost between £1 million and £3.4 million to submit, and King’s 245 books would cost between £0.7 million and £2.5 million to submit.

If Tanner’s estimates are right, and UKRI does introduce an OA monograph mandate, the UK could face a bill of between £25 and £85 million (using the REF2014 figures). Others might question these figures, but even OA advocate Martin Eve acknowledges that there are significant funding challenges. And this would be on top of the millions of pounds it is already paying to fund journal APCs, a figure that has increased by over 50% since the payments began in 2013.

Currently, the hope is that universities will be able to turn their journal licensing contracts with publishers into “transformative agreements”. This would see the costs of reading subscription journal content and OA publication charges combined and (UKRI must hope) obviate the need to continue paying block grants.

However, this requires the co-operation of publishers and has the potential for being highly disruptive – as researchers at the University of California have discovered following their library’s decision to walk away from negotiations over such an agreement with the world’s largest scholarly publisher Elsevier. In response, Elsevier has pulled the plug, leaving faculty without access to newly published papers in thousands of Elsevier journals.

Even if this strategy eventually proves successful for journals, it is unclear how a similar transition process would work for monographs. For this reason, doubtless, UKRI recently awarded £2.2m to a project intended “to make more, and better, use of open access book publishing”. But is there really time to reinvent the monograph publishing landscape before REF2027?

One model that has gained traction is the so-called crowdfunding solution in which libraries combine funds to “unlock” books and make them open access. But there are problems with this model and – as is evident from recent criticism of Knowledge Unlatched (e.g. here, here and here) – there are also unintended consequences.

This article draws attention to some of the problems of the crowdfunding model. It also points out that the ongoing efforts to agree transformative agreements with journal publishers, the current focus of UKRI on Plan S, and the large amounts of money already being sucked from the system by journals, pose a big threat to implementing such a model. As the authors put it, “Currently, the focus of libraries and research funders is on journals rather than books. Therefore, Plan S could be a threat as well as other changes in science policy orientation.”

It seems to me that there are two underlying and connected problems here. There is an abiding assumption that open access can reduce the costs of scholarly publishing and a continuing desire to press ahead with policy changes without thinking through the cost implications.

It’s as if OA advocates and funders believed that costs can be magically wished away. The truth is that costs do not disappear with open access. Moreover, publishers are not going to willingly lower their prices, and market forces are not sufficient to force them to do so, if only because STM researchers are always going to want to publish in prestigious journals and humanities researchers are always going to want to publish with prestigious imprints.

True, high-minded statements like The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) effectively seek to force researchers to abandon this practice (as does Plan S) but this raises issues of academic freedom and leaves researchers more vulnerable to predatory publishing.

In short, while King’s College clearly failed Hall in her attempts to publish her new book open access, the larger failing here is a failure of the UK government and UK funders. They have yet to develop a coherent or sustainable strategy for moving to an open-access environment, even as they insist on pressing ahead with new OA policies. This suggests that individuals like Hall can expect the situation to get worse before it gets better.

But there is a little good news to end with: RTF agreed to insert a clause in the new contract with Hall and Stead to allow their book to made open access after a three-year embargo, for a reduced BPC (£3,000). And King’s has agreed to pay the fee. The book will, therefore, become freely available to the public in 2023.

Below is a Q&A with Hall. I also sent a list of questions to Research Support at King’s College on 30th July and, and will publish their answers when I receive them. [These are now below the Q&A with Hall].

The interview begins …

Edith Hall **
RP: Can you say what your position is at King’s and your research interests?

EH: I’m a Professor of Classics at King’s College London. My specialisms are the political and sociological dimensions of ancient Greek and Roman culture and the continuing presence and instrumentality of ancient ideas since the Renaissance.

RP: How would you describe your views on open access?

EH: I have always been in principle committed to the universal availability, in an ideal world, of all scholarly work, free of charge, to the general public. I was educated entirely at the British taxpayers’ expense and don’t think they should have to pay commercial publishers for the results of that education, especially when my research has been funded by public money. I am unhappy, however, with attempts to impose mandatory OA on HEIs without proper preparation; the result has been chaos. Moreover, the expenses of publishing simply transferred from reader to author.

RP: You and your colleague Henry Stead have a book in print with Routledge called A People’s History of Classics. This is the product of an AHRC-funded research project that finished in 2016. Due to the topic of the book, you were very keen to publish it open access. Can you say why you feel it is important that this book should be freely available to everyone?

EH: This particular book is about the historic exclusion of the poor from education in the Greek and Roman Classics and their struggle to get access to libraries, affordable reading materials, and secondary (let alone tertiary) education. It seems inappropriate that a book about educational exclusion resulting from poverty should be unavailable to some people who would be excluded from reading it because of the price-tag attached. It is called A People’s History of Classics: Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain 1689-1939. You can read more about the project on this (free-of-charge) website.

RP: Can you say how important the book is to your department for the purposes of REF 2021? Is it double-weighted for instance (that is, it should count as two outputs rather than one?)

EH: It is not certain that it will be double-weighted. Double weighting occurs where a publication is of such clear high quality that it is worth assuming it will get top marks. But this has yet to be decided by my department. The book is however expected to score very highly in REF 2021.

RP: When does it need to be available in order to be eligible for the REF?

EH: It absolutely must be published by November 2020 and it would be vastly preferable if it were to be published in time to receive some reviews and make an impact.

RP: Currently, the REF does not require monographs to be made open access, but (as the REF Guidance on submissions document puts it) “The funding bodies encourage institutions to take a proportionate view of the costs and benefits of making other types of outputs (including monographs) available as open access.”

EH: Yes. There is flexibility I believe.

RP: As I understand it, you asked Research Support at King’s College (part of King’s Library) if they could help you make the book OA. After checking the various policies, they said they could fund the whole cost of publication from the RCUK block grant because your research had been funded by AHRC. They even cited from the RCUK OA Policy to support that decision.

EH: Yes. I was thrilled. I did not expect them to offer to pay the full costs of publishing OA, but they did, and asked that I go back to them as soon as the books text was finally and fully accepted for publication. I told my HoD, my colleagues and the public who follow me on social media and was very impressed by the attitude of King’s Research Support towards my request and the project.

RP: When the book was ready you went back to them to ask where the publisher should send the invoice. At that point, you were told that the commitment to pay had been withdrawn (although no one had contacted you to tell you as much when the decision was made). Can you explain what happened, your understanding of why the commitment to pay was withdrawn, why you think you were not told that it had been withdrawn, and what the implications of this subsequent decision were for you?

EH: The offer seems to have slipped off their radar altogether. The administrator from whom I had received the emailed commitment had left KCL. I was shocked to be let down like this.

RP: You have a large number of Twitter and Facebook followers, and you regularly publish a blog. I believe you have made great play of your book being open access. Is that a problem for you and your co-author?

EH: I have indeed publicly promised that this will be an OA book to the 190,000+ people who have read my blogs, the similar number who have accessed the project’s website, the 7,000+ people who follow me on Twitter, and the audiences of radio programmes and at conferences all over the world, in four continents, to whom I have delivered some of the results of the research. I am embarrassed that I now must renege on my public promise.

RP: Evidence suggests that even where open access is mandatory (as it is with journal articles) it may not always be possible to obtain funding for publishing charges. In January last year, for instance, Oxford University researchers were told that the university’s block grant had run out and that researchers “are therefore asked to delay submission of new articles to journals”. How practical do you think open access is if it requires paying to publish in a sector that frequently faces funding problems?

EH: In the current chaos, where even specialists in these issues at prestigious universities seem not to grasp all the issues, OA seems not to be practicable at all unless individual researchers can afford personally to make four-figure payment to publishers

RP: As noted, it is not currently mandatory to make monographs OA, but UK funders strongly encourage it and UKRI is reviewing its policy. Indeed, in February last year Steven Hill, Director of Research at Research England told The Bookseller that for REF2027 the current policies on open access as applied to journal articles would be extended to encompass monographs and other “long form outputs”. Do you think your experience is relevant to this review? If so, what advice would you give to Research England on this?

EH: My experience is clearly relevant. Other academics need to be aware that promises of funding of OA for their books and articles may be withdrawn at any time. 

I think it is perfectly reasonable for OA to be mandatory (and of course adequate funds to be given to HEIs to cover this) in the case of academic publications where the research was directly funded by public money, as this book’s research was funded by the AHRC.

The AHRC bought out some of my time from KCL to conduct this research and so it was not done, for example, as overtime at weekends. Some of my other books are written in the evenings and at weekends, especially the more ‘popular’, accessible trade books. So, I do not think that it would be remotely possible for compulsory OA to apply to every book authored by an academic employed at an HEI.

The image (which will be reproduced on the book’s cover) is the banner of the Fenhall Drift Lodge, Lanchester, now in custodianship of Lanchester Parish Church and reproduced courtesy of the Lanchester Parish Council and Durham Miners’ Association. It was made by Tutill of Chesham to designs by Ernie Reay and George Thomas. See further in the blog post Putting Social Class into the History of Classics, by Edith Hall          

** Image courtesy of Titina Chalmatzi, originally published in an interview with Edith Hall by Tasoula Eptakili for the Greek newspaper Kathimerini

Q&A Response from Helen Cargill, Head of Open Research, Libraries & Collections, King’s College London

RP: Can you tell me how much money King’s has received in block grant funding since RCUK began to provide it in 2013?

HC: In the 7 years since RCUK/UKRI first introduced an OA block grant, King’s has received an average of c£515,000 RCUK/UKRI open access block grant funding pa, currently totalling c£3.6M. To put this in context, this equates to c285 article processing charges pa (averaging £1800 each) for the whole cohort of King’s authors in receipt of RCUK/UKRI funding.

RP: On July 15th I asked King’s Libraries a question on Twitter about its block grant spending and whether it had made the data freely available on the web (as most other universities in receipt of block funding appear to have done). If it has done so, I asked, could I be given a link to that data? I was promised an answer in the next day or so. It is now several weeks since then and I have not had my questions answered. I assume King’s is sending annual reports on how it is spending the block grant to UKRI. Can you let me have copies of those reports please?

HC: King’s provides annual reports to UKRI on how we spend the OA block grant. We will not be sharing this data more broadly at this time.

RP: When you were head of Research Support at King’s you agreed to a subvention to allow Edith Hall to make her book A People’s History of Classics open access. When the money was awarded Hall was cited two paragraphs from the RCUK Policy on Open Access to justify the decision. When she completed the book and asked for the publisher to be paid, however, she was told that RCUK does not allow block grant funds to be used for BPCs. I must assume that both these interpretations of the RCUK policy cannot be correct, or might it be that it is possible to pick and choose different parts of the RCUK policy to suit one’s purpose? If not the latter, is it you that misunderstood the RCUK policy when you agreed to the subvention or was the subsequent decision not to honour the commitment a misunderstanding of the policy?

HC: In December 2015 the Research Support team responded to Professor Hall’s request for support in making her forthcoming monograph OA, advising that we could cover the costs of the publisher’s OA book processing charge (BPC) from our RCUK OA funds. We thereby made a soft commitment in the expectation that an invoice would be shortly forthcoming.

We were aware that RCUK’s OA policy did and does not apply to monographs or books, however their guidance notes say that they encourage such outputs to be made OA and permit research organisations to use the block grant in the manner they consider will best deliver the RCUK Policy on open access, as long as the primary purpose to support the payment of publisher open access fees [is fulfilled].

The original enquiry was almost 4 years ago. Areas that we would have considered before replying include: whether this was a reasonable thing for the block grant to be spent on, what funds were then uncommitted, what our peers in other UK HEIs were doing. That would have informed our response to Professor Hall.

On review, this may not have been the answer that should have been given, it was a judgement. Having recently spoken with UKRI they clarified they will not allow their block grant to be used to pay for a book to be made open access.

It is because of this and no other reason that when Professor Hall contacted the team in June 2019 to say that payment would now be required we responded to advise that unfortunately we would not be able to cover the cost of the BPC from our RCUK/UKRI funds, but would explore all options to try and assist her which we did.

King’s did not change its mind about this. Research Support reviewed what was possible when re-contacted 3 years after being last contacted by Professor Hall, and advised that unfortunately we were not in a position to use RCUK/UKRI funds as we’d originally hoped. We have since been able to secure alternative funds to cover the cost of Professor Hall’s BPC.

RP: Why did Research Support not get back to Edith Hall at the time the initial decision was overturned to explain that it had been overturned and that King’s was no longer willing to honour its commitment, rather than wait until the money was requested, when timing (re the REF) was of the essence, and when it was too late to request AHRC to fund the BPC, leaving Hall and her co-author no option but to revert to a traditional all rights reserved contract – despite Hall having repeatedly promised her thousands of Twitter and blog followers that the book would be OA, confident in the knowledge that King’s had agreed to pay the BPC?

HC: There was no decision taken in the intervening years to overturn our previous soft commitment made to Professor Hall in December 2015. The number of requests we have and continue to receive for support with OA funding is in the thousands. We ask researchers to please keep in touch with us during the publication process so as to ensure that finances are available. Since Professor Hall’s previous last contact with us in 2016 we have updated our communications to spell out more clearly that block grant funds are provided on a first come first served basis and only to fund journal articles, they are offered as a soft commitment not reserved indefinitely, with budgets spent annually. 

RP: You were at that time the manager of Research Support. I note today that your title is different to when the commitment to Hall was made. Can you say who replaced you as manager of Research Support at King’s and when?

HC: No-one has replaced me as Head of Research Support. My job title recently changed to become Head of Open Research to reflect a greater commitment to supporting the open research agenda.

RP: Subsequent to the initial decision to grant the subvention to Edith Hall, Simon Tanner published a blog post in which he concluded that Book Processing Charges in a Gold OA environment “would be utterly unsustainable in a future OA mandated REF environment.” Would I be right to conclude that there has been a change of policy at King’s over OA monographs and that it is this that led Research Support to overturn its decision to pay the BPC for Edith Hall’s book?

HC: There is no King’s policy on OA Monographs.

RP: Or does the withdrawal of Research Support’s commitment rather signal a difference of opinion or a policy mismatch between King’s Libraries and senior management over the issue of OA monographs?

HC: This is a continued misunderstanding. Please see my answers above.

RP: Either way, do you not feel that having agreed to the subvention King’s should have honoured its commitment? If not, why not?

HC: Wherever possible we strongly endeavour to meet such commitments. Unfortunately, there are not currently alternative funds to those provided by UKRI and the Wellcome Trust to support open access publishing. We were contacted by Professor Hall at the end of June 2019. By the end of July, we had managed to secure a sum from within the Library budgets to cover the cost of making her monograph OA.

RP: As you will know, last year the Director of Research at Research England Steven Hill told The Bookseller that for REF2027 the current policies on open access as applied to journal articles will be extended to encompass monographs and other “long form outputs”. And right now, UKRI is conducting a review in order to establish how this policy decision will be implemented. In light of this it seems inevitable to me that we are about to move to a world in which monographs are published OA and I can see no reasonable alternative to their being funded by means of BPCs. Would you agree? If not, why not?

HC: The question ‘How should monographs be published Open Access?’ is one that many contributors to the scholarly publishing world have a view on. There is no short or agreed answer. Steven Hill makes interesting points. King’s own Professor Simon Tanner has written widely on the topic.

RP: Would I be right to conclude that senior management at King’s are opposed to the direction of travel being taken by UKRI over OA monographs? Is it maybe even resistant to the very notion of OA monographs?

HC: King’s does not have a position on OA monographs and the direction of travel taken by UKRI in regard to them.

RP: In his blog post Simon Tanner says that King’s was the third-most prolific producer of books in terms of submissions to REF2014. How many books is King’s currently producing each year and how many of these (if any) are being made available on an OA basis?

HC: Information on how many monographs are being published annually by King’s authors is challenging to determine exactly. Approximate numbers in recent years suggest a figure of c.150 to 200 monographs being published pa. Very few of these are being published open access.


[RP: It might be useful to provide a little more background and context to this discussion. Where a scientist will write a paper and then send it to a journal publisher for consideration, with humanities monographs the author generally does things the other way round: s/he will propose an idea to a publisher before writing the book. The publisher will likely then send that proposal (the book’s topic and how the topic will be dealt with) out for review. Only once the reviews have been provided, and any recommended changes made to the book proposal (assuming the publisher is still willing to proceed), will the author(s) sit down and write the text (of, say, 200,000 words). Sometimes the completed text will also be sent out for further review before the book is finally cleared for publication.

This process takes a lot longer than sending a, say, 5,000-word scientific paper to a journal and waiting for it to be reviewed and published (which can sometimes happen within 3 months), especially when the book author(s) is/ are highly research active and working on several other books and projects simultaneously.

In the case of the book we are discussing the text was not finally and fully accepted for publication until June this year, which is when Hall contacted Research Support to ask for the promised BPC to be released (on 22nd June). In its initial response, which was not sent until 12th July, Research Support replied that three years is a long time in open access and that the demand on RCUK funds was now significantly higher. (It later added that it was not in any case permitted to use RCUK funds to pay BPCs). Consequently, it suggested that the Faculty of Arts and Humanities be asked for money to pay the BPC. More than a month after Hall made contact (26th July), the Vice Dean Research said that he could not provide the funds either.

At this point, Hall had no option but to go back to the publisher and ask to revert to a traditional contract. She then negotiated with the publisher an option that would allow the book to be made OA after three years for a greatly reduced BPC. When she asked Research Support if they would pay this reduced fee they agreed. As such, it is not so much that Research Support eventually secured funds to cover the cost of the BPC, but that it secured a considerably lower sum in order for the book to be released after a three-year embargo. The book will not be freely available until 2023.

With regard to Research Support having offered a “soft” commitment: when Hall was informed that the money would be made available to her she was told, “As you are funded by AHRC we are prepared to fund the whole cost of publication for your monograph from the RCUK block grant.” There was no indication here that the commitment would expire at some point in the future, or that it was “soft” (whatever that might mean). It would have been reasonable for Hall to assume that at that point the commitment was recorded in some file or document somewhere indicating that the BPC had been promised to her. It would now seem, however, that this is not the case and that King’s operates a first come first served system. More precisely, it sounds like a “first to send an invoice” system rather than a “first to be granted a subvention” system.

Other universities have been making data about how they are spending their block grants freely available on the web (open access) at the same time as they file the reports to RCUK. Sometimes this is as a spreadsheet, sometimes as a complete report – e.g. see the information published by St Andrews, Queen’s, Belfast, LSHTM, Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Imperial College, LSE, and Cambridge. This information could in any case be obtained by means of a Freedom of Information request – so it seems strange that King’s is withholding it.

King’s open access policy is available online here, and includes the statement: “This policy’s requirements apply to research outputs that constitute journal articles and conference contributions. Its adoption is encouraged for other types of outputs, including books and book chapters, digital artefacts, and other types of publications”].