Open Letter on Plan S Movement

This is an open letter to all funding agencies, government bodies and institutions that support Plan S. Our research networks address a range of fields in the humanities, social sciences, arts, and design. We are a small, independent not-for-profit publisher. Our perspectives are grounded in the practicality of these foundations. We have a commitment both to support the research produced by our members and the livelihoods of our staff and industry within which we work.

At the broadest level, we fully support the general principles of open and accessible research. We seek to work collaboratively with all stakeholders in this time of disruptive change. Nevertheless, we also want to ensure that all who approach this dialogue are mindful of possible unintended consequences:

Missing the Target?

One of the targets of this effort is large academic publishers whose content is held behind paywalls. However, these players have a privileged institutional position and will be favored to profit from a move to “transformative journals,” “transformative agreements,” and a system dependent on article processing fees. Thus, rather than a fundamental transformation in the economics of scholarly communication, the result may only be a shift in the manner in which money changes hands. We may even see the article processing fees model end up costing more than the existing subscription-based model. A one-size-fits-all, prescriptive approach will have a negative impact on smaller, independent, society, and not-for profit publishers, and it threatens to narrow journal publication avenues, particularly in the fields of the humanities, social sciences, arts, and design.

Free Content to Digital Platforms?

The Plan S movement reflects an admirable desire to have more results of scholarly communication accessible in digital spaces. It also means is that it will deliver more "free" content into the hands of the major digital search and data scraping platforms, allowing them to extract value without financial input into the costs of content development. We know the devastating effects these platforms can have when they skew public discourse. We also know they do not pay their fair share of tax to support public institutions, at a time when governments are very often reducing funding to the very disciplines that perform the intellectual labor of research and writing. As we move into the “fourth industrial revolution,” we must ask ourselves: are we setting in motion a system where we give away existing and new content to big tech for free? And why should big tech profit enormously without investing in the cost of making this intellectual work when the brunt of accountability and responsibility is carried by the publisher?

The Livelihood of a Profession?

The publishing industry provides employment to trained professionals. Not only do these professionals support the organizations they work for, but millions of scholars and researchers worldwide as they move their ideas along the knowledge validation and publication pipeline. Within the industry, there is also technological labor that develops tools to support the creation, storage and discoverability of published works. Who will develop and sustain publishing infrastructures, and at what cost to whom? Speaking from the perspective of small, independent, society, not-for-profit, publishers—the prescriptiveness of the plan, and the uncertainty of whether article processing fees will be borne by institutions, adds another layer of vulnerability in a time when publishing is already struggling. The position on "hybrid" models attempts to prescribe a business model even for those publishers trying to adapt to the times.

Differences between the Hard Sciences vs. Humanities, Social Sciences, Arts and Design?

Over the past decade, the impact metric models imported from the hard sciences have crept into the humanities, social sciences, arts, and design disciplines. One effect has been to frame disciplinary practices and performance assessment by crude quantitative measures—essentially, impact means popularity, and popularity is mostly a function of network effects which privilege positioning more than intellectual quality. Moreover, researchers in the humanities, social sciences, arts, and design disciplines historically have less access to research funding and less access to funds for Open Access for article processing fees from their host institutions. Does the one-size-fits all "transformation" mandate rest too heavily on models that are based on the hard sciences, where there has historically been more funding? Again, there is a real danger of narrowing journal publication avenues, particularly outside the sciences.

We want to make it abundantly clear that we support the principles of open research. We also believe in the value of the publisher and recognize the precariousness of those in the humanities, social sciences, arts, and design disciplines. Our position is that a hardline perspective, with universal fixed targets, will adversely affect these fields, and the publishers that support them. For their survival, journals in these areas already face strong headwinds. Plan S, if deployed in fixed universal ways, might unintentionally create a scholarly communication ecology that serves as a barrier to scholars in these fields having a voice, thus contradicting its ultimate aims. It may disproportionally disadvantage small, independent, not-for-profit publishers, depleting the pool of institutions that can support diverse views.

Nevertheless, we are ready to support this process, working with the communities we serve.

The Middle Path - Where We Have Stood

We believe we have been at the forefront of developing new models for sustainable scholarly communication ecologies. Our mission has been to lower the cost of access while sustaining the independence and longevity of our research networks. These are some key aspects of our approach.

Low Cost Article and Subscription Fees

At $5 per article and affordable subscription fees.

Affordable Hybrid Open Access

At $250 our Hybrid Open Access pricing is significantly lower than the norm, allowing a greater number to choose to make their work Open Access independently or lower the burden or institutions and funders.

Membership Model

We have pioneered a membership model. Anyone can submit an article for consideration at zero cost. But a network membership is required to complete the publication process. Membership ensures that our research network ecology remains stable and sustainable. But membership is more than an article processing fee. It comes with many benefits, including subscriber access to all electronic publications, both journals and books.

Building Platforms for the Future

We have spent the last twenty years researching and building platforms to support scholarly communication. We are currently building a third generation platform: CGScholar. Our aim has been to build a platform that engages with the challenges the Plan S movement, offering a trusted marketplace for knowledge work, one that rigorously democratizes the process of knowledge-making, rewards participants, and offers a secure basis for the sustainable creation and distribution of digital knowledge artifacts.

Going Forward - Our Ongoing Commitments

As always, we are open to shifting models and collaborate experimentation with researchers, authors, funding institutions, and libraries. Here are some general practices that serve as our action plan in the current landscape.

Offering Transformative Pathways

We believe we are already operating within the general principles of the Plan S movement via our existing, affordable, Hybrid Open Access option. We do so in a way that allows research funding institutions to support this transition. We are also mindful of the need to develop processes that can sustain all disciplines, rather than a mandating a system that may not work for the humanities, social sciences, arts and design. We commit to continue to educate on the importance of "choice" at the point when an author has to decide between the Open Access and non-Open Access option. We are also introducing in 2020 a range of new Open Access and Open Research Membership options. Nevertheless, we feel, a universal mandate of Open Access penetration may not be desirable or achievable by some felids, particularly fields that are already underfunded and may not be able to bear the cost of “transformation.”

Ensuing Transparency of Fees and Services

Our Membership model is where we will continue to educate authors about the relationship of and fees to substantiality and access. We commit to support the visibility of research by keeping costs as low as possible. But again, we also want to clarify how the membership model is more than an article processing fee. It comes with many benefits, including subscriber access to all electronic publications.

Affordable Open Access Options, Low Cost Subscription Model

We commit to further promoting our affordable Hybrid Open Access models to support aa transformative models, but within the realities of the funding constraints of disciplines in humanities, social sciences, arts and design. We are open to a future without subscriptions. At the same time, we will continue to ensure out subscription rates are fair and that all modes for accessing content are supported.