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Plan S: An update
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Description: OpenAccess
Description: IPG
Posted by IPG
As Plan S enters its consultation phase, Richard Fisher analyses some of the associated issues
Plan S has dominated the thoughts of many academic publishers in recent weeks, and the formal ‘consultation phase’ went live earlier this week. All IPG academic members are encouraged to scrutinise the consultation document carefully, and given that publisher lobbying is unlikely to make any significant difference to the policy outcomes, to share it as soon as possible with authors and other academic allies too—especially those in senior governance positions within UK universities.
To be brutal, senior researcher voices (as with the current Open Letter opposing several aspects of Plan S, originating amongst chemists and physicists) are likely to be far and away the most effective agents for policy change—not that I personally harbour great hopes of any significant revisionist moves by, for example, UKRI or the Wellcome Trust, who were early and enthusiastic adopters of Plan S.
The proposed Plan, taken from cOAlition S sources, includes three main roads for Plan S compliance: publication in Open Access journals or platforms; deposit of Versions of Record (VoR) or Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) in Open Access repositories without embargo; and publication in ‘hybrid’ journals only under transformative agreements.
Key points from the Plan and its guidance include the following:

Licensing and rights

'cOAlition S recommends using Creative Commons licenses (CC) for all scholarly publications and will by default require the CC BY Attribution 4.0 license for scholarly articles.’


‘cOAlition S intends to work with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR) to establish mechanisms for identifying and signalling whether journals / platforms and repositories, respectively, are in compliance with the cOAlition S requirements… In addition, the following criteria for repositories are required:
Automated manuscript ingest facility
Full text stored in XML in JATS standard (or equivalent)
Quality assured metadata in standard interoperable format, including information on the DOI of the original publication, on the version deposited (AAM / VoR), on the open access status and the license of the deposited version. The metadata must fulfil the same quality criteria as Open Access journals and platforms. In particular, metadata must include complete and reliable information on funding provided by cOAlition S funders. OpenAIRE compliance is strongly recommended.
Open API to allow others (including machines) to access the content
QA process to integrate full text with core abstract and indexing services (for example PubMed)
Continuous availability


‘Transparency on Open Access publication costs and fees is included as one of the criteria that define Plan S compliance of journals and platforms… From 2020 onward, new agreements need to fulfil the following conditions to achieve compliance with Plan S:
The contracts (including costs) of such agreements need to be made publicly available.
Contract negotiations need to be concluded before the end of 2021, and contracts may not last for longer than three years
The negotiated agreements need to include a scenario that describes how the publication venues will be converted to full Open Access after the contract expires.’

Publication costs

‘Where article processing charges (APCs) apply, cOAlition S will contribute to establishing a fair and reasonable APC level, including equitable waiver policies, that reflects the costs involved in the quality assurance, editing and publishing process and how that adds value to the publication. To help inform the potential standardisation of fees and / or APC caps, cOAlition S will commission an independent study on Open Access publication costs and fees, including APCs.’

Mirror journals

‘cOAlition S acknowledges that some publishers have established mirror journals, with one part being subscription based and the other part being Open Access. Such journals are not compliant with Plan S unless they are a part of a transformative agreement, since they de facto lead to charging for both access and publishing in the same way as a hybrid journal does. Funding for publishing in such journals will only be supported under a transformative agreement.’

Gap analysis

‘cOAlition S intends to jointly support mechanisms for establishing Open Access journals, platforms, and infrastructures where necessary in order to provide routes to open access publication in all disciplines. cOAlition S will commission a gap analysis of Open Access journals / platforms to identify fields and disciplines where there is a need to increase the share of Open Access journals / platforms. cOAlition S members will collectively establish incentives for establishing Open Access journals / platforms or flipping existing journals to Open Access, in particular where there are gaps and needs.’


‘cOAlition S appreciates that the timeline for implementation of Plan S will vary among member organisations. Implementation of Plan S will take place from 1 January 2020, having impact on either: 1) existing grants, 2) new projects / grants, or at the latest 3) new calls. cOAlition S members should, at the very least, implement the new requirements in all calls issued after 1 January 2020.’


‘In 2023, cOAlition S will initiate a formal review process that examines the effects of Plan S. The main focus of the review will be to examine the effect of transformative agreements as well as the option of providing immediate Open Access to subscription content via open repositories, on achieving a transition to full and immediate Open Access.’
The full press announcement and guidance is available here. IPG members will note, straightaway, a number of problematic statements and requirements in this document, of which the fate of hybrid journals—especially in the arts and social sciences, where their role is currently very important—is perhaps the most obvious. Critical European voices continue to multiply, of which the Norwegian has been amongst the most thoughtful.
If nothing else, Plan S seems to have re-opened the deep wounds that surrounded some of the earlier Open Access policy moves a decade or so ago: Rick Anderson’s survey of the social media reaction to Plan S attracted 107 comments within 48 hours of going live, which is I suspect some kind of record for the Scholarly Kitchen. Professor Anderson will be one of the major guest speakers at the IPG Spring Conference in May—well worth diarising now.
I will be present at a formal UKRI Open Access consultation with learned societies on 14 December, where doubtless some of these concerns will be discussed. Next month’s festive Academic Update for IPG members will contain a lot more on these challenging themes.
Richard Fisher is the IPG’s academic and policy correspondent. Richard also discusses developments in Open Access in the IPG Podcast, available here.

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