Clear approaches help publishers deliver good OA experience

9 Oct 2013

Publishers developing or refining their open-access (OA) strategies need to explore what they can do to differentiate themselves in the academic market by aiding authors, librarians and researchers. As authors and their institutions become increasingly astute in their decisions about where to publish in OA form there are some important things that publishers should consider in order to navigate and succeed in the academic market.

The first is to develop a clear pricing strategy. We are still a long way from realising a truly mature market for OA publishing. However there is a growing focus on the cost and management of article processing charges (APCs). Attempts are already underway to map APC costs to article influence, as exemplified by the OA cost effectiveness tool at www.eigenfactor.org/openaccess, and such formulations are likely to become increasingly sophisticated over time. Meanwhile, authors, academic institutions and research funders are increasingly likely to seek evidence that the APCs they pay represent fair value for the money.

The second thing that publishers should consider is the need to adapt their systems and reporting to meet the needs of authors and institutions. Many institutions have limited funds available to cover APCs and so expect to increase access to their research through a mixture of APC payments (‘gold OA’) and deposit in repositories (‘green OA’). To be able to manage this effectively they would like the option to pre-approve APC expenditure by their authors. And authors themselves would prefer to confirm that funds are available from their institution or research funder before accepting liability for payment of an APC.

These emerging requirements force changes to established systems and workflow patterns and require the capture and transfer of additional data as part of the publication process. Publishers that can find standardised ways to recognise and accommodate these needs will be well placed for success in the academic market. Meanwhile, publishers should consider another dimension of customer service: authors and institutions are not likely to want to learn and accommodate dozens, if not potentially hundreds, of different APC policies and systems that can slow their processes and create new complications for all parties. Publishers should therefore consider whether it is really necessary to develop or implement their own unique APC processing solutions.

As the requirements of research funders continue to change rapidly, publishers need to reflect regularly on the implications of these changes for their business models. In the USA, the deadline has now passed for federal agencies with research and development budgets over $100 million to submit plans to ‘dramatically increase’ access to the results of their research (though I’ve heard on the grapevine some funders have missed the deadline). In the UK, the Research Councils UK policy on OA has been in effect since 1 April 2013, and the councils have explicitly expressed a preference for the gold OA route and the CC-BY licence. Meanwhile, it seems inevitable that the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) will include an OA mandate for the period 2014-2020, although without prescribing the route (green or gold) or licence. In Europe as a whole, member states have clearly indicated their support for broader and more rapid access to scientific publications. Further, expanding OA in scientific publications will be a general aim of the future Horizon 2020 research framework programme.

Ultimately, the decision about where to publish and whether to pay an APC rests primarily with the submitting author. Publishers that can offer a seamless process—the more simple, the better— are likely to see a far more favourable reception than those for whom OA represents an afterthought in the process. A successful user experience will follow an author step-by-step, from submission through peer review, and once approval for publication is received, will easily allow the author to arrange payment of an APC and/or deposit the article to a repository.

This post is extracted from an article I wrote for Research Information, the full text is available at http://www.researchinformation.info/news/news_story.php?news_id=1388