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Study of Open Access Publishing

Final Report Summary - SOAP (Study of open access publishing)

Executive summary:

Researchers, publishers, libraries, funding agencies and the European Commission (EC) are all actively debating open access publishing, against a scenario where both the essence of scholarly communication and its sustainable future might be at stake.

The SOAP project charted the offer of open access publishing outlets, through a detailed investigation of the landscape of open access journals today; revealed the demand for open access publishing through an unprecedented large-scale survey of researchers' opinions and attitudes; highlighted the gaps between offer and demand, and the drivers and barriers on which they hinge. Its compelling findings are:

- Articles published in open access journals amount to 8-10 % of the estimated yearly global scientific output.
- Open access journals in several disciplines (including life sciences, medicine, and earth sciences) are by now of outstanding quality, with impact factors in the top 1-2 % of their disciplines.
- A large-scale survey of published researchers found that 89% are convinced that open access journals are or would be beneficial for their field. The main reasons are: benefit for the scientific community as a whole; financial issues; public good; and benefit to the individual scientist.
- Several earlier 'myths' about open access publishing seem to have lost traction in the scientific community: the vast majority disagrees with the idea that open access journals are low-quality or undermine the process of peer review.
- A separate survey of scientists who published in open access journals reveals that their most important drivers are the accessibility of content to readers, the perceived or measured quality of the journals and the absence of fees.
- The main barriers to adoption of open access publishing are funding streams to enable the payment of charges levied by high-quality open access journals, as well as supply of high-quality open access journals in particular sub-fields where none are on offer yet.

These findings substantiate the open access publishing debate and help all stakeholders, and in particular funding bodies and publishers of all sizes, make informed decisions about their next crucial strategic steps in this arena. These findings have a wider socioeconomic impact affecting both the publishing industry and the way scientific results can be eventually accessed by other scientists and the public at large, and consequently wider societal implication. A key message is the demonstration that open access publishing is a mature, alternative, way to amplify the impact of research funding. It is desirable for most scientists surveyed by the project and is found to be a viable business model for an increasing number of small and large publishing operations. Barriers to its widespread adoption are the lack in some fields of open access journals of suitable quality as well as opportunities for scholars to access the funds needed for publication in some open access journals charging authors a fee. While these barriers are not insurmountable, they call for concerted action at the policy level.

Data from the SOAP survey were released with the aim of maximising the scientific return on EC research investment by facilitating future academic investigations and by providing small and large publishing enterprises access on equal footing to important market intelligence.

Project context and objectives:

Open access scientific literature is defined as the corpus of peer-reviewed results of scientific research available online free of charge for all readers scientists and non, possibly permitting wide re-distribution and further re-use of information for research, education and other purposes. For how simple and possibly desirable as it may appear to the outsider, this concept has proven to clash, in the decade in which has emerged, with prevalent business models of the scholarly publishing industry, with a balance of aspiration and opportunities for scientists, with different levels of adoption and request from funding agencies and policy makers. Indeed, the current model for scientific publishing of journal articles, vastly depends on an industry organising the crucial function of peer-review and dissemination, in addition to other services aiming to facilitate the retrieval of information. The costs of the process are currently born by readers, almost invariantly in the form of academic or other publicly-funded libraries which purchase journals, alone or in large 'packages', in print or even more likely (just) in electronic form. This model, by construction, poses toll-access barriers to the availability of scientific information to scholars with access to a suitable library.

Initiatives, such as 'Budapest open access' (2002), Bethesda Declaration on 'Open access publishing' (2003) and Berlin Declaration on 'Open access to knowledge in the sciences and humanities' (2003) contributed to raising awareness and inviting scholars and their institutions to explore new ways for making their research outputs more visible and accessible. Funding agencies in the Member States, as well as EC are now exploring options to make the results of research they finance available open access. In turn, discussion around sustainable business models for scholarly publishing with the onset of open access have been going on for several years and publishers have been experimenting and exploring new opportunities. Several large open access publishing operations have emerged, and their business models have matured.

More than ever a very traditional scenario is undergoing profound changes when confronted to new and disruptive technologies.

The overarching aim of the SOAP project is to provide all stakeholders in scholarly communication (publishers, researchers, funding agencies, libraries and policy makers) with information that allows informed decisions to be taken about open access publishing. For publishers, this will be crucial in understanding opportunities and risks in the transition to a new business model. Researchers will need this information to underpin their role in the debate on the accessibility of scientific results. Funding agencies and, in a wider context, policy makers, will benefit from fact-based evidence to assess benefits of the transition to open access publishing. Libraries, as central partners in the scholarly communication lifecycle need facts on open access publishing to guide their strategic plans.

In order to achieve this key objective, and literally study open access publishing, the project has three concrete goals:

1. describe the marketplace for open access publishing today;
2. understand the demand for open access publishing in the scientific community;
3. discuss drivers and barriers in the transition towards open access publishing.

These goals are briefly described in the following

Goal 1: Describe the marketplace for open access publishing today. Open access publishing has been maturing, with supposedly tens of thousands of articles published in thousands of journals, adopting a plethora of different business models, as well as granting varying rights to authors. The project aims to perform a solid, in-depth, inventory of the state of the art, and uncover information on prevailing models, size of operations, and form a clear understanding, ultimately, of the success of open access publishing today. Achieving this goal will lead to the understanding of the supply of open access publishing today.

Goal 2: Understand the demand for open access publishing in the scientific community. To date, there is no large-scale public research on what scholars across disciplines and around the world think of open access, the potential benefits it wields, the barriers to its adoption. The project will rely on a survey to uncover this information. A key to success is perusing the large network of contacts of the diverse partnership of the consortium for a large-scale dissemination of the survey.

Goal 3: Discuss drivers and barriers in the transition towards open access publishing. To formulate clear action plans for the transition to open access publishing, if desirable, a clear understanding is needed of the drivers for scholars to adopt, or aspire, to this alternative publishing model, as well as the barriers that they've encountered and has hampered efforts, or risks doing so. In addition to the in-depth study of the survey answers when compared with prevailing open access publishing business models, this goal will also be achieved through alternative approach, from clustering of high-statistics results, to running litmus groups to validate the survey results and hypotheses from the analysis.

Project results:

The SOAP project charted the offer of open access publishing outlets, through a detailed investigation of the landscape of open access journals today; revealed the demand for open access publishing through an unprecedented large-scale survey of researchers' opinions and attitudes. The comparison of these two strands of analysis allowed to highlight the gaps between offer and demand, alongside the drivers and barriers on which they hinge. The main results over these three phases are presented in the following.

In its first phase, the SOAP project described the offer of current solutions in open access publishing. Two main strands of work were followed. The first strand starts from information available in the Directory of open access journals (DOAJ), complemented by data from other sources, including an inspection of web sites of publishers and journals. It provided a comprehensive quantitative description of the landscape of existing open access journals and publishers, capturing their similarities and differences, volume of publication and business models, evolution with time and subject area. The second strand of work assessed of the market penetration of the hybrid open access publishing model, whereby open access articles appear in a journal alongside 'traditional' content. This study was based on information provided by the largest publishing enterprises which offer this model.

The main findings of this first phase of the SOAP project are summarised as follows:

- There are at least 120 000 open access articles published each year in fully open access journals or hybrid journals.
- Most publishers (approximately 90 %) publish less than 100 articles / year and altogether contribute one third of the total number of articles/year. The remaining two thirds of articles/year are published by the remaining 10 % of publishers.
- 14 'large publishers' can be identified, with more than 50 journals or more than 1 000 articles / year. These account for 30 % of the total yearly output, are predominantly active in the STM subject fields and are more likely to be commercial companies rather than not-for-profit.
- The distribution of open access journals over disciplines is rather even. Grouped together, however, two thirds of the journals and three quarters of the articles are in STM.
- Each year of the last decade saw the launch of 200-300 new open access journals, mostly in the life sciences and medicine, by large publishers. Many journals in chemistry, physics and technology, mostly from the other publishers have earlier starting dates.
- Large publishers are more likely to rely on article processing charges (as well as membership fees and advertising) whereas other publishers base their business more on sponsorship and subscriptions, in addition to article processing charges, mostly present in their STM rather than SSH titles.
- Both large and smaller publishers are equally likely to have journals with an impact factor.
- Large publishers mostly use a version of creative commons licensing while several smaller publishers request the transfer of copyright to the publisher.
- 12 large publishers with a total of about 8 100 journals, mostly in STM, offer a hybrid option for 25 % of their titles. The uptake of this offer is about 2 %.

The second phase of the SOAP activity aimed to unveil the real demand for open access publishing through large-scale survey of researchers' opinions and attitudes across disciplines and around the world. The preparation of the survey was an iterative process, taking into account the diverse, complementary, knowledge of the scholarly publishing marketplace of the heterogeneous mix of consortium partners, as well as the preliminary results from the first phase of the process. Questions were subjected to the scrutiny of independent experts in open access and internal marketing advisors, to streamline a questionnaire for impact and usability, respectively. A final version of the questionnaire was made available over a period of several months in 2010 as an online survey. The survey was mainly distributed via mailing lists of the publishers participating in the consortium, i.e. SAGE, Springer and BioMed Central, with 800k, 250k and 170k addresses respectively. The fourth largest mailing was run through ThomsonReuters and went to 70k authors in fields where, after the first three months of the survey live-time, a relatively low response rate was observed. Further dissemination was achieved through smaller mailings via members of Open access scholarly publishing association (OASP), public mailing lists, and newsletters in specific research fields where response rate was relatively low, or other outlets concerned with scholarly communication. In all, between 1.2 and 1.5 million individuals are estimated to have been exposed to the survey. The survey was 'live' for almost seven months, and collected a total of 53 890 responses. Out of these respondents, 46 006 identified themselves as active researchers. Out of those, the answers of 38'358 who had published at least one peer-reviewed research article in the last five years were retained for the analysis. Responses came from 162 countries, with a large representation from research-intensive nations.

One of the key questions asked in the survey is whether respondents considered open access publishing beneficial for their research field. In total, 89 % of published researchers answered positively. When analysed by discipline, this fraction was higher than 90 % in most of the social sciences and humanities, and around 80 % for chemistry, astronomy, physics and engineering. Respondents had an opportunity to expand on their answer, an option chosen by 17 852 published researchers, contributing a staggering a half million words on the subject. These answers were all scrutinised and the reasons respondents adduced for their views were found to cluster in a few large categories. The most commonly-held reason is that the scientific community as a whole would benefit from open access journals. Consideration of the cost to access information was the second most frequently cited motivation, closely followed by general ethical arguments for the global benefit of access to scientific information. Direct benefit to the single individual (in terms of ease of dissemination of one's work or citation advantage) came only fourth overall.

Many other questions were asked in the survey and particular sub-sets of responses can be studied according to discipline, demographics, or a combination of factors. In order to allow full re-use of this valuable data set, the data were released under a Creative Commons CC0 waiver, with the aim of maximising the scientific return on EC research investment by facilitating future academic investigations and by providing small and large publishing enterprises access on equal footing to important market intelligence.

The project performed a follow-up study after its large-scale survey. Respondents to the survey were asked whether they would be willing to be contacted again, and over 17 000 e-mail addresses collected in this way. A targeted series of questions was then sent to different demographic groups. One of these were published authors with a track-record in using open access journals. A series of statements aiming to understand their main drivers as authors (rather than readers) was presented, with respondents asked to rate their importance. The four most important drivers are: the accessibility of content to readers, the perceived quality of the journal, the journal's impact factor, and the absence of fees. These clearly indicate a contradictory demand on the part of authors for services and benefits without a direct financial impact on themselves.

There is a striking gap between the positive opinions of researchers worldwide and across disciplines in favour of open access journals (89 %), as detected in the SOAP large-scale survey, and the relatively low fraction of the yearly scholarly output published in open access journals (8 %), which these drivers do not fully elucidate. The large-scale SOAP survey comprised questions which help further understand the gap. The survey inquired whether published researchers who had not published any open access articles (29 % of the sample) had a reason for not doing so. In total, 42 % admitted to having a specific reason, and 4 976 respondents provided an explanation in a free-text box. These answers were all scrutinised and tagged, with the lack of funding streams, or the necessity to pay fees, being a barrier for 39 % of respondents, and the lack of suitable quality journals in their field being a barrier for 30 %.

These results were further validated in a follow-up study of a particular demographic sub-group among those respondents who left their e-mail address as part of the large-scale survey. Researchers who had never published in open access journals were asked what changes in the scholarly communication system would encourage them to adopt this publishing paradigm. Fourteen possibilities were presented and respondents could rank their importance. Out of the five most important factors, three concern quality or prestige of journals, and two either the absence or the amount of fees required to publish.

In summary, SOAP delivered several compelling findings on the emerging subject of open access publishing:

- Articles published in open access journals amount to 8-10 % of the estimated yearly global scientific output.
- Open access journals in several disciplines (including life sciences, medicine, and earth sciences) are by now of outstanding quality, with impact factors in the top 1-2 % of their disciplines.
- A large-scale survey of published researchers found that 89 % are convinced that open access journals are or would be beneficial for their field. The main reasons are: benefit for the scientific community as a whole; financial issues; public good; and benefit to the individual scientist.
- Several earlier 'myths' about open access publishing seem to have lost traction in the scientific community: the vast majority disagrees with the idea that open access journals are low-quality or undermine the process of peer review.
- A separate survey of scientists who published in open access journals reveals that the most important drivers are the accessibility of content to readers, the perceived or measured quality of the journals and the absence of fees.
- The main barriers to adoption of open access publishing are funding streams to enable the payment of charges levied by high quality open access journals, as well as supply of high quality open access journals in particular sub-fields where none are on offer yet.

These findings substantiate the open access publishing debate and help all stakeholders, and in particular funding bodies and publishers of all sizes, make informed decisions about their next crucial strategic steps in this arena. These findings have a wider socio-economic impact affecting both the publishing industry and the way scientific results can be eventually accessed by other scientists and the public at large, and consequently wider societal implication. A key message is the demonstration that open access publishing is a mature, alternative, way to amplify the impact of research funding. It is desirable for most scientists surveyed by the project and is found to be a viable business model for an increasing number of small and large publishing operations. Barriers to its widespread adoption are the lack in some fields of open access journals of suitable quality as well as opportunities for scholars to access the funds needed for publication in some open access journals charging authors a fee. While these barriers are not insurmountable, they call for concerted action at the policy level.

Potential impact:

The finding of the SOAP project have a wide socioeconomic impact. On the one hand they affect and inform directly the publishing industry, both at the level of large corporations elaborating their open access strategy and Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) in the field, who are reconsidering their core business model. On the other hand they have direct wider societal implication as they inform policies about access to scientific results from the general public without any financial barrier.

The potential for sweeping changes in the dissemination of scientific results can be enacted by policies under discussion at several levels, from universities and research institutes, to regional and national funding agencies, as well as the Commission level.

The key messages of the SOAP project with such an impact are threefold. Firstly, open access publishing is a mature, alternative, way to amplify the impact of research funding, and a viable business model for an increasing number of small and large publishing operations. Secondly, open access publishing is seen as a desirable alternative for most scientists surveyed by the project. Thirdly, barriers to a widespread adoption of Open Access publishing are the lack, in some fields, of open access journals of suitable quality as well as opportunities for scholars to access the funds needed for publication in some high-quality open access journals charging authors a fee. While these barriers are not insurmountable, they call for concerted action at the policy level.

To make these messages heard, and realise this potential for change, the SOAP project embarked in an aggressive program of dissemination of its findings to its main target audiences, here intended as publishing operations of all sizes, funding agencies, and libraries. The results of SOAP have been presented in invited talks at the key international events of the field, among which the most notable were, in the second and final year of the project.

- ELPUB 2010 (Electronic Publishing), Helsinki, Finland, 17 June 2010. A conference on electronic publishing whose main audience are scholars and librarians following this field.
- ICADL 2010 (International Conference Digital Libraries), Australia, 24 June 2010. A conference for academics studying the evolution of digital librarianship.
- Second conference on open access scholarly publishing (COASP), Prague, 23 August 2010. The key event of the year for the open access publishing industry.
- Berlin 8 open access conference, Beijing, 26 October 2010. The key event for the open access movement.
- XXXth annual Charleston conference 'Issues in book and serial acquisition', Charleston, 4 November 2010. A central event for the library community.
- Online information conference 2010, London, 30 November 2010. An important event for the publishing industry.
- Academic publishing in Europe, APE2011, Berlin, 12 November 2011. A high-level event for the publishing industry in Europe.

The final workshop of the SOAP project, in the following referred to as the 'SOAP symposium' was the final and main dissemination activity for the project. The SOAP project presented its final results on 13 January 2011 in Berlin to an audience of publishers, librarians and funding agencies, including EC. 130 people attended, of which 55 were economic operators in the publishing industry, representing 34 different publishing houses. In total, 22 nations were represented in the audience. The results of the project were presented in details, allowing ample discussion and Q&A time.

For further dissemination, slides from the event were made available on the project Slideshare channel at http://www.slideshare.net/ProjectSoap and videos at River Valley TV site at http://river-valley.tv/conferences/soap-2011. At the time of writing, slides have been collectively seen over 4'100 times and videos around 4'000 times, vastly amplifying the impact of the event.

The event also saw several invited speakers commented on the SOAP results, in what was effectively at once a key dissemination event to relevant stakeholders as well as an open review of the entire project from world experts, industry leaders, and funding agencies. The most notable viewpoints are reported in the following.

Publishers starting new open access journals: Representatives from Springer and SAGE, who are in the process of starting new open access journals in the STM and SSH fields respectively, remarked that the SOAP results were encouraging in demonstrating the demand from researchers for open access journals. Springer noted that their experience of marketing SpringerOpen to the scientific community matched the SOAP finding that funding is still the biggest obstacle to open access publishing. SAGE noted that there was as much appetite for open access in SSH, but that researchers in these disciplines that do publish do not generally pay to do so; suggesting that a key challenge for publishers, institutions and funding agencies will be to find a way to enable SSH authors to publish open access articles.

Established and large open access publishers: Representatives from BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science, amongst the first and now largest open access publishers, agreed that the SOAP research on the 'supply' side shows a healthy and fast-growing publishing landscape, matching their experience so far. For BioMed central the results on the 'demand' side imply further efforts are needed to raise awareness of the quality of open access journals and the availability of funding and waiver schemes, so that the main barriers to adoption can be lowered. For the Public Library of Science the 'demand' side results of SOAP confirm that while researchers are very supportive of open access, publishers, funders and institutions must address the funding flows that are necessary to support transition and drive widespread adoption.

Representatives of the open access industry: The Open access scholarly publishers association (OASPA) stated that the SOAP results confirm quantitatively what was intuitively felt in the community, and some results were surprising. For instance, the large demand for open access journals in SSH. Three findings of SOAP were singled out for their importance to the industry: that only a minority of researchers continue to have doubts about the quality of open access journals; that funding is difficult to come by for many researchers across academic fields; and that more information is needed to better understand the long tail of open access journals published as the sole journal of a publisher and their role in a transformation scenario.

Funding agencies: A representative from the Wellcome Trust noted that the SOAP results validated three strategic action items for funding agencies to promote open access publishing: to have clear policies, enforce them appropriately and work to communicate the benefits of OA to researchers; to make it easier for researchers to access funding to cover publishing costs; and to develop better metrics for assessing research outputs. A representative from the Helmholtz Association found that the SOAP results translated 'feelings' into 'facts' and gave the agency a solid factual basis for further strategic decisions.

In order to allow a widespread dissemination of its results, the project also produced public version of the deliverables, trimmed for its target audience. A short and a long version of the study of the landscape of open access publishing were released in 2010, through the project website and the leading arXiv repository. These were followed by a summary of the survey findings and a manual for the usage of the data, through the same channels. Some of the project partners are further working in producing scientific results from the wealth of data collected and analysed by the project.

List of websites: www.project-soap.eu

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 230220

Status

Closed project

  • Start date

    1 March 2009

  • End date

    28 February 2011

Funded under:

FP7-SIS

  • Overall budget:

    € 960 945

  • EU contribution

    € 809 919

Coordinated by:

EUROPEAN ORGANIZATION FOR NUCLEAR RESEARCH

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