On its website, Springer Nature defines publications as Open Access (OA) if they are freely available online to all at no cost and with limited restrictions on reuse. OA, it further states, is especially important for authors (whose works will be seen by more people), readers (who will be able to access and build on the most recent works in the field), and funders (whose funded works will have broader impact through reaching a wider audience).

For major STM publishers—especially the Big Five, which is made up of Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley-Blackwell, Taylor & Francis, and SAGE Publishing—OA is certain to put immense pressure on their traditional revenue model. This is the case even more so now that Europe’s Plan S is calling for OA publishing of almost all of the scientific information across the region by 2021.

The OA (and Plan S) Debate Continues

But many questions about OA remain, says Uday Majithia, assistant v-p of technology, services, and presales at Impelsys. “Are publishers ready for such a quick transition? What alternate business models will sustain the revenues for publishers? Publishers will have to tweak their business models, diversify, and add value to their content. Advanced technology solutions such as our iPC Scholar platform, for instance, will make it possible to deliver multiple forms of content and provide an incredible content experience.”

Majithia continues, “The debate over OA needs deep analysis. The goal of the OA movement is free access to scientific information all over the world, which means cost-free journals at no-cost subscriptions. Since OA journals are free to the end user, they will work on an ‘author-pays’ model. But doesn’t this discriminate against researchers, especially those without funding? And what about researchers from developing countries?”

The sustainability of OA journals on the author-pays model is not entirely viable, argues Majithia, of Impelsys. “If the costs cannot be covered by author fees from high-quality papers, then why not publish lower-quality articles instead? So, the general view in the publishing community is that OA, though the intent is noble, does not look sustainable in the longer run.” Plan S of Europe, he adds, “is a strong initiative from the European Union, and there is resistance from some corners of the scientific community. Now that the bill has passed, we will have to see what viable models publishers will employ.”

Advertising and sponsorships as sources of revenues, along with author fees, are some of the viable models. Majithia adds, “Then there are selected articles for free online access, full-text articles available within months of publications, and research articles free to scientists in low-income nations. Some publishers will implement business models that will provide the balance between OA and profit models in order to sustainably publish high-quality research papers.”

Plan S, according to executive director and CEO Vinay Kumar Singh of Thomson Digital, “has invigorated the conversations around three main questions: How will publishers move with respect to OA? What are the main questions and concerns publishers and journals have about OA? And what could genuine OA solutions be, based on what we currently know?”

Mike Groth, marketing director at Cenveo Publisher Services, finds that “while a number of our clients are flipping journals, growing OA portfolios, and negotiating read-and-publish and publish-and-read agreements with important institutions and university systems in the U.S. and national consortia in Europe, they do not yet know how they will ultimately deal with the full implementation of Plan S and are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.” Plan S, Groth adds, “certainly has the potential to disrupt the entire industry business model, but presently I don’t think anyone quite understands what qualifies as a compliant ‘transformative agreement,’ or what it could look like if access models split by funder or by discipline or by region, depending on who authors an article.”

Plan S is another step in the evolution of OA, according to company cofounder and CEO Ravi Venkataramani of Exeter Premedia Services. “OA has been steadily growing in the industry and is an area that has wide-reaching impact on all stakeholders in the STM publishing ecosystem.” The ability to comply with Plan S, and the reactions to it, he says, “vary widely based on funding models, size, and current business models of the research institutions and publishers.”

But several academic publishers that have HSS (Humanities and Social Sciences) publications in their portfolio find that Plan S is not quite suitable for HSS. “Some publishers believe that Plan S was designed by, and for, science publishing primarily. Multiple evolutionary models of OA have worked in the academic publishing industry so far, but the evolution has been gradual. Maybe the past will show the way for the future of this evolution,” Venkataramani adds.

There remain uncertainties around how publishers will deal with OA, says Yakov Chandy, managing director at TNQ Technologies. “We are monitoring the development closely. Publishers are also beginning to build their own technology solutions that could disrupt the outsourced service industry. They are developing platforms in open source communities, working with applications that use AI to transform content, and buying companies that have developed such platforms or applications that build communities and transform content.”

The OA Impact on Production Processes

Meanwhile, digital vendors are reviewing and studying the wider implications of Plan S and working with STM clients on planning for it. “European and U.S.-based publishers view the implications differently,” says Vidur Bhogilal, vice chairman of Lumina Datamatics. “While the wider consequences of this plan fall on the publishers, we have to update the downstream workflows after article acceptance. The OA payment system based on our CAPS platform, which has been a part of our workflows for publishing clients, is being extended to other parts of the OA workflow.”

The Lumina Datamatics team has been streamlining its OA workflow, including MARS (the Manuscript Assessment and Reporting System), which is viewed as the first step in the OA process. MARS is a unique and powerful tool to analyze content, check for completeness, ensure proper structuring, use NLP and machine learning to identify language quality, review summaries, and move manuscripts to the next stage. “The addition of automation tool sets for technical and copyediting processes to the workflow for OA articles will have wider implications and reduce the overall cost and process time,” Bhogilal adds.

For Impelsys, OA means providing clients with all the features required for implementing selective access in publishing platforms such as iPC Scholar. “We already have features like institutional and individual access in place, and if our clients need the ‘selective-access’ features, then we are ready for it. As a versatile and scalable publishing platform, iPC Scholar has microarchitecture that allows changes without affecting the functions of the entire application,” Majithia adds.

As for Groth and his team at Cenveo Publisher Services, there have not been any changes to the editorial and production workflows as a result of this movement. “We have been supporting both OA and subscription content for many years,” Groth adds.

The team at Integra Software Services, meanwhile, has seen the portfolio of commercial journal publishers starting to include a lot of OA journals. “With this comes the cost pressure to make OA a profitable and viable business model for these publishers,” says Sriram Subramanya, the company founder and CEO, whose product lines and platforms are already set up to meet the demands of this changing business landscape in STM publishing. “We at Integra view these changes positively as opportunities for the whole digital solutions industry to innovate and be ahead of the curve.”

Publishers are rightly nervous about Plan S and the prospect of a dramatic flip to OA. “We are acutely aware of the pressure this will place on the very viability of many of the journals we produce,” says Jo Bottrill, managing director of Newgen Publishing (UK). “Our clients are actively preparing for this by continuing to push automation further into the workflow and by looking for new tools and innovative solutions to continue to drive down cost. Inevitably, this will lead to further consolidation in the vendor community. But interestingly, we are seeing the nimble OA publishers thriving and new entrants continuing to challenge the old guard.”

As for Exeter Premedia, its cloud-based publishing platform, Kriya, has supported OA right from the very beginning, Venkataramani says. “Many of our STM publishing clients run their OA publications on our platform, and some are OA-only publishers. Kriya is able to support their needs since it is inherently built to have flexibility in workflows for supporting OA-only, hybrid, and non-OA models.”

Since OA is a big disruption to the publishers’ revenue model, there is a knock-on effect at service and product companies, says Chandy, of TNQ Technologies. “There is even more pressure to deliver faster and cheaper now. However, our workflows are already in line with the latest OA changes and Plan S. Our tiered-service architecture means that we have high levels of automation that deliver to very tight turnaround times. About 30% of our overall page portfolio is delivered within 24 hours from receipt.”

Taking Note (and Advantage) of OA Benefits

For Nizam Ahmed, CEO of DiTech Process Solutions, Plan S is going to benefit new researchers who can now read and build on the findings of other researchers without restrictions and incurring additional investment. “It is going to be very helpful for developing countries, small research institutions, and corporations to access OA articles. Free access to scientific knowledge, information, and data strengthens the basis for transfer of knowledge in education and research development.” The DiTech team is now working with publishers on articles that they want to make OA. “Our workflow and solutions have been supporting this and processing such articles accordingly. One obvious thing is that OA articles tend to get published more quickly than non-OA articles.”

While there are proven benefits in OA publishing, including increased citations and downloads, and therefore wider impact, authors are still not routinely choosing to publish OA. “We are aware of the challenges that need to be overcome on the demand and supply side, namely the lack of global cooperation on funder policies, academic disciplines lacking OA resources, influx of funder flows, and crucially, an author community that does not yet view publishing OA as a priority,” adds Singh, of Thomson Digital, whose team has been handling OA journals for some time now.

“We are currently building UniPRR, a peer review system based on OA workflow that enhances the speed of submission and also reduces production costs. The primary goal of this tool is to drive the transition to OA while substantially increasing the number of OA research articles published each year as quickly as possible,” Singh says.

Maran Elancheran, president of Newgen KnowledgeWorks, sees OA as a good opportunity for authors and publishers to open new revenue streams. “Giving authors a suite of additional services beyond those delivered through the core article-processing charge enables the publisher to support these authors in successfully delivering their research to the widest possible audience. Increasingly, we are seeing the author as the customer, and by providing additional solutions ranging from editorial development to data management and rights services, we will help publishers remain vital to the research community.”