What is OA2020?

OA2020 is an international effort to convert the existing corpus of scholarly journals from subscription-based (“paywall”) access to Open Access (“OA”). The OA2020 movement intends to accomplish this through institutions converting resources currently spent on journal subscriptions into funds that support sustainable OA business models. OA2020 is not dependent upon a particular OA business model, but rather the reapportioning of funds from subscriptions to OA publishing—with the result being journal literature that is readable and shareable by all.

Why do EoI signatories want to change how we pay for and read scholarly journals?

The costs of scholarly journal subscriptions have risen unsustainably over many decades, outstripping inflation even relative to higher education markets. As costs have risen, so has the portion of the global research community operating without full access to the scholarly record (including nearly all U.S. universities). Today, our scholarly communication system has both the money and the technology to see academic journals made available at no cost to the reader; OA2020 reflects the growing consensus that we should pursue this opportunity.

Which institutions have signed the OA2020 Expression of Interest?

As of March 2017, more than 75 organizations (some themselves representing dozens of universities) have expressed interest so far. The full list is available at https://oa2020.org/mission/.

What commitments do organizations make by signing the Expression of Interest?

The expression of interest does not commit signatories to any particular action or even subsequent participation.  Signing the Expression of Interest reflects the signatory’s aims to work toward OA through repurposing funds currently spent on subscriptions, and engaging author communities and all stakeholders in the process.

How does signing the Expression of Interest benefit signatories?

Signing the Expression of Interest gives signatories a seat at the table for a changing OA publishing landscape, allowing a particular institution’s insights and concerns to inform and shape a global initiative with significant potential to have a long-term impact on the entire journal publishing system. It helps ensure that the coming transformation works in ways that are compatible with the needs and beliefs of researchers within a given community or institution.

Are there risks to signing the Expression of Interest?

As per above, signing the expression of interest involves no commitments to act and is essentially risk free. Potential risks involved in the OA2020 initiative include:

  • The possibility of short-term increased library costs or administrative burdens for research-intensive campuses, particularly start-up conversion costs for libraries. However, incorporating authors into the business model (e.g. by having them manage funds to pay for article processing charges) is expected to push costs down over time. (See, e.g., this analysis by Jeff MacKie-Mason, Professor of Economics & UC Berkeley University Librarian.)
  • Concern about possible loss of negotiation leverage and control for libraries. Some Open Access business models contract between authors and publishers rather than libraries and publishers, limiting an institution’s influence over publisher behavior, including pricing. However, libraries currently have very little influence over publisher practices today, whereas authors will gain substantial leverage over publisher practices that harm universities.
  • Authors will require careful support with new publishing processes, and may need to use available grant funds to help pay publication fees, in some cases. Again, however, more funds may become available to them with which to do so as subscription funds are repurposed.

Why would journal publishers agree to publish if they weren’t selling subscriptions?

Publishers would still receive money, but likely through “author pays” or “consortia pays” models.  The OA2020 project does not mandate any one approach toward its goal, but it does recognize and build on modeling demonstrating the feasibility of paying for scholarly journal publishing using bases other than subscriptions. The Pay It Forward project, a Mellon-funded research project, has examined one such model (redirecting library subscription budgets to Open Access article processing charges), finding indications it would be feasible for many institutions. But there are other possible OA business models such as consortial pooling of resources (see, for example, the OA Cooperative Project’s Subscription Equivalent Transition).

Could you explain more about the OA business models that could be pursued to achieve OA2020?

There are several business models in place for OA journals today, including:

  • Paying publishers an Article Processing Charge when an article is accepted for publication. These are similar in nature to page charges, but cover the entire cost of publishing the article. This is how publishers like the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and eLife are funded today.
  • Library consortia paying negotiated amounts to publishers to make a defined set of journals Open Access. This model is currently in place for High Energy Physics with the SCOAP3 initiative — a partnership of over 3,000 libraries, key funding agencies and research centers in 44 countries and 3 intergovernmental organisations, as well as leading publishers in that discipline.
  • Paying publishers a membership fee that cover publication costs for a term. This is an innovative funding approach by newer publishers like PeerJ.
  • Supporting newer publishing platforms for scholarly journals and/or preprint archives that operate at very low cost and are subsidized by library membership fees. The Open Library of the Humanities operates on this business model.
  • Journals that operate entirely free of cost to authors or readers, thanks to endowments and subsidies from non-profit societies, philanthropic organizations, research institutions, or government agencies.

These are just some of the business models currently being tested and involving established, high quality publishers.

Will OA2020 change where, when, or what I can publish?

No. OA2020 is working with the current publishing system, including all current journal publishers, to design a system that works for everyone. Authors will continue to choose where to publish based on the quality of the journal and its fit with the article topic, and the journals will continue their traditional editorial and peer review practices.

What if my society or journal isn’t ready to convert to an Open Access business model?

The initiative aims for a global transformation to Open Access but the roadmap that is ultimately developed will accommodate different paths for different publishers and journals, and is envisioned as a process that will unfold over time.

If OA2020 succeeds, where will the funding come from to cover journal costs (for example, the Article Processing Charges)?

That is exactly what the OA2020 initiative will explore: different options for funding journals with different Open Access business models. Libraries’ budget for journal subscriptions is one obvious source, as are grant funds and other sources of discretionary funding for research activities. The Pay-It-Forward project provides some preliminary models for how this might work under different assumptions and constraints, and more work is needed to refine those models.

Will my institution lose access to paywalled content if we sign the EoI?

No. Expressing interest in OA2020 reflects a commit to working toward open journal scholarship by repurposing subscription-based funds, but does not mean that subscriptions will be cancelled. Your institution likely is committed to providing its scholars access to as full a panoply of journal scholarship as is possible.

So, how will an institution deal with the transition period before full OA is achieved, when there is the possibility of double-payment for hybrid journals (i.e. the burden of paying both for subscription access and committing funds to subsidize OA versions of the journal whether through APCs or otherwise)? There are multiple strategies institutions can implement in the interim period. One such strategy is negotiating offsetting agreements with publishers. Offsetting models aim to combine subscription payments and APCs for open access publishing into a single agreement between a library or consortium and a publisher—such that any payment of APCs by an institution are offset against the overall cost of the subscription. These agreements are not intended to be permanent, but rather to serve as transitional models with the end goal of moving the publisher’s journals to a full OA business model with no subscription fees. In practice, offsetting models can take many forms which require varied levels of participation from the author, institution or library, and publisher; several examples are given on the ESAC Initiative website.