Why have we signed the Expression of Interest?

Each institution here has different reasons, but they can essentially be distilled to the following principles:

After decades of efforts, we still don’t have universal OA.

For decades, many scholars, researchers, funders, the taxpaying public, and others have desired that all peer-reviewed research be accessible online without paywall barriers in order to advance knowledge, promote progress, and maximize research impact and return on investment.

In 2002, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) helped launch a global campaign for all new peer-reviewed literature to be made open access (OA) and freely available online, “without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.” The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge (“Berlin Declaration”) echoed this mission again in 2003, and various endeavors since then have redoubled efforts to achieve these aims.

In the years before BOAI and the Berlin Declaration, and in the nearly fifteen years since, academic publishing stakeholders have made laudable efforts to facilitate an OA corpus. There are discipline-specific OA pre-print and post-print repositories (like ArXiv & SocArXiv), and institutional OA policies and repositories (e.g. eScholarship for UC, DASH for Harvard, DSpace for MIT, and PubMed Central for NIH) that enable researchers to make a version of their work available online. There are also highly esteemed peer-reviewed journals that publish only fully OA (e.g. PLOS, eLIFE, BioMed Central) with articles freely available to all readers.

While significant gains have been made in the growth of open access publishing, the existing paywalled environment still dominates scholarly publishing. Current estimates indicate that only about 15% of journal articles are OA at the time they are published. At this slow growth rate, it would take decades to reach a 100% OA environment. Meanwhile, many scholarly publishers continue to require authors to sign away their copyrights while making substantial profits in the range of 30%-40% from institutional subscriptions.

Paywalls are mounting and open access policies are inconsistent.

Organized efforts at making all scholarship OA are often marked by low uptake on OA depositing, and are dwarfed by the subscription model (and resulting paywalls) that still dominate the scholarly publishing landscape.

Academic publishers typically require libraries to license large bundles of journals. Subscription fees for these bundles are now increasingly prohibitive and have rendered much scholarly literature out of reach to institutions and individuals around the world. Inaccessibility hamstrings the dissemination of knowledge and return on research investment.

Moreover, the burdens of paywalls are particularly acute when journals offer both subscription-based packages and an OA option for authors. The OA option typically takes the form of requiring that authors pay article processing charges (APCs) to make the open copy available—in addition to the subscription licenses the authors’ institutions already pay. This “hybrid” model results in double-dipping for publishers, while placing extraordinary financial burdens on scholars and institutions, and further leaving journals in a mixed state of rights and accessibility.

Certainly, authors may make a version of their scholarship available to the public at no cost to themselves or the public in a repository—whether voluntarily, or because they are required to by funder mandates or institutional OA policies. Funder OA mandates are inconsistent across disciplines, however, and not all research is funded as an initial matter. Moreover, institutional OA policies have generally proven unwieldy to implement or relatively ineffectual without mandatory compliance mechanisms (such as built-in impact on promotion and tenure). That is to say, most institutional OA policies have no “teeth.”

The subscription model is not sustainable.

Without routinized financial or other incentives in place rewarding authors for participating in OA journal publishing, scholars may remain unaware of or simply unaffected by the expensive subscription packages for which their institutions or research organizations pay.

Compounding matters, certain “predatory” journals have arisen that, at first blush, appear to make it easier for scholars to publish OA—which baits the authors—but these journals do not provide the editorial and publishing services of their reputable counterparts. This outgrowth of the imbalance in a subscription-dominated world has had a deleterious effect on some authors’ willingness to  trust new OA journals. Authors should be able to continue publishing in the journals of their choosing, and to have those journals disseminate their articles as widely as possible.

As a result of these factors, and at the current rate at which articles are becoming OA, the scholarly community remains many decades away from achieving the goals of the BOAI and Berlin Declaration. In the meantime, the progress of scientific knowledge and discovery remains stymied by the inaccessibility of publications sequestered behind mounting paywalls. The present landscape for scholarly publishing offers no real mechanism to control those paywalls, which continue to rise. As such, even if open access to knowledge were not a goal of the scholarly community, the current model of scholarly publishing, itself, is not sustainable.

We need to try something else. Expressing interest in OA2020 can rapidly accelerate OA.

In response to the need for a viable pathway forward to OA, Max Planck Digital Library (“MPDL”) has launched a global initiative to foster “large-scale implementation of free online access to, and largely unrestricted use and re-use of scholarly research articles” by the year 2020. This coordinated international effort aims to convert the existing corpus of scholarly journals from subscription-based to OA.

To accomplish the transformation, institutions aim to shift resources currently spent on journal subscriptions into funds or infrastructure that support sustainable OA business modelsthereby encouraging collaboration with subscription publishers to transition to these models. Research has shown that there is enough money being spent collectively around the world on scholarly journal content to pay the costs for a large-scale transition to open access. This transformation is intended to be developed in accordance with community- specific publication preferences, and with the participation of all stakeholders (e.g., universities, research institutions, funders, libraries, scholarly societies, publishers, and authors).

OA2020 is flexible and non-prescriptive.

In practical terms and to realize OA2020’s aims, there are numerous possible models by which existing funds could be repurposed to achieve the “flipping.”

For instance, one widely discussed model relies upon APCs whereby authors use combinations of library, university, and/or grant funding to cover the costs of publication. The resulting article is then made freely available to users.

In other “cooperative” models, consortia of various stakeholders such as libraries, journals, professional societies, academic presses, funders, and/or governments may join together to fund OA publishing infrastructures by pooling their previous allocations from subscriptions, subsidies, membership dues, grants, endowments, and the like.

None of these models is mutually exclusive, and each may be used in conjunction with one another across the scholarly publishing landscape.

We’re interested in repurposing subscription funds.

Regardless of which particular funding model or roadmap an institution uses, the same OA2020 goals can be realized by repurposing existing funds or infrastructure that previously had been allocated to purchase subscription journals.

Repurposing subscription funds in this way will afford institutions and authors the opportunity to participate in scholarly publishing models that more closely reflect actual costs of publishing, and that promote accessibility, sustainability, and transparency. OA2020 therefore, provides a viable mechanism to achieve a rapid transition to OA, and offers a potential roadmap for how efforts to move forward can be implemented and coordinated.

As such, the most pragmatic value of OA2020 is that the coordinated global effort offers a straightforward and feasible path to achieve OA, and allows countries, institutions, funders, etc. to adopt a variety of different models when redirecting their monies to facilitate the wide scale transformation of scholarly communication.