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Making Open Access Agreements More Transparent for Authors

January 27, 2022 marked an important milestone for ChronosHub as we kicked off our webinar series with our very first webinar on “Making Open Access Agreements More Transparent for Authors”, moderated by Public Relations and Business Development Manager, Romy Beard. 120 participants from around the world tuned in live as four keynote speakers from the research community shared their initiatives, insights, and perspectives on communicating Open Access to their authors.

Event duration February 17, 2022
Event location Copenhagen

Our First Webinar

The speaker line-up included:

  • Alwaleed Alkajaja, Senior Intellectual Property Librarian and Open Access Coordinator at the Qatar National Library
  • Christopher Pym, Senior Institutional Engagement Manager at Springer Nature
  • Colleen Campbell, Team Lead for the Open Access Transition and External Affairs at the Max Planck Digital Library
  • Sybille Geisenheyner, Director of Open Science Strategy & Licensing at the American Chemical Society

Why This Theme?

Increasingly, institutions, consortia, and funders sign agreements with publishers to reign in the cost spent directly by authors on article processing charges (APCs). These agreements vary – from full transformational or transitional such as Read and Publish or Publish and Read to institutional memberships with pure OA publishers. The aim of the agreements is to allow for research to become more openly accessible and diminish paywalls to scientific content.

The approach surely is working. According to the ESAC Market Watch, over 160,000 articles were published OA in 2021 via these agreements – and the number is only going up. For authors, this is good news as it equals free OA publishing and a wider dissemination of their work.

The drawback, however, is that it isn’t always so simple for the authors to understand under what conditions they can publish their articles. Who will cover the costs? Which journals are included in the agreements? And title lists don’t always include all the journals a publisher has. Evidently, there can be many pressing questions and concerns. The overall objective is to ensure that authors know that upon submitting their articles, they can be certain that their APC gets paid.

So. When and how do we communicate agreement conditions clearly to the authors? The main concern of this webinar. Read on.

Clear Information Throughout the Process

For all speakers involved, Open Access plays a prominent role. In 2020, Springer Nature alone published 120,000+ articles OA. For the Qatar National Library (QNL), the number of OA publications quadrupled between 2016 and 2020. The American Chemical Society (ACS) published 4,800 articles OA in 2021 through agreements. Likewise, Springer Nature found that OA brings authors 4x more downloads, 1.6x more citations, and 2.5x more awareness. According to the speakers, the main conclusion is that it’s paramount to that the authors have access to clear, transparent information at all stages of the research process. In connection, Colleen Campbell from the Max Planck Digital Library underlined that for Open Access to be truly effective, we must “bring Open Access to the natural habitat of the authors.” This applies to the pre-submission, during the journal selection process and the submission process itself, as well as the post-acceptance billing stage within publishers’ systems.

Helping Authors Navigate the Pre-Submission Process

As we zoomed in on the possibilities for creating greater transparency for the authors, some options were emphasized, and the speakers pitched in with their initiatives. During the journal selection process, libraries and publishers can consider using, for instance, a dedicated website containing eligible journal title lists included on agreement. QNL and Springer Nature do this with spreadsheets of eligible titles and eligible institutions related to each agreement. Both QNL and Springer Nature also employ direct marketing to the authors via emails, social media, webinars, and surveys. Dedicated support to the authors is a general practice according to all speakers.

Apart from the above options, a set of tools were highlighted as well. ESAC Registry lists many agreements and can be a good starting point even though it doesn’t include title lists. Likewise, the Plan S Journal Checker Tool allows the authors to check specific journals and whether they’re eligible through their institution’s agreement. Finally, a custom Journal Finder is also underlined. For instance, the Max Planck Digital Library has created a database of 9,000+ journals, included in their agreements which allow free OA publishing by affiliated authors. The authors can filter easily on subject, publisher, OA type, license, and data source. The American Chemical Society (ACS) also has its own Journal Finder which includes all journals published by ACS and allows authors from across different institutions and countries to check agreement eligibility.

Important to note is that even though some webinar participants commented that they use such tools regularly, there can still be discrepancies in data, and the options are only as good as the data they rely on. So, there’s a risk of a lack between agreements being signed and the title lists being uploaded, or changes made to title lists by the publisher and communicated to the institutions. For ACS’ Journal Finder, this is less relevant as all data is controlled by the publisher and regularly updated.

Looking Ahead

Institutions and libraries are quite dependent on the publishers’ systems to make sure they can inform the authors of agreements and drive good workflows, Dr. Alwaleed Alkajaja claims. Generally, it’s important to ensure that authors are always presented with the correct information both during the submission and post-acceptance payment process – especially if authors don’t go through the institutional website, but merely submit directly to a journal because it’s part of their normal workflow.

Dr. Alwaleed Alkajaja and Colleen Campbell agree that there’s a need for publishers’ systems to be clearer and more flexible – and more must be done to streamline the author workflow, Campbell underlines.

At Springer Nature, the workflow seems to function well, yet issues were brought up about a “at no cost to author”-message being shown to authors who are only eligible to have a portion of the APC covered. This suggests that there can still be issues with a publisher’s submission and billing system related to current infrastructure – something that can’t be changed as easily.

New types of OA agreements and workflows emerge quicker than the systems can manage to respond, underlining the complexities that pervade the processes – not just for authors in navigating different publisher’s systems, but also for the publishers that need to cater to an ever-growing variety of different agreement types and funder scenarios, ranging from deposit accounts, to split invoicing, to discounts triggered by co-authors' affiliation.

The webinar allowed us to observe interesting perspectives from different stakeholder views – sometimes these different views can create perceived division of “us” and them”, but if there’s one learning point to take from this webinar session, it’s that the scholarly industry is one where institutions, publishers, and all other stakeholders are known to engage and recognize that the biggest force to move the ecosystem toward more OA publishing is via collaboration and interaction. A discussion that ChronosHub has had great pleasure in facilitating and taking part in for this webinar.

As Dr. Alwaleed Alkajaja emphasized: “We are on a journey together, so it’s best we figure things out together”.

We look forward to further conversations along the way!

Watch the full webinar here 👇


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