Public Library of Science, University of California Announce Transformational OA Agreement

On February 19, the Public Library of Science and the University of California announced a two-year pilot, in which UC Libraries will pay the first $1,000 of any article processing charge for UC researchers choosing to publish in a PLOS journal.

Public Library of Science and University of CA logosOn February 19, the nonprofit, open access (OA) publisher Public Library of Science (PLOS) and the University of California (UC) announced a transformational agreement that will make UC researchers’ path to publication in PLOS journals easier. Under the two-year pilot, which will be implemented this spring, UC Libraries will automatically pay the first $1,000 of any article processing charge (APC) for UC researchers choosing to publish in a PLOS journal. Authors who do not have research funding available to pay the APC can request funding for the full amount, which will be paid by UC Libraries—eliminating APCs as a barrier.

While most institutional agreements have focused on subscription publishers transitioning to OA, PLOS and UC’s arrangement represents an effort to support native OA publishers, which are already aligned with OA policies and mandates.

“We want to have our authors' work published OA so the entire world can read it, and to pay the publishers to do their business that way rather than paying them for the privilege of reading,” said UC university librarian and chief digital scholarship officer Jeffrey MacKie-Mason.

UC, which accounts for nearly ten percent of all U.S. scholarly publishing, adopted a systemwide OA policy in 2013, and published a call to action to accelerate its OA work in 2018. The ten-campus system made national news in February 2019, when it broke off contract negotiations with Elsevier, one of the world’s largest scholarly journal publishers, over publication cost and subscription issues. (The university system recently announced that it plans to reopen talks with Elsevier in the first quarter of 2020, and is also continuing discussions with Wiley and Springer Nature.) UC and Cambridge University Press entered into an OA publishing deal in April 2019.

“It was really important to start with the University of California because they are an influencer,” PLOS director of strategic partnerships Sara Rouhi told LJ. “Partnering with them speaks to our seriousness in pursuing these kinds of agreements.”

UC and the California Digital Library (CDL), which it hosts, have long believed that working with native OA publishers should be a priority, Rouhi explained. “It goes without saying that there shouldn't be a cost to read research,” she told LJ. “We also want to open up the conversation that there shouldn't be a cost to publish either. If OA means article publishing charges forevermore, we're just creating another firewall to participate in the scholarly communications ecosystem—it's just on the publishing side instead of the read side.”

A truly inclusive publishing paradigm should be open to researchers anywhere in the world, at any point in their career, said Rouhi, and authors should be able to publish regardless of their ability to meet APCs. Multiple sources of funding will help make that a reality.



Under the agreement’s workflow, authors will fill out a brief form for PLOS providing payment information, and declaring whether they have sufficient funding. The software, currently under construction, is based on a model that UC has implemented with other publishers—“a bit of code to support the author interface in the acceptance workflow,” explained Ivy Anderson, CDL associate executive director and cochair of the team overseeing UC’s publisher negotiations.

Authors will receive a minimum of $1,000 subsidy for every APC if they have grant funding that can go toward publication fees, which range from $1,500 to around $3,000. If they don’t, the entirety of their APC will be covered by UC Libraries.

Funding will come from the libraries’ collection budgets, said MacKie-Mason. “We've committed to start repurposing our subscription funding to support OA funding instead” as part of the libraries’ push toward OA publishing, he explained. The initiative has strong support across the institution, from the president’s office to the provost.

Most authors expect to pay APCs and have funds lined up, noted Anderson, but will be taken at their word if they state that they don’t have funding.

“We're not trying to legislate anything here or look over anyone's shoulder,” she told LJ. “What we're trying to do is to encourage and develop over time more of a cofunding expectation between institutional funds and research funds that can allow OA to be adequately supported, particularly at the most research-intensive institutions.”

Anderson added, “One of the reasons this kind of arrangement is a pilot is so that we will learn what happens in the author interactions, how often this is the case that authors do contribute their grant funds.”



At the same time that the agreement is in its final stages of development, UC is fine tuning its criteria for assessment of the partnership—which will take place during its implementation as well as at the pilot’s conclusion, in order to help manage new agreements going forward.

“We've done a lot of modeling to this point, so we do have some ideas about the sustainability and how this will fit into our long term funding capacity,” said Anderson, “but we'll certainly be assessing various aspects as we go.”

PLOS is in discussions on partnerships with a number of other consortia, although these will necessarily look different from the arrangement with UC.

“We want the transition to a fully OA economy to be as inclusive to any community or researcher that wants to participate as possible, and that means rethinking what the business models are going to be,” said Rouhi. “And we want these partnerships to be a collaboration. We are not showing up at any institution or consortium's door saying, ‘This is what we're going to do—are you in or are you out? All of these are collaborative discussions.”

Look for more announcements of PLOS collaborations over the course of the year, said Rouhi. "The big thing that we want to ensure is that as this paradigm shift happens,” she emphasized. “We hope this is the first of a number of deals that will introduce different models on making content, data, articles—whatever the object is—open, and that mean you don't necessarily need to be able to pay for it yourself.”

This is considered a transformative agreement, said MacKie-Mason, because it’s designed to help transform the scholarly publishing industry. “It demonstrates our commitment to support OA without any favoritism toward any particular type of publisher. We're working with commercial publishers who are both for profit and nonprofit, we're working with OA publishers as well as subscription publishers, to get a uniform playing field.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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