Drive to gold increases need for APC management

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As the gold open-access model gains ground, good management of article processing charges will be increasingly important for institutions, writes Ellen Collins

Increased demands for free, online access to the outputs of publicly-funded research – from academic librarians, research funders and researchers themselves – have begun to change the face of scholarly publishing. Publishers face complex challenges that require them to balance the needs of various constituents, while continuing to provide a high-quality publication.

Last year, the Research Information Network (RIN), which I work for, provided the secretariat for the UK’s Finch Report. The aim of the report was to look at publishing business models in the UK and determine how the government could encourage greater access to research outputs. The Finch Group was made up of publishers, representatives of learned societies, librarians, researchers, and heads of universities.

At a high level, the group concluded that open access would continue to progress.  Instead of resisting it, all parties concerned should make sure the process is managed properly and efficiently.  Supporters argue that open access benefits research by increasing its impact and by enabling researchers to use all the outputs they might need for their work. They also argue that it can help the economy by enabling commercial innovation based upon rigorous academic research.

The Finch Report went on to recommend that publicly-funded research should ideally be published open access under a “gold” model, where authors - or another party on the author side - pay article processing charges (APCs) directly to publishers. This, insisted the group, needs to happen in complete isolation from the peer-review process so that articles are accepted based on their quality, not upon the author’s ability to pay.

In response to the Finch Report, Research Councils UK (RCUK) announced that from 1 April 2013, any research articles resulting from research it funds should be published as open access, with a preference for gold open access over green (which does not charge an APC but relies upon post-publication archiving by the researchers themselves). In this way, publishers can secure a sustainable funding stream, and readers are given clear and immediate access to the final published version of the article.

The April deadline is coming up quickly, and UK universities are just as quickly trying to prepare for the consequences. RCUK has provided them with block grants to underwrite a portion of the APCs, and the Government has allocated some funding to certain institutions to support the transition to an open-access environment. But for institutions, as for publishers, this policy represents a change in the scale of APC transactions, and management of these new funds within the allotted timescale is, for many, a slightly intimidating prospect.

A recent RIN study has shown that both institutions and publishers are interested in the idea of a non-profit intermediary that they can trust to drive automation and standardisation for open-access transactions on behalf of publishers, authors, funders and universities. This intermediary needs to have strong and extensive relationships in the scholarly communications environment, as well as an understanding of the complexities facing both publishers and institutions.

Such an intermediary could play an important role in channelling content, along with all its metadata and associated information, to the appropriate places to ensure that researchers are in compliance with all funder mandates. It could also effectively collect APCs from numerous authors and other funders, often with unique rules, and manage variable “OA aware” licensing rules at the article level. This all needs to happen with a focus on building a sustainable business and minimising administration for both publishers and institutions.

Ellen Collins is a research consultant at the Research Information Network. She is also lead researcher on OAPEN-UK, a collaborative research project to explore open-access scholarly monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences