An exciting mix

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Alicia Wise has been a researcher, worked with JISC in negotiating access deals and now works for Elsevier. She shares her experiences of access to research resources in these different roles

I believe that access is incredibly important to all of academia and society. As an academic archaeologist, I used to be both frustrated and intrigued by the experience of spending more of my time negotiating access to resources – data, publications, expertise, museum and archive collections – than I did on teaching and research. Back in the mid 1990s, almost none of the resources I needed were available online.

The transition to digital, first for journals and now for so many other high-quality academic resources, mesmerised me and so it was very exciting to have the opportunity in 1998 to take on a role at JISC negotiating access to these digital treasures on behalf of UK universities. Licensing content has completely transformed academia, and I do think sometimes we forget to step back and marvel at what we all have achieved in a short time.

Grappling with pricing

About 10 years ago, I helped to set up the JISC’s scholarly communication group to grapple with concern about content pricing and also to reflect on new business models emerging from the USA, among which the author-side payment models for journal access. There was a sense of possibility, but also a need for more evidence to reflect on whether open access (OA) could be a lasting part of the scholarly communication landscape.

Years after leaving JISC, it felt exciting to catch up with the access landscape again when I joined Elsevier last year as director of universal access. I believe passionately that publishers have a continuing and important role to play in scholarly communications. I am inspired by Elsevier’s vision for a future world with universal access to high-quality information, and I whole-heartedly believe that this future can only be achieved with a mix of sustainable business models. This includes OA business models but is broader than that. We work diligently, alone and in partnership with other stakeholders, to ensure access to high-quality information is available to as many people as possible.

Although 93 per cent of academic researchers are happy with their access levels, there are still access gaps, and we’re determined to close them in a number of ways. These include crafting licences that extend access to small businesses or secondary students, populating online lending services with terrific content, developing ways to work with funding bodies and institutions on sustainable posting policies and to showcase their research outputs, and OA publishing. We have around 1,100 journal titles offering authors the option to sponsor OA to their articles. We also have 31 titles that offer a delayed-access option and three author-pays journals. Furthermore, we provide free or low-cost access to scientific information in the world’s poorest countries (see page 22).

Low uptake

There is no single, dominant OA business model today and the uptake is still relatively low. The author-pays model accounts for about two per cent of published articles, sponsored articles represent around one per cent of all STM articles and delayed access is static at around seven per cent of articles. It’s important for publishers to offer a range of options as one size does not fit all. OA models do not suit all academics, but are really important to some and we expect OA models to continue to be part of our overall publishing mix.

We believe the voluntary posting of manuscripts is an acceptable practice for authors, and that both institutions and publishers should respect their choices. As a matter of principle, we believe authors should be able to publish wherever they choose without undue restriction. When an institution mandates the systematic posting of manuscripts, it is important that we work with them to ensure that their requirements are sustainable for the underlying journal. That’s why we created agreements with funding bodies such as the Wellcome Trust to enable authors to comply in ways that we believe will be sustainable. In addition to these agreements with funding bodies, we’re currently setting up and testing similar agreements for institutions.

STM publishers are not attached to a single business model or publishing mechanism. In the future we’re likely to continue to see a mix of business models. These models need to be sustainable, so publishers can continue to play the essential role they have in serving the scientific community. This will partly be the role we’ve always played by managing peer review, copyediting and preparing articles for publication, as well as preserving the scholarly record through, for example, long-term preservation partnerships with organisations such as CLOCKSS and Portico.

Enabling efficiency

We are also focused on enabling scientists to be more efficient and effective, by investing in the development of tools that enable them to find relevant information more quickly and easily. As we continue to evolve from being a content provider to an information solutions provider, we will continue to invest in further expanding our services and tools portfolio. Sustainable business models, in any form or shape, allow us do this and enable us to continue adding value to the scientific community in the decades to come.

Alicia Wise is director of universal access at Elsevier