How was the transition to open access advanced in 2022?

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Despite the collective and decisive step changes in enabling the transition to open access this year, we should not be complacent, writes Susie Winter.

Undoubtedly, 2022 has been a year of growth for open access (OA). Funder policies and deadlines have come into play and, as a result of the pandemic, the impact and benefits of open research and open access are now better understood by people beyond academia. 

Overall, two themes featured strongly - the need for OA take up to become more global and the importance for authors to remain able to publish in their journal of choice. Taken together these themes were instrumental to enabling OA growth in 2022. 

Open access going global

To date, the story of the transition to OA has, with some notable exceptions, been an overwhelmingly European story, driven in part by the high number of successful transformative agreements (TAs) signed between European institutions and publishers. These agreements are helping to speed up the transition to OA and ensure OA is an option for all regardless of discipline, location or funding.

In addition, 2022 can be seen as the year this story began to be rewritten with the growth and expansion of TAs outside of Europe, and on a scale not seen in previous years. Wiley, Springer Nature and Oxford University Press announced agreements with Japan, signalling a clear indication of the county’s commitment to transitioning to an OA environment. Springer Nature’s pioneering examples in the Middle East, with Egypt, and in Latin America, with Colombia and Mexico, have demonstrated the value of the approach in regions where uptake in OA has been slower and more complicated due to challenges in research funding, awareness and uptake. The transition to full OA is meant to benefit the whole world and the expansion of TAs in 2022 beyond the western bubble shows that the desire and ability to work through the practicalities is also global. Some of these examples illustrate the benefits of a commitment at a national level, from funders and Governments, for their research output to be immediately available from the moment of publication, via the gold OA model. To achieve sustainable national OA transitions, ultimately leading to a full global transition, will require such commitments to become the default approach.

And when we look at the policy developments that have taken place this year with a number of countries reviewing their approach to OA and considering policy recommendations to speed up the transition, this move beyond Europe is likely to continue:

  • US- The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)) has updated the US policy guidance to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost

  • Australia - Australian funding agency, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), has introduced the requirement that scholarly publications arising from the research it funds be made freely available and accessible

  • India – the Ministry of Education has announced the deadline for the launch of the “One Nation, One Subscription” (ONOS) policy for scientific research papers and academic journals from April 2023 to ensure countrywide access for researchers and the broader public.

Come 2023, we are likely to see even greater take up by authors of OA. Moreover publishers, such as Springer Nature, continue to be ready to work with funders and others to ensure that these policies drive the OA transition in a sustainable way while ensuring the needs of the researchers continue to be met. For a long time we have had the ‘supply’ (the ability to publish OA), what we have been waiting for is the ‘demand’ (authors wanting to publish OA). 

Author choice

Researchers still want to be able to publish in the journal of their choice, regardless of funding, discipline or location.

The challenge has been to ensure that this central tenet, the freedom to publish your article where you want, is not undermined by the transition to OA. 

While Transformative Agreements have proved instrumental in enabling authors to publish OA and are now being signed in regions which to date have seen low OA take up, the fact remains that only authors from participating institutions benefit. What then about authors from regions or institutions where TAs remain challenging? TAs are complex to negotiate with no one size fits all model. Each needs to be negotiated individually to take account of particular situations and circumstances, and this takes time. 

This is why in 2020, Springer Nature proposed the concept of a transformative journal (TJ) – a journal which is committed to transitioning all of its primary research content to OA. This meant that authors whose funders were requiring their research to be published OA but prefer journals that are OA or are committed to transforming to OA, can be supported by their funder to do so. So even if such authors do not have access to a TA they are still able to publish in their journal of choice. The success of this approach can be seen in the first annual data released on TJ’s earlier this year. At Springer Nature we saw a 40% increase in gold OA research articles published in our TJ titles in 2021 compared to 2020 (By contrast, subscription article numbers grew only 8.4% in the same journals).

We will continue to support solutions that maintain author choice, while advocating for the benefits of publishing OA. These benefits will remain front and centre in our author communications: more research and transparency around the impact of OA for authors is needed to unlock the ultimate benefits of open science for science and society as a whole. It can’t be either/or in terms of author choice and open access: researchers must be supported and engaged by funders, governments and publishers in the transition process if we are going to be able to achieve a full global OA transition.

Looking ahead 

What needs to happen in 2023 to continue the progress made in 2022?

  1. Increase demand - whilst, for example, the first annual TJ report showed a strong uptake in OA choice, continued hesitancy from funders on the demand side continues to present a real challenge to any full move to open. More needs to go into raising awareness and providing funding support for researchers to publish OA.

  2. Funder engagement – whilst there are positive signs globally, support from funders for gold OA in particular remains low. The membership of cOAlition S has hardly changed since it was formed in 2018, with one newer member not supporting TJs. In addition, promotion by some funders of zero-embargo green OA works against a full transition. With a dependency on ongoing library subscriptions for access to the version of record, the green route only serves to slow down the transition and doesn’t offer the benefits of higher citations and increased downloads that come with gold open access

  3. Development of technologies to support the transition – OA and the associated workflows can be complicated for researchers. Whether it be identifying funding options or where and how to share data, code, early version, a lot of pressure is placed on researchers and their workflows need to be as simple as possible. Technologies and platforms to enable this have a core role to play in supporting a more streamlined, simple, open publishing experience.

Publishers, institutions and researchers have been working together for many years to make the transition to make OA a reality and to ensure that we collectively create a more efficient research system to support immediate access to research. Despite the positive, decisive step changes in enabling that this year, we should not be complacent. There is still a way to go, but if progress in 2022 has shown us anything, we are on the right path and accelerating towards our common goal.

Susie Winter, Vice President of External Communications, Springer Nature