On 23 May 2023, the European Council adopted conclusions that called for transparent, equitable, and open access to scholarly publications. It argued for immediate and unrestricted access to published science that benefits from public funding.
The Council has reached an ethically sound conclusion – that paywalls around publicly funded scientific research should be taken down. We fully agree.
The question is not whether open access scientific publishing – but how. How can we expand those publishing models making rigorously peer reviewed research articles immediately accessible on publication, free to read and open to all?
First, our starting point is that we need a range of options. A diversity of open access publishing models will help drive innovation and better serve a diverse scientific community. The principles of open science have successfully been applied in a wide range of publishing contexts, with good return on investment along with a careful stewardship of public funds. That evolution must be encouraged.
So, for example, commercial and non-profit models, including those backed by societies or research institutions, have demonstrated that open access publishing can be effective at scale and sought more broadly. Greater competition, with price transparency, will help drive down prices, spur the amount of rigorous science accessible to all, underpin rigorous quality safeguards, and nurture author choice.
Prices in publishing have in large part been driven up historically by complicated, bundled, and opaque legacy contracts that have been difficult to monitor against value for money. These legacy models and their paywall systems have created inequalities and become unsustainable.
Second, we agree with the Council that the charges to publish high quality science should not be borne ultimately by its authors.
We are not in principle wedded to article charges that fall to authors alone. The price of open access publishing services should be transparent to authors but borne by their funders or host institutions, as subscriptions are now. That is why we have established more than 650 partnerships with institutions across the world who are committed to covering some or all those charges.
Our work so far with institutions to create a centralized invoicing regime for services on a per article basis that can be tracked – through, for example, Article Processing Charges for Gold Open Access – has been very effective in bringing transparency to the publishing market in a business model that is cost-effective, commercially sustainable, and underpinned by private sector innovation.
But now we need to do more. So as a publisher, we stand ready to work with these institutions, and many more, to find the optimal, equitable, and productive finance and funding model to publish robust science at scale.
We think scale matters. Tackling global existential threats will require more than incremental change. Good research published at scale and shared globally, with machine readability across large volumes of information, will accelerate scientific discovery and grow our chances of success.