The Evolution of Plan S: As mentioned in the last blog, I was recently asked to speak at the ISMTE North American conference on the evolution of the Plan S. In preparing my talk it seemed remarkable to reflect that only 23 months had passed since Robert-Jan Smits and Marc Schiltz launched Plan S and arguably changed the course of scholarly communication forever.
Since that first announcement we have had periods of reaction, rebellion, consultation, clarification, concession and retrenchment. The most important evolution for many has been the delay of the start to 2021 although that still hasn’t been a long enough delay to allow all the funders to get their policies aligned, indeed the UKRI’s open access policy review is still in progress with only months to go before Plan S is due to start.
For subscription publishers the relaxation of the irrational ban on hybrid journals has been a welcome evolution. Two mechanisms are now available for hybrid journals: transformative agreements or the newly conceived concept of a transformative journal.
Two initiatives that have progressed this year are the development of the journal checker tool and the transparent pricing mechanism. I’ll be blogging more on transparent pricing at a later date but at least publishers now have a couple of alternative frameworks to choose from.
The journal checker tool is due to be launched before the end of 2020. In theory, the user will be able to type in the name of their preferred journal, select their institution, choose their funder, and see if that journal enables compliance with their funder’s OA policy, and if so, via which route. In practice, the tool will never be able to check every aspect of Plan S compliance (the source data just aren’t available) but we can reasonably expect it to become the main resource for compliance checking. So, for the time being the priority for publishers will be to have their journal listed as compliant in the tool.
One evolution that hasn’t materialized is a wave of support for Plan S from other funders, in fact Coalition S has lost more than it has gained with the European Research Council withdrawing its support this year. They do, however, now have a new Executive Director Johan Rooryck and a permanent home and staff at the European Science Foundation.
One development that we hadn’t anticipated was the launch of what Coalition S calls its Rights Retention Strategy. This was pitched as a clever wheeze to bounce subscription publishers into a zero embargo archiving policy but one has to ask if the unintended consequences of forcing authors to relinquish rights in their work might backfire. Publishers have been conspicuously silent in their response to the strategy.
The final piece of the Plan S jigsaw that we are all waiting to see is the commitment from the funders to take on the costs of open access publishing in full. Given the pressure on research funding in Europe from responses to the COVID-19 pandemic it is going to be a massive challenge for funders to make that commitment, and without the money to back up the policies there remains the possibility that Plan S may yet disappear in a puff of dust.