‘Does it pay to pay? A comparison of the benefits of open-access publishing across various sub-fields in biology’

Amanda D. Clark, in a February [*PeerJ* study](https://peerj.com/articles/16824/) looking at citations in hybrid journals:

> …. we found that publishing open access in hybrid journals that offer the option confers an average citation advantage to authors of 17.8 citations compared to closed access articles in similar journals. After taking into account the number of authors, Journal Citation Reports 2020 Quartile, year of publication, and Web of Science category, we still found that open access generated significantly more citations than closed access (p < 0.0001). […] This citation advantage based on access type was even similar when comparing open and closed access articles published in the same issue of a journal (p < 0.0001). However, by examining articles where the authors paid an article processing charge, we found that cost itself was not predictive of citation rates (p = 0.14). Based on our findings of access type and other model parameters, we suggest that, in the case of the 152 journals we analyzed, paying for open access does confer a citation advantage. The cake-and-eat-it-too business of hybrid-journals—where subscription revenues are joined by per-author APCs—hinges on the presumed citation (and readership) benefits for the OA articles. In theory, authors get the boost of inherited prestige from legacy journals with, as an expensive bonus, OA gatelessness. cOAlition S has, of course, gone after publishers’ hybrid-style double-dipping, but that hasn’t stopped the practice. Clark and her *PeerJ* coauthors [mention](https://peerj.com/articles/16824/) the author-exclusion stakes, but the [piece](https://peerj.com/articles/16824/) settles for what amounts to author self-help advice: Publish gold if you can, but if you can’t, take the green route. That’s all well and good, but—as the authors [claim](https://peerj.com/articles/16824/)—“publishing gold OA article in a hybrid journal maximizes citations in most scenarios.” Even if green citation results are better than the closed alternative, it’s still the unjust reality that only well-heeled researchers can, so to speak, reach for the top shelf.

‘An Interview with Tracey Armstrong of CCC’

Tracey Armstrong, in an [interview for The Scholarly Kitchen](https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2024/04/03/kitchen-essentials-tracey-armstrong-ccc/) last week:

> What keeps me up at night is the unlicensed use of copyrighted material in AI systems and the lack of recognition globally of the critical, foundational, and perpetual role that copyrighted material plays in powering AI systems. I am focused on ensuring that we have viable market-based licensing solutions for the use of copyrighted content in the training of AI systems and on elevating awareness of the critical importance of using quality content in training, and of the fact that copies are being made in that training process.

The publishers that CCC represents aren’t kept up at night. No, they’re dreaming of licensing revenue from OpenAI and its big-tech peers. It’s almost certainly the case that the marquee LLMs have trained on giant scholarly publishers’ copyrighted content. Last week’s [*New York Times* report](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/06/technology/tech-giants-harvest-data-artificial-intelligence.html) on the tech firms’ “cut corners” testifies to their insatiable demand for materials. CCC and its publisher-clients are, no doubt, preparing lawsuits *and* negotiating—with the aim, either way, to [profit yet again off the unpaid scholarship of researchers](https://upstream.force11.org/large-language-publishing/).

A side note: Armstrong, in [The Scholarly Kitchen interview](https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2024/04/03/kitchen-essentials-tracey-armstrong-ccc/), claims that CCC is a non-profit. That’s misleading at best. In the early 1980s the U.S. courts [forced the firm to drop its non-profit status](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Clearance_Center), since it had no “interests of any substance beyond the creation of a device to protect their copyright ownership and collect license fees.” As the [Copyright Society notes](https://copyrightsociety.org/organizations/copyright-clearance-center/#:~:text=Founded%20in%201978%20as%20a,is%20a%20for%2Dprofit%20corporation.), “CCC still maintains not-for-profit status in New York, but for federal purposes is a for-profit corporation.”

‘The Cost and Price of Public Access to Research Data: A Synthesis’

Gail Steinhart and Katherine Skinner, [announcing a new Invest in Open Infrastructure report on data-repository funding](https://investinopen.org/blog/the-cost-and-price-of-public-access-to-research-data/):

> Here, we present an initial report on our findings as part of [our project to investigate “reasonable costs” for public access to United States federally funded research and scientific data](https://investinopen.org/blog/ioi-nsf-reasonable-costs-announcement/), generously supported by the US National Science Foundation. This paper focuses on research data as one of the key scholarly output types impacted by the Nelson Memo.

The [full report is worth reading](https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10729547?ref=investinopen.org)—there’s good definitional work, as well as an impressive overview of the data-repository landscape. My one qualm is that the report, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t address the implications of US public-access policies for *unfunded* researchers. The report is mostly neutral on the various approaches to funding, with direct “structural” support surveyed alongside membership and per-deposit fee models. The problem is that *any* approach that relies on researchers or their host institutions to pay membership or per-deposit fees will exclude scholars; the only fair and sustainable approach is a direct, collective approach that is free to researchers. If the US adopts a mechanism-neutral policy—akin to its APC agnositicism on the article side—we may find ourselves with a broader, fee-based landscape that leaves researchers (including those from the Global South) unable to share their data.

The Publication is Alive!

Mikhail Gorbunov-Posadov, [in a November article in *publications*](https://www.mdpi.com/2304-6775/11/2/24):

> An alive publication is a new genre for presenting the results of scientific research, where the scientific work is published online, and then is constantly being developed and improved by its author. Serious errors and typos are no longer fatal, nor do they haunt the author for the rest of his or her life.

Gorbunov-Posadov has in mind perpetual revision, and a [slew](https://www.mdpi.com/2304-6775/11/2/24) of thoughts for how the publishing world should adapt. And he expects it to happen:

> Only absolute geniuses write perfect texts on the first attempt. All other authors will notice this or the imperfection of their publication after some time and will undoubtedly be happy to have a window of opportunity to improve, correct, or update it. A new paradigm for presenting the results of research is the future. Alive publications will replace many of the current forms of publications based on print traditions. In a few years, the scientist’s mind will be transformed. Taking care to keep a publication up to date will become the norm; moreover, it will become a long-term, irresistible, and vital need, akin to a parent’s care for a child’s development.

Alive or not, widespread support for versioning—with less reverence to a *version of record*—is overdue, especially in [kinetic fields like my own](https://culturedigitally.org/2015/05/media-scholarship-needs-updating-iterative-article-editions-for-a-sped-up-world/).

‘We failed to anticipate how successful APCs would become’

Alison Mudditt, CEO of PLOS, in an [interview with The Scholarly Kitchen](https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2023/03/20/chefs-de-cuisine-perspectives-from-publishings-top-table-alison-mudditt/) about a year ago:

> Back when PLOS launched and focused on the biomedical sciences, charging authors a fee to publish seemed fair and reasonable. Fast forward twenty years and it’s clear that we failed to anticipate how successful APCs would become and how some publishers would exploit this space. So, we’re on a journey at PLOS to move away from APCs entirely but it feels as if much of the industry is heading in the opposite direction with a headlong rush into “transformative” agreements. I can’t see any way in which this won’t continue to disenfranchise researchers in lower- and middle-income countries and so I hope that, as an industry, we can do better.

It’s good to see that PLOS is committed to [repairing](https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2023/03/20/chefs-de-cuisine-perspectives-from-publishings-top-table-alison-mudditt/) a system—author charges—that the nonprofit helped establish. PLOS was the [second publisher, and the first nonprofit, to adopt the APC model](https://items.ssrc.org/parameters/the-library-solution-how-academic-libraries-could-end-the-apc-scourge/) at the turn of the millennium—and the organization chose a fatefully high charge ($1500) that would, in the next couple of years, pave the way for Springer-style $3000 usury.

‘The game of academic publishing’

Nathalie Ann Köbli and colleagues, [writing for *Frontiers in Communication*](https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcomm.2024.1323867/full) on gamification of social scientists’ publishing:

> Quantifying publication outcomes to assess and financially incentivize research performance results in a highly competitive playing field where access to goods and services is denied to those who play the game poorly. The pressure to publish leads to unethical behavior and predatory publishing which are two side-effects of gamified practices. The reviewed literature also shows unequal starting conditions in terms of gender and language inequalities, as well as the dominance of the Global North. We conclude that the gamification of publication practices in the Social Sciences leads to stressful and dreadful environments.

It’s an excellent, sobering [review](https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcomm.2024.1323867/full), one that traces the gamified incentives to the university-market nexus. If anything, the authors’ core point—that publishing is miserable for everyone, and worse still for those on the academic periphery—could be deepened with a nod to author-excluding APCs.

‘Academic Partnerships completes acquisition of Wiley University Services’

From Wiley’s [press release](https://librarytechnology.org/pr/29631) announcing the sale of its online-program business to a one-time rival:

> Academic Partnerships (AP), a company that assists primarily regional public universities in expanding access and impact by supporting their online programs, today announced that it has successfully completed its acquisition of Wiley University Services, a line of business previously owned by Wiley (NYSE: WLY). The combined company will support over 125 colleges and universities in 40 U.S. states and internationally.

Two items of note: first, the phrase “online program manager,” and its OPM shorthand, are absent from the [release](https://librarytechnology.org/pr/29631). Given the [woes of the sector](https://monitor.icef.com/2024/02/former-edtech-unicorns-stock-price-plunges-as-universities-take-diy-approach-to-online-learning/), with its vampiric business model under strain, the OPM sheen has plainly worn off. That the buyer, [Academic Partnerships](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_Partnerships), is in private-equity hands isn’t a good sign, either.

The other interesting takeaway is about Wiley itself: The company is shedding assets in the wake of its [disastrous Hindawi purchase](https://retractionwatch.com/2023/12/06/wiley-to-stop-using-hindawi-name-amid-18-million-revenue-decline/).

NYPLs Scholarly Press Backlist Revival Project

Greg Cram and Kathleen Riegelhaupt, on the New York Public Library’s [Scholarly Press Backlist Revival Project](https://networks.h-net.org/group/discussions/20020173/introducing-new-york-public-librarys-scholarly-press-backlist-revival), which seeks to pry backlist books from out-of-print inaccessibility:

> Since 2022, we have worked to develop a proof of concept in partnership with the University of Michigan Press, University of South Carolina Press, University of Massachusetts Press, and MIT Press. Called the “Scholarly Press Backlist Revival,” our project provides an alternative to tracking down individual contracts. The key — what we believe will allow us to scale this effort but remain well within the bounds of what we believe is fair and based on collaboration and consent — is asking presses to grant NYPL permission to make their books digitally available to the world not on a title-by-title basis, but on entire out-of-print backlist basis.

What a great [idea](https://networks.h-net.org/group/discussions/20020173/introducing-new-york-public-librarys-scholarly-press-backlist-revival): secure publisher permission to make these semi-abandoned books available, with the carrot that the publishers get free or very cheap digitized version which—should they choose—could be restored to the market. Two unnamed presses are [already on board](https://networks.h-net.org/group/discussions/20020173/introducing-new-york-public-librarys-scholarly-press-backlist-revival).

‘Solidarity among Philosophers Leads to New Journal: Political Philosophy’

Justin Weinberg, [writing for the Daily Nous](https://dailynous.com/2024/01/12/solidarity-among-philosophers-leads-to-new-journal-political-philosophy/):

> *Political Philosophy* is born from the ashes of *[The Journal of Political Philosophy](https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14679760)* (JPP). It has some similarities with its predecessor—you’ll recognize its [editors and editorial board](https://politicalphilosophyjournal.org/editorialteam/)—but also some differences. For example, it has a different publisher, and the new journal will be open access.

It’s among the latest in a wave of [recent mass resignations](https://retractionwatch.com/the-retraction-watch-mass-resignations-list/) and journal flips—in this case, to the nonprofit [Open Library of the Humanities](https://www.openlibhums.org/). The proximate cause was Wiley’s revenue-hungry push for more articles:

> Readers may recall that last year, Wiley, the journal’s publisher, told Robert Goodin (ANU), who created the JPP and served as its editor-in-chief, that he would be fired as of the end of 2023. Wiley’s decision was reportedly prompted by a dispute with Goodin over whether the journal should accept more articles. Wiley had been pushing the journal to publish more articles per year because of the turn towards open-access publishing agreements, which generate fees for the publisher on a per-article basis. Goodin resisted this, and he and the other members of the editorial team refused to stay on because they were unable to get assurances that they’d have “requisite editorial control and discretion to maintain the quality and reputation of the JPP in the face of Wiley’s desire to boost significantly and indefinitely the number of articles published by the JPP.”

When will sociology’s indispensable *[Theory & Society](https://link.springer.com/journal/11186)*—recently decapitated in a [Springer-engineered coup](https://scatter.wordpress.com/2024/01/10/questions-for-the-new-theory-society-editorial-board/)—follow the *Political Philosophy* [example](https://dailynous.com/2024/01/12/solidarity-among-philosophers-leads-to-new-journal-political-philosophy/)?

‘2U-edX crash exposes the latest wave of edugrift’

Dahl Shaulis, [writing for Higher Education Inquirer](https://www.highereducationinquirer.org/2023/09/2u-crash-exposes-latest-wage-of-edugrift.html) about 2U’s in-progress implosion:

> 2U, a Lanham, Maryland-based edtech company and parent company edX, is facing layoffs of an estimated 200 to 400 workers–a significant number for a company that only employs a few thousand–amid more rumors that the company is for sale.
> […]
> In 2022 and 2023, the Wall Street Journal (Lisa Bannon), Chronicle of Higher Education (Mike Vasquez), and USA Today (Chris Quintana) investigated 2U after a few US senators sounded the alarm about consumers being fleeced by 2U and other OPMs. 
> With 2U’s reputation in shambles and layoffs ahead, the parent company wrapped itself around the more respectable edX brand. Byju’s, an Indian edtech firm, was said to be looking at 2U or Chegg as a possible acquisition ([Byju’s is now facing its own problems](https://www.wsj.com/articles/lenders-to-indias-byjus-allege-533-million-went-to-hedge-fund-515c9b50)).  

Quite a legacy for edX, the nonprofit that Harvard and MIT sold (in one of the[ all-time higher-ed betrayals](https://www.chronicle.com/article/mit-and-harvard-have-sold-higher-educations-future)) to 2U in 2021. At the time, Harvard’s Alan Garber—then provost, now acting president—[lauded the purchase](https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/06/edx-acquired-by-education-technology-company-2u/): “Of course we conducted an extensive diligence process before deciding to move forward with an acquisition of edX by 2U [… ] They have committed to continuing the mission of edX — in fact, this is spelled out in our agreements with them — and we’re confident it is the right company to take edX to the next level.“

Nailed it.

‘Scholarly Communication Service Providers’

Speaking of AI, here’s [Lorcan Dempsey](https://www.lorcandempsey.net/generative-ai-and-libraries-7-contexts/), proposing to group Elsevier, Digital Science and Clarivate as “scholarly communication service providers”:

> In our space, it will be especially interesting to watch what I [call](https://www.lorcandempsey.net/generative-ai-and-libraries-7-contexts/) the scholarly communication service providers, Elsevier, Digital Science and Clarivate. They each have scale with development capacity, a mature research graph (underlying Scopus, Dimensions and Web of Science, respectively), a wide range of data, publishing and workflow services, as well as connections into scholarly and library communities. They have each made various announcements about AI development…

I’m not sure about the label itself—*scholarly communication service providers* may be misleadingly anodyne, and also too generic to distinguish the three companies from others. But the grouping itself (Elsevier, Digital Science, and Clarivate) does point to a pair of important shifts: (1) the “publisher” moniker is losing some of its relevance. Of the three companies, only Elsevier is really a publisher—and one that’s keen to stress that it’s much more. The (2) other point is that Elsevier, Digital Science, and Clarivate are each building out a full stack of competing services, up and down the research lifecycle—most of them built on [scholars’ work and behavior](https://elephantinthelab.org/surveillance-publishing/). The upshot is that Elsevier may have more in common with Digital Science (Springer Nature’s corporate sibling) and Clarivate than, say, Taylor & Francis or Wiley.

Either way, Dempsey’s [analysis of AI and the academy](https://www.lorcandempsey.net/generative-ai-a-note-about-content/) (with a library focus) is the sharpest I’ve read.

‘Large Language Publishing’

I have a [post](https://upstream.force11.org/large-language-publishing/) on FORCE11’s [Upstream](https://upstream.force11.org/large-language-publishing/), on scholarly publishers’ in-progress play for prediction-product profit:

> The big publishers think they’re sitting on a gold mine. It’s not just their paywalled, full-text scholarship, but also the reams of other data they hoover up from academics across their platforms and products. In theory at least, their proprietary content is—unlike the clown show of the open web—vetted and linked. On those grounds, observers have declared that publishers may be the [“biggest winners” in the generative AI revolution](https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexzhavoronkov/2023/02/23/the-unexpected-winners-of-the-chatgpt-generative-ai-revolution/?sh=45a4d82312b0&ref=lorcandempsey.net). Maybe. But either way, expect Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, Elsevier, Wiley, and SAGE to test the theory.

‘The Brief: Gemini’

The latest [installment](https://www.ce-strategy.com/the-brief/gemini/) of Clarke & Esposito’s [*The Brief*](https://www.ce-strategy.com/subscribe/) newsletter is, as always, sharp and informative. The lead bit is on Google’s new Gemini, and its example AI academic search. Thanks to Google Scholar, Gemini can mine OA content at the article level, even in hybrid journals—and also scrape green AAM versions:

> The implications of this granular indexing on licensing arrangements is worth noting. As more and more articles are published on an OA basis, even if in hybrid journals or via green OA, Google Gemini (and other generative AI platforms) will have more free-to-them content to incorporate into their platforms. This raises the question as to whether liberal reuse licenses might need to be revisited by publishers.

This point—publishers, roll back your liberal OA licensing!—was made by [Joe Esposito back in July at the Scholarly Kitchen](https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2023/07/12/who-is-going-to-make-money-from-artificial-intelligence-in-scholarly-communications/) (“What publishers need is more copyright protection, not less”).

In the words of the latest [*Brief*](https://www.ce-strategy.com/the-brief/gemini/):

> The CC BY license is looking increasingly like a mechanism to transfer value from scientific and scholarly publishers to the world’s wealthiest tech companies.

Maybe. But here’s a rewrite: The scholarly publishing business is looking increasingly like a mechanism to transfer value from scholars, taxpayers, and universities to the world’s most profitable companies.

‘The Politics of Rights Retention’

Sam Moore, concluding a [thoughtful analysis of rights-retention policies in Europe an elsewhere](https://www.mdpi.com/2304-6775/11/2/28):

> To be clear, very little of the negotiations around rights retention represents much more than liberal market economics—it should not be confused for the kind of political radicalism that higher education institutions are unable to perform. However, this is not its point: rights retention makes institutions more combative towards extractive practices in the publishing industry by demanding certain transactional conditions that are about more than just price. To that extent, rights retention can be well coupled with a strategy that supports and nurtures alternative and more radical approaches to open access that are less dependent on market incentives.

CCC’s Shot Across the Bow

Roy Kaufman, CEO of the for-profit Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), [posted excerpts](https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2023/11/28/the-united-states-copyright-office-notice-of-inquiring-on-ai-a-quick-take/) from the company’s response to the US Copyright Office’s [call for comments](https://www.copyright.gov/newsnet/2023/1017.html) on AI training data. The *Scholarly Kitchen* [post](https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2023/11/28/the-united-states-copyright-office-notice-of-inquiring-on-ai-a-quick-take/) is fascinating and worthy of notice. It’s hardly surprising that the CCC—the publishing industry’s main licensing and permissions broker—took a muscular stance:

> There is certainly enough copyrightable material available under license to build reliable, workable, and trustworthy AI. Just because a developer wants to use “everything” does not mean it needs to do so, is entitled to do so, or has the right to do so. Nor should governments and courts twist or modify the law to accommodate them.

What’s more interesting is CCC‘s frontal assault on the fair use rationale that big tech has used to justify its permission-free training-data hoovering. The key passages are a bit technical, filled with references to “transformer architecture” and “tokenizers.” The plain reason is to establish that language-model training requires large swaths of text:

> It is important to understand the role of word embeddings when it comes to copyright because the embeddings are the representations (or encodings) of entire sentences, paragraphs, and even documents, in a high-dimensional vector space. It is through the embeddings that the AI system captures and stores the meaning and the relationships of the words from the natural language.

Such embeddings, CCC continues, are used in “practically every task” in generative AI. The message? OpenAI and the rest aren’t using mere snippets.

There’s lots more in the [comments](https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2023/11/28/the-united-states-copyright-office-notice-of-inquiring-on-ai-a-quick-take/), which are (I predict) a preview of how the big commercial publishers will approach litigation and/or licensing negotiations with the Silicon Valley model builders.

Can the likes of OpenAI scrape up copyrighted content into their models, without permission or compensation? The tech companies think so; they’re [fresh converts](https://jacobin.com/2023/11/artificial-intelligence-big-tech-lobbying-copyright-infringement-regulation/) to fair-use maximalism, as revealed by their public comments filed with the US Copyright Office. The companies’ “overall message,“ reported *The Verge* in a [round-up](https://www.theverge.com/2023/11/4/23946353/generative-ai-copyright-training-data-openai-microsoft-google-meta-stabilityai), is that they “don’t think they should have to pay to train AI models on copyrighted work.”

It’s time to heat up the popcorn.

‘The Oligopoly’s Shift to Open Access’

Speaking of [APC revenue](https://www.jeffpooley.com/2023/11/ostp-remains-apc-friendly/), Leigh-Ann Butler and colleagues have a [great paper](https://direct.mit.edu/qss/article/doi/10.1162/qss_a_00272/118070/The-Oligopoly-s-Shift-to-Open-Access-How-the-Big) out in *Quantitative Science Studies*, on APC revenue from the big five commercial publishers (2015–2018):

> Revenue from gold OA amounted to $612.5 million, while $448.3 million was obtained for publishing OA in hybrid journals. Among the five publishers, Springer-Nature made the most revenue from OA ($589.7 million), followed by Elsevier ($221.4 million), Wiley ($114.3 million), Taylor & Francis ($76.8 million) and Sage ($31.6 million).

That’s over [$1 billion dollars](https://direct.mit.edu/qss/article/doi/10.1162/qss_a_00272/118070/The-Oligopoly-s-Shift-to-Open-Access-How-the-Big), with nearly $200 million flowing to just two SpringerNature mega-journals (*Scientific Reports* and *Nature Communications*).

*Science* has a solid [news story](https://english.elpais.com/science-tech/2023-11-21/scientists-paid-large-publishers-over-1-billion-in-four-years-to-have-their-studies-published-with-open-access.html) on the study. The *Science* piece includes self-serving complaints from SpringerNature on the study’s methods. One of the author’s, Stefanie Haustein, is [quoted](https://english.elpais.com/science-tech/2023-11-21/scientists-paid-large-publishers-over-1-billion-in-four-years-to-have-their-studies-published-with-open-access.html) in reply:

> If publishers believe our estimates are not accurate, we would appreciate it if they would publish their data and be transparent. Their lack of transparency is precisely what has made our work so slow and difficult.

As John Milton put in the 17th century: “They who have put out the people’s eyes, reproach them of their blindness.”

![APC revenues chart from 2023 study](https://jeffpooley.com/images/apc-revenue-study-2023.png)

OSTP Remains APC-friendly

The just-released U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) [report on OA financing](https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/news-updates/2023/11/22/report-to-congress-on-financing-mechanisms-for-open-access-publishing-of-federally-funded-research/) is definitely interesting—it’s far more in-depth in its scope than the last year’s [Nelson Memo](https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/08-2022-OSTP-Public-access-Memo.pdf). References to cOAlition S, diamond OA, subscribe-to-open, and other funding-landscape arcana, for example, litter the new report. And the report’s authors, among many other things, tried to estimate how much US taxpayers are forking over for APCs. Their guess is $375 million a year in 2021, a $100 million increase over five years.

Another fascinating (if unsurprising) detail on publisher concentration:

> In the U.S., five publishers — Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, the American Chemical Society (ACS), and Oxford University Press (OUP) — account for 51.4 percent of the volume of federally funded publications from 2016 to 2021, according to data retrieved from Clarivate’s Web of Science. Similarly, five publishers — Elsevier, Spring [*sic*] Nature, Wiley, OUP, and MDPI — account for 51.4 percent of the volume of openly accessible federally funded articles from 2016 to 2021.

The [report](https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/news-updates/2023/11/22/report-to-congress-on-financing-mechanisms-for-open-access-publishing-of-federally-funded-research/), for all its taxonomic detail, is a disappointment. That’s because the bottom-line conclusions haven’t changed: the [report](https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/news-updates/2023/11/22/report-to-congress-on-financing-mechanisms-for-open-access-publishing-of-federally-funded-research/) endorses the same non-committal APC-friendly stance as the Nelson Memo. This despite earnest paragraphs on “inequities in publishing” and due mention of the author-excluding implication of APCs.

‘LexisNexis Sold Face Recognition, Spy Tools to CBP’

A coda to [Tuesday’s post](https://www.jeffpooley.com/2023/11/the-sciencedirect-data-hoover/) on SPARC’s Elsevier report. Here’s Sam Biddle, [writing for *The Intercept*](https://theintercept.com/2023/11/16/lexisnexis-cbp-surveillance-border/) on Elsevier corporate sibling LexisNexis Risk Solutions:

> The popular data broker LexisNexis began selling face recognition services and personal location data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection late last year, according to [contract documents](https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/24169410-70b04c23f00000043_leid-base-award-002pdf-1_reda) obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
>
> According to the documents, obtained by the advocacy group Just Futures Law and shared with The Intercept, LexisNexis Risk Solutions began selling surveillance tools to the border enforcement agency in December 2022. The $15.9 million contract includes a broad menu of powerful tools for locating individuals throughout the United States using a vast array of personal data, much of it obtained and used without judicial oversight.

Are any of the LexisNexis tools on offer drawing on data gathered through Elsevier’s ScienceDirect? Who knows—there’s no real answer in the [contract documents](https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/24169410-70b04c23f00000043_leid-base-award-002pdf-1_reda) nor the ass-covering [LexisNexis FAQ page](https://risk.lexisnexis.com/government/our-services-for-homeland-security#collapse-9bf71487-4e79-42b4-98ef-fb87a371d544).

The ScienceDirect Data Hoover

From SPARC North America’s [overview](https://sparcopen.org/news/2023/sparc-report-urges-action-to-address-concerns-with-sciencedirect-data-privacy-practices/) of its important new [report on Elsevier’s ScienceDirect data tracking](https://zenodo.org/doi/10.5281/zenodo.10078609):

> By analyzing the privacy practices of the world’s largest publisher, the report describes how user tracking that would be unthinkable in a physical library setting now happens routinely through publisher platforms. The analysis underlines the concerns this tracking should raise, particularly when the same company is involved in surveillance and data brokering activities. Elsevier is a subsidiary of RELX, a leading data broker and provider of “risk” products that offer expansive databases of personal information to corporations, governments, and law enforcement agencies. 

The [report](https://zenodo.org/doi/10.5281/zenodo.10078609)—based on a review of legalistic disclosures, library agreements, and under-the-hood web tracking—is a sobering read. In particular, SPARC highlights the likely cross-product pollination from Elsevier to parent RELX Group’s LexisNexis “risk” businesses:

> There is little to nothing to stop vendors who collect and track patron data from feeding that data—either in its raw form or in aggregate—into their data brokering business.

The [report](https://sparcopen.org/news/2023/sparc-report-urges-action-to-address-concerns-with-sciencedirect-data-privacy-practices/), in short, provides granular evidence about the scholarly world’s worst [surveillance publisher](https://elephantinthelab.org/surveillance-publishing/).

![Tables from 2023 SPARC report on ScienceDirect data tracking](https://jeffpooley.com/images/web-tracking-by-page.png)

The Redemption of Plan S

On Tuesday—Halloween here in the US—cOAlition S released a new open access [blueprint](https://www.coalition-s.org/blog/introducing-the-towards-responsible-publishing-proposal-from-coalition-s/), one that, in effect, proposes to dismantle the prevailing journal system. Under an anodyne title ([“Toward Responsible Publishing”](https://www.coalition-s.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Towards_Responsible_Publishing_web.pdf)), the group of (mostly) European state funders and foundations endorsed a future for scholarly communication in which publishers are recast as competing service providers. It’s also in basic alignment with the movement to shift peer review to a post-publication phase—with curation and discoverability detached from the per-title, periodic-release journal system. The third major pillar of the plan is to de-throne the version-of-record article (and, implicitly, the monograph), by granting other outputs (like datasets and reviews) equal footing in the realm of recognition.

The plan, to borrow a phrase from Joe Biden, is a BFD.

In this post, I want to make three quick points, which I hope to expand on soon. The first is that the Plan S [initiative](https://www.coalition-s.org/blog/introducing-the-towards-responsible-publishing-proposal-from-coalition-s/) represents an uneasy convergence between two strands of the nonprofit, mission-driven OA world: between (1) those who’ve championed scholar-submitted preprints to open repositories, coupled with an emergent post-release review ecosystem; and (2) advocates of nonprofit, fee-free OA publishing, who tend to employ the traditional version-of-record journal and book formats. The distinction, in the bizarre lingo we’ve inherited, is *green* versus *diamond*.

I don’t want to exaggerate the differences between these two approaches. There’s a shared belief, most crucially, that the academic community should restore custody over the scholarly publishing system—wrench it back, that is, from the oligopolists. A second shared tenet is that an OA system based on APCs (or their read-and-publish equivalent) is arguably *worse* than the tolled system it seeks to replace. APC-based OA trades barriers to readers for barriers to authors, with the right to publish meted out according to institutional wealth or national origin. So that’s a lot of agreement: a nonprofit, community-led system that doesn’t exclude authors.

Still, the differences are important. The green route—sometimes termed Publish, Review, Curate (PRC), in that order—aims to replace the journal system altogether. The diamond route, by contrast, seeks to fix that system.[^1]

The rethought Plan S leans green. From the plan’s first Principle:

> Authors – and not third-party suppliers, such as publishers — should decide when and where to publish, including versions before and after peer review and the associated peer review reports. Service-related elements (copyediting, typesetting, submission systems, hosting, formal quality checks) can be outsourced.

It’s true that the “Responsible Publishing” [vision](https://www.coalition-s.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Towards_Responsible_Publishing_web.pdf) can probably accommodate diamond journals and book publishers. Curation, after all, is a crucial component of any publish-then-review system. The concept of an [overlay journal](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overlay_journal) is one obvious zone of compatibility.

It is, nevertheless, striking that cOAlition S has gone all in on the green route. In the last couple of years, the group has made [major investments](https://www.coalition-s.org/diamond-open-access/) in propping up the diamond OA ecosystem (up to and including its role in last week’s [mega-summit](https://globaldiamantoa.org/en/home-2/)). The new plan, if not exactly a departure, is a significant shift in emphasis.

That’s the first point. My second observation has to do with the plan’s aim to recast publishers as “third-party suppliers.” This vision—of a marketplace of service providers, competing to offer copy-editing, typesetting, and other contract work—is in near-perfect alignment with the approach championed by Björn Brembs, the tenacious German neuroscientist. In a series of [posts](https://bjoern.brembs.net/2021/12/academic-publishing-market-or-collectivization/) and [articles](https://zenodo.org/records/5526635)—most recently in [July](https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.230206)—Brembs and his allies have pushed for a system in this service-provider mold. When he first floated the scheme, I thought the idea was dead-on-arrival—a noble but quixotic campaign. I was wrong. The first big sign of the approach’s viability came last May, when the Council of Europe [embraced](https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-9616-2023-INIT/en/pdf) what I call Plan Brembs. Tuesday’s Plan S [endorsement](https://www.coalition-s.org/blog/introducing-the-towards-responsible-publishing-proposal-from-coalition-s/) is more significant still—a system-rattling grant of momentum and legitimacy.

My third and final claim is about the evolution of cOAlition/Plan S. The group’s public embrace of a post-publisher future is a major departure in strategy and mission. Tuesday’s [announcement](https://www.coalition-s.org/blog/introducing-the-towards-responsible-publishing-proposal-from-coalition-s/) included doth-protest-too-much quotations from Plan S’s [original 2018 roll-out](https://www.coalition-s.org/why-plan-s/), to signal continuity over the plan’s five-year history. In its first few years, however, Plan S was a very different beast. The group treaded cautiously, abandoning a planned APC cap and providing generous exemptions and leeway to the big commercial publishers. Though the first-phase Plan S was undoubtedly well-intentioned, its on-the-ground effect was to pave the road for Springer Nature and co. to charge usurious APCs. An argument can be made, indeed, that Plan S midwifed the so-called “transformative” read-and-publish deal, whose effect has been to bake in an author-excluding OA system. Provisions to permit the oligopolists to run with a double-dipping “hybrid” OA approach—with APC-funded OA articles published in subscription journals—had the (unintended) effect of tightening the corporate bear-hug.

Those concessions to the likes of Elsevier were always meant to be temporary. To its credit, cOAlition has [announced sunsetting deadlines](https://www.coalition-s.org/coalition-s-confirms-the-end-of-its-financial-support-for-open-access-publishing-under-transformative-arrangements-after-2024/), fast-approaching indeed. But the group’s real break with its original strategy came—we can now say, in retrospect—with the 2020 hiring of Johan Rooryck as executive director. A Dutch linguist, Rooryck had a major hand in an [early Elsevier journal-flipping](https://www.glossa-journal.org/article/id/4812/). He has worked tirelessly, by all evidence, to shift cOAlition S away from its initial (and disastrous) APC embrace. Prominent among his initiatives have been [recent efforts](https://www.coalition-s.org/diamond-open-access/), alluded to above, in support of a nonprofit, diamond OA ecosystem.

The tension between Plan S old and new surfaced in a September [opinion piece](https://www.researchprofessionalnews.com/rr-news-europe-views-of-europe-2023-9-plan-s-stay-the-course/) from Robert-Jan Smits, who had helped establish the group. In many respects the [article](https://www.researchprofessionalnews.com/rr-news-europe-views-of-europe-2023-9-plan-s-stay-the-course/) is a multi-paragraph sub-Tweet aimed at Rooryck. Smits doubles-down on APCs, and lashes out at the May Council of Europe [statement](https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.230206)—the very vision that Rooryck’s cOAlition S just (in effect) countersigned. The “last thing to do,” Smits wrote, is to “change course,” adding that this is “exactly what I am afraid is happening.” Decrying a “left turn,” Smits made his first-phase Plan S loyalties clear:

> It was also surprising that the [Council of Europe] gave the impression with their conclusions to wish to exclude the large commercial publishers, which provide a quality service to the science community. These key players in the world of scientific publishing just need to be forced to change their business model and embrace open access at a fair price.

The just-released Rooryck [blueprint](https://www.coalition-s.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Towards_Responsible_Publishing_web.pdf/) is a (long-gestating) riposte. Among other things, the plan makes a decisive break with the APC:

> The overwhelming majority of academic journals cover their costs through subscriptions, article processing charges (APCs), or both. As a result, researchers can find themselves unable to access relevant research findings (because of subscription paywalls) or unable to publish (because of APC barriers). We fully recognise that publishing incurs costs, but we believe that all researchers should be able to publish their work as Open Access, without author-facing charges.

In what can’t be a coincidence, Rooryck and Smits are set to meet *today*, in a “5 Years of Plan S” [webinar](https://www.coalition-s.org/5-years-of-plan-s-webinar/). In my view, Rooryck, with key allies no doubt, has redeemed Plan S. As with Brembs, I was initially a skeptic, sometimes blaming the group for what I’ve called “friendly fire.” That’s still a good description of Plan S phase-one, now dead. Tuesday’s [bold announcement](https://www.coalition-s.org/blog/introducing-the-towards-responsible-publishing-proposal-from-coalition-s/) was its obituary.

### Postscript

At today’s [webinar](https://www.coalition-s.org/5-years-of-plan-s-webinar/), Robert-Jan Smits seemed to endorse the “Responsible Publishing” plan, calling it “Plan S 2.0”. It was a somewhat pained endorsement, qualified by skepticism about the viability of a diamond route. In effect, he blamed the commercial publishers for digging their own graves.

[^1]: I have a foot in both camps, as a director of a [diamond OA press](https://www.mediastudies.press) and co-lead of the [MediArXiv](https://mediarxiv.com) server.