Read and publish agreements: an easier way to publish open access

Swiss universities have recently signed Read & Publish agreements with 5 (maybe soon 6) large academic publishers. These agreements allow researchers to publish open-access in renowned hybrid journals without paying APCs (Article Processing Charges). Our colleague Catherine Brendow, in charge of open access in the library, explains what they are, how they work, and how Graduate Institute researchers can benefit from them.

Switching to Open Access

Open access publishing should become the new normal in the coming years. Since 2020, the Swiss National Science Foundation requires its grantees to make their research open access immediately, or after an embargo of 6 months for journal articles and 12 months for books. According to the Swiss National Open Access Strategy, all publicly funded research in Switzerland should be open access in 2024. Similar policies have also been implemented in other countries and on the European level, like plan S or Horizon 2020.

Open access publishing also has advantages for researchers. It makes their research easier to access for interested people in and outside academia (especially professionals and journalists). Several studies have shown that open access articles are more cited, and therefore it increases the impact of research.

Transition process

Not so long ago, libraries used to buy journal subscriptions from publishers – they paid to allow their patrons to read. Then most subscription journals became so-called hybrid journals, displaying open access articles paid by APCs and paywalled articles side by side. As subscription prices were not going down (spoiler: they never do, take it from seasoned librarians!), publishers were accused of double-dipping, that is to say making their customers pay twice, to read and to publish. This is the reason why many funders, including the SNSF, refuse to finance APCs in hybrid journals.

The answer of publishers to this criticism was starting to offer “read & publish” deals, bundling subscriptions and APCs together. These agreements are meant to be transitory: the subscription share should go down, then disappear, and the APC share should increase, with a constant cost, or rather a slightly rising cost (do not dream!). The aim is still to be 100% open access by 2024 or 2025.

Swiss Read & Publish Deals

In 2020 and 2021, Switzerland has negotiated and signed read & publish agreements with 5 large publishers: Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Sage and Cambridge UP. A 6th agreement is still being negotiated with Wiley. The Graduate Institute has joined the Swiss Consortium at the beginning of 2021 and is therefore now a party to these agreements. Researchers of the Graduate Institute can take advantage of these prepaid APCs to publish open access at no cost for them.

The workflow provided by publishers makes it easy and comfortable for researchers. They are recognized through the affiliation mentioned in the article or their mail address, and the open access option is proposed spontaneously by the publisher. The researcher accepts and a librarian must confirm their affiliation. The number of APCs is limited for Elsevier, Springer and Taylor & Francis, so, if your research has a funder, do not forget that it probably can fund your APC.

Is it really a bargain?

These agreements allow researchers to publish open access in legacy journals easily. But they are very expensive and reinforce the position of an oligopoly of publishers that has caused the serials crisis which has been straining libraries budgets for decades. They raise additional barriers to the entry of new competitors into the academic publishing market, as most of the budget for APCs becomes locked in these R&P deals. They make it more difficult to publish for researchers not working for institutions covered by these deals.

APCs in hybrid journals are significantly more expensive than APCs in fully OA journals. And as the market for APCs is as dysfunctional as the market for library subscriptions (Read & Publish agreements make the researchers/consumers insensitive to APCs prices), it would not be very surprising if the prices still go up in the coming years.

On Thursday, April 15th, at 1.15 p.m., Catherine will give an online presentation on open-access publication, and she will of course also deal with these Read & Publish agreements. You can register here if you wish to have the link to her WebEx presentation. And of course, feel free to contact her if you have any question!

Find more information on library trainings in our guide, and more information on open access here.

Illustration (cropped): Conclusion of the Contract, Pixabay license.

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