Over its first few decades, open access has had a strong influence on scholarly publishing as a whole. The desire to make research publications freely accessible has led to new types of journals, new business models, and new ways to text- or data-mine scientific literature. While there is still discussion about how open access will move forward, there is no doubt that it’s here to stay. Over 9,000 journals are currently listed in the Directory of Open Access Journal (DOAJ), and open access papers are steadily increasing as a share of overall publications. While ideological desires to share research freely certainly propel open access, one major contribution to its overall growth as a movement has been the rise in mandates from funding agencies, institutions, and even national and international governments. What do these new mandates mean for scholarly publishing over the next decade?
What is an open access “mandate”?
The term ‘mandate’ is used quite frequently in conjunction with open access. The term is actually applied rather broadly, covering a range of policies, both binding and non-binding. Along with these examples, you can explore hundreds of open access mandates in the ROARMAP database.
- In 2009, the United States National Institutes of Health began requiring that all publications based on NIH-funded research be deposited in PubMed Central, a freely accessible repository, within 12 months of publication. In this case, grant funding can be withheld if researchers do not comply.
- In 2007, the Brazilian government passed a bill stating that all higher education institutions should house an online repository where their research is freely accessible. Failure to comply would result in revocation of federal research funding.
- Several universities, such as Duke University and the University of Cambridge, have enacted policies that commit their faculty to make their work open access. However, these university policies are typically only a guideline; they frequently include waiver options or language making them non-binding. While not fitting the true meaning of a 'mandate,' these policies are nevertheless often mentioned alongside funder mandates.
Horizon 2020 and Open Access in the European Union
As an example of an initiative with potentially far-reaching implications for worldwide research, the European Union recently announced a goal of having all scientific papers freely accessible by 2020. While this new resolution is not law, it is still likely to shape policy in member nations, leading them to follow the example set by the Dutch government.
The announcement is made even stronger when considered in conjunction with the powerful investment to be made as part of Horizon 2020, the EU’s new plan to provide almost €80 billion toward research and innovation through the year 2020. This new, simplified flow of research funding for European scientists seeks to boost research output, while at the same time requiring that research it supports be made open access.
How do initiatives like Horizon 2020 affect research authors?
Horizon 2020 may drastically change how research is published in Europe. But what does this mean for researchers over the next few years?
The biggest change with recent policies and initiatives is the need for authors to remain aware of any regulations they need to follow when publishing. Considering that this might happen at the level of the author’s department, university/institution, funding agency, or national or international government, authors now need to internalize a lot of information. Although tools like SHERPA/RoMEO help identify journals compliant with particular needs, there is still work to be done to make the journal selection process easier for authors.
2. Hybrid open access
One of the biggest changes might be the increase in open access options from major publishers. As noted above, there are already thousands of open access journals across all fields, but publishers are also experimenting with hybrid OA journals. Within a so-called ‘hybrid’ journal, articles can be published under the traditional system (involving subscription-based access) or published open access upon paying an article processing charge. Adopting this flexibility does help researchers continue publishing in their favorite journals while remaining compliant with funder obligations. However, there is some question about the efficacy of hybrid open access as a model and the potential for publishers to charge twice for the same content (once when the author pays a charge and again when journal subscriptions is sold to libraries). Regardless of the path forward, researchers are likely to encounter new experiments with hybrid OA to help them comply with major mandates.
3. Other innovations in publishing
There are plenty of other ways that publishing is changing, as well. Journals are experiementing with new ways to support their authors, leading to new types of journals like membership-driven open access title PeerJ, new metrics to help authors measure the success of their publications, and even new services designed to share published results more broadly or certify the adherence of manuscripts to basic reporting and ethics guidelines. All of these (and more) could be supported by funding like Horizon 2020 aimed at increasing the reach of research.
Unfortunately, as most researchers are aware, the shift toward an author-pays model has also created opportunity for unscrupulous “publishers” to take money from authors looking to publish open access. While recent shifts haven’t created this issue, it is important to remain alert as the share of open access publications continues to rise. Authors should continue to carefully evaluate unfamiliar open access journals to safeguard the reputation of their hard work. Resources like those from “Think. Check. Submit.” can be very helpful, as well.
Open access is moving forward, often in small increment steps; new initiatives like Horizon 2020 and complete free access in the EU have the potential to turn these steps into a leap. Have questions or thoughts about open access journals? Just let us know. Or if you are interested in learning more about open access, you can browse our other OA resources.