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Open Access Doesn’t Need APCs: Our Progress To-Date

Author: Sara Rouhi, Director of Strategic Partnerships, PLOS

Earlier this year I outlined three ways PLOS is working to eliminate author fees through new business models. The models we introduced in 2020 began as an experiment to systemically address the barriers publications fees pose for many researchers and prove that APCs are not the only way to support Open Access. More sustainable–and equitable–models exist and we’re grateful to have partnered with so many institutions that are ready to flip the system.

Change is coming

Though we still have more work ahead of us and many more conversations to be had with research stakeholders around the world, I am super gratified to report that as of today, 181 institutions in 26 countries have partnered with us., that’s up from 93 and 6, respectively from last year.

Here’s a look back at the road to get here so far:

The new era of Open Access

PLOS was founded in 2001 with a mission to transform science communication. PLOS journals were some of the earliest Open Access titles in biology and medicine, and a key driver in proving all readers can and should have access to research without barriers. Today, many research funders, institutions, and governments now require research to be made available under Open Access licensing and provide funds that can be applied to authors’ Open Access publication costs. But the ways in which Open Access is supported varies across different fields and global regions. There are gaps that leave many researchers who want to publish in Open Access journals without funding for APCs.

That’s why we embarked on this journey nearly three years ago. We were the vanguard of publishers who demonstrated that Open Access publishing could be sustainable, but we only had half the equation right. In short, we weren’t fulfilling our entire vision for an open and inclusive research ecosystem that facilitated the exchange of free and unrestricted knowledge. Anyone could read the research we published, but the cost of publishing in an Open venue was–and continues to be–a barrier for many authors.

Progress towards fee-free publishing

This year, we have signed three large consortia deals. Bibsam, CSAL, and IReL. They join a growing list of institutions including the Sachsen Consortia led by the Saxon State and University Library, the Big Ten Academic Alliance, the University of California system, CRL and NERL, Jisc (including University College London, Imperial College London, University of Manchester) and the Canadian Research Knowledge Network among others

At PLOS we are committed to co-creating pathways to Open Access and Open Science as we carry our mission forward. A piece of that is ensuring our approach to Open Access solutions are not one-size-fits-all. It’s the reason we don’t have just one institutional partnership model for all of our journals, but several that cater to the needs of the journal research communities, and the bodies who financially support researchers’ work. These include CAP, which keeps costs low for selective journals (and was recently honored with an ALPSP award);  Global Equity, which reflects regional economic differences; and our Flat Fee model that aims to make Open Access publishing easier and more accessible for researchers.

The uptake of these models is incredible. Doubling the number of institutions is gratifying, but, on a personal note, I take greater pride in spreading Open Access publishing worldwide. This is great for institutions and PLOS, but even better for researchers. We are as eager as any author to see open-to-publish frameworks become the norm, just as Open Access has taken hold over the past two decades. I’m just excited to be playing a part in making that happen. Watch this space for more updates!

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