On 4 September, the launch of ‘Plan S’ was announced by 11 national research funding organisations from France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and eight other European nations, with the support of the European Commission (EC), including the European Research Council (ERC). The initiative ― built on 10 principles ― seeks to allow full and immediate open access to research publications by 1 January 2020.
Together, funding bodies currently provide €7.6 billion (US$8.8 billion) in research grants and have promised that from 2020, research funded by these grants must be immediately open access upon publication. This would effectively ban researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including high-ranking players like Nature and Science.
According to a previous analysis: 15% of journals make scientific papers immediately available free of charge and instead charge a fee to the authors or finding body; just over one third are initially released behind a paywall and offered free of charge after 1-12 months, a model enforced by some funders such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and the remainder (just under half) can be published as open access for a fee to the author or require the reader to either have a subscription to the journal or pay per article, which is usually the case.
Other countries that have now signed the pledge are Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Slovenia, and Italy. Architect of the open-access campaign Robert-Jan Smits, appoint as Open Access Envoy of the European Commission in February, says the ‘S’ in Plan S can stand for “science, speed, solution, shock,” and equates the move to the removal of mobile phone roaming charges in the EU. The open access plan was further developed by Smits together with Marc Schiltz, president of Science Europe, an association that represents public research funders.
Under Plan S, an upfront fee will be paid to journals by the funder to finance editing costs and to ensure permanent free access to anyone at any time (no delayed open access or hybrid models). Authors will also retain copyright on their work, instead of handing it over to publishers. Moreover, unless publishers like Nature and Science change their policies, they will be off-limits to grant holders, and sanctions are to be imposed on researchers for non-compliance, which may be in the form of withholding essential future funding.
This radical open-access initiative could transform scientific publishing and has immediately sparked protest from publishing companies, but is welcomed by many. The days of the “bizarre triple-pay” system of academic publishing, as it was referred to in a 2005 Deutsche Bank report, may soon be coming to an end. Objections to commercial publishing in Germany have led to more than 150 libraries, universities, and research institutes joining forces to put pressure on publishers by refusing to pay high subscription fees or take part in the peer review process or submit manuscripts to journals with paywalls.
The move will open up research results to everyone and “the solution for opening up research is in the hands of funders. They hold the key,” Smits told Science|Business. He suggests the next step will putting pressure on the “scientific gatekeepers,” such as Elsevier, Wiley, and Springer, accused of creating roadblocks to the spread of scientific research.