An Open Question
In her role as John Wiley & Sons' vice president and director of open access, the question Rachel Burley faces every day is quite a challenging one. In fact, it's one that the whole of the scholarly journal and book publishing world is wrestling with these days, as well.
How do you rethink the business of peer-reviewed scholarly material as changing business models redraw the landscape for how scientific, technical and medical (STM) content is created and distributed?
Burley's been busy helping Wiley figure out the right answers since she assumed the newly created role at the publisher earlier this year. So far, so good. Wiley—which has a track record of migrating its offerings online since the days when folks surfed the Internet's primordial ooze on Mosaic browsers—is forging into fairly uncharted territory, and Burley is helping to lead the way.
"I think the challenge for a lot of publishers is adapting business models to a new model of open access," she says.
Open access—allowing free access to peer-reviewed journal content online—has been on a lot of peoples' minds lately. The STM publishing business—which until recently was ruled by subscription-based revenue models—is coming under increased pressure to open up to free access content that originated from publicly-funded research. Some see it as the future of digital publishing; others see it as a well-meaning but ill-conceived effort that will ultimately damage the quality and credibility of research.
For Wiley and its STM publishing peers, the mission critical is to stay ahead of the times when it comes to the demand for more freely-available content. The traditional subscription-based model of offering scholarly works to libraries and universities is fading away. In its place, various models of distribution have arisen, with various forms of open access leading the charge.
Over the past year or so, Wiley has doubled the number of hybrid open access journals (a variation of open access where some articles of a journal are free and some are not) online. It introduced 10 new "fully gold" open access journals (journals that are fully funded up front and are free to fully access immediately). Wiley began offering a manuscript transfer system for authors to move papers back and forth and became a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) this past August.
"I think it's fair to say that we're offering more in 2012 than ever before," she says of Wiley. "I think it's recognition that we want to develop a cohesive long-term plan for open access across our business."
Burley and her team are working with everyone—authors, funding agencies and scholarly societies—to take the next steps forward as the entire STM publishing business swiftly shifts from print to digital, too. A number of print journals are being phased out, in order for the company to repurpose those funds to invest in technology to develop its new platform, she says. Today Wiley offers 225 STM online-only journals.
"In an open access world, the authors and funders are your new customer group," she says. "We want to build and innovate with all different models that are alternatives to subscription. We're never going to be satisfied that it's good enough. We just want to make it better and improve it. That's what we're spending our time on."
A Group Effort
When an all-star collection of scientists and academics, representatives of the library community, influential research funders, and folks from a handful of leading publishers came together a little over 10 years ago for an Open Society Institute event in Budapest, everyone was still figuring out open access. What would the standard approach to open access be moving forward? An agreed upon definition of this concept did not yet exist, and this group of more than a dozen was determined to hammer one out.
When the group returned to their homes around the globe from this gathering, the world would get a better understanding of their shared vision via the definition set out in the Budapest Open Access Initiative:
"By open access, we mean its immediate, free availability on the public Internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software or use them for any other lawful purpose…"
Even a decade after this game-changer of an idea was formally defined, the journey toward full open access for STM and scholarly publishing is just really beginning, says Heather Joseph. Joseph—the executive director of Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct what they see as imbalance in the scholarly publishing system—says open access has become the preferred model "for basically everyone in academia."
According to Joseph, although fewer than 20 percent of all academic works today are published via open access, that number is a giant leap from the handful of open access journals that were out there back at the end of 2001.
"We've really accepted [open access] as central to our vision as to how work can and should be done in the academic world," she says.
Joseph and SPARC celebrated the anniversary with a release that marked the event. But they're not just looking back at that milestone for open access. She says the Washington-D.C.-based group is also looking ahead to what will help push open access forward into the mainstream in the coming years.
"What do we do for the next 10 years?" she asks. "We've taken stock of what we've done and asked ourselves what we have to do to push it over the edge. How do we make open access the norm for communication of scholarship and research in the next 10 years?"
The sheer scope and volume of content presents opportunities for publishers who understand that new tools and services will be needed to help make sense of everything, she says.
"We get that change is hard," Joseph says. "And the publishing industry is in the cross-hairs of being the one that has to change the most. But it's a tremendous opportunity for [publishers] to be even more essential by helping make sense of the deluge of articles that open access allows researchers access to."
If open access is going to mature as a publishing model, Roy S. Kaufman believes the industry is going to have to continue experimenting with just about every facet of the business. That means more pricing variation and rights variation, he says. Kaufman, the Copyright Clearance Center's managing director of new ventures, previously served as lead counsel for the Scientific, Technical, Medical and Scholarly publishing business of Wiley. He expects the industry will see increased variation in business rules and pricing over the next few years.
"There are a lot of publishers that think they need to do one specific thing and aren't looking as granularly at what open access means for each journal and each funding agency," he says. "Publishers really need to think about the entire P&L, the entire business of each journal. What kind of open access rules are good for the authors, funding agencies and the long-term health of the journal? It might vary on a journal-to-journal level."
According to Kaufman, a push toward greater open access is also coming from funding agencies.
"What they want and what motivates them generally is they feel that if the research they fund results in the publication of a peer reviewed article, they want that article to be out there and available on the Web—not behind a pay wall," he says. "Separately, there is this notion driving open access that people want everything to be free on the Internet. For many types of publishers and media today, getting people to pay for content is a challenge. On the other hand, the open access push, especially from funding agencies, validates the original endeavor of peer-reviewed publishing. The push is to require open access to materials that have passed independent peer review, as opposed to raw data and non-peer reviewed materials. There is so much information on the Web that has not been independently vetted, so the value of the validation is even higher."
Kaufman says STM publishers need to look at open access more flexibly. "Publishers have to think, 'What does this mean today,' while still understanding it might change tomorrow. They don't have to lock into everything," he says.
"The misconception is that you need to do everything the same way for every title," he says. "You have some journals with relatively low, institutional subscription rates because they have a lot of advertising or commercial reprints. If you have a journal with a lot of commercial reprints, the impact of how you implement open access might be very different from a journal that is entirely reliant on subscription revenues. Likewise, even within a title, there might be differences in open access offerings at the article level based on factors such as funding agency requirements."
Building a Business Model
One of the biggest challenges in an open access world is to make sure that publishers can recover the heavy costs associated with the publication of scientific research.
Of the 2,000 journals Springer, one of the world's largest and most aggressive open access publishers, publishes each year, more than 330 are now open access. It recently announced it will add open access books to its offerings.
The business is constantly evolving, and open access is certainly a growing piece of the work, says Eric Merkel-Sobotta, Springer's EVP of Corporate Communications.
"There are some common misconceptions about what publishers do to publish an article, but I assure you these activities—the editorial process, technology developments, making sure that research is discoverable, maintaining the integrity and quality of the science we publish, etc.—necessitate a significant investment," he says. To offset these costs and make open access a viable business model, many funding agencies will pay money upfront to publishers.
According to Merkel-Sobotta, Springer fully supports, and heavily invests in, open access as a business model today. The publisher has been on the forefront of open access since 2004 when it launched its Springer Open Choice model.
"We were one of the first to begin experimenting with OA in response to the concerns of those we care about most—our customers," he says. "We have been, and are always, open to working with researchers, institutions, societies and foundations to further develop this model."
By listening to those groups of constituents and working to meet their needs, Springer is continuing to expand their offering of open access content, providing more opportunities to publish and access Springer–published research, Merkel-Sobotta says.
"Most recently, at the Beijing International Book Fair, we announced that Springer is now offering a way to publish fully OA books," he says. "This is in addition to our established SpringerOpen and BioMed Central journal portfolio, and our hybrid Springer Open Choice model. Our business is constantly evolving and OA is certainly a growing piece of our work—without a doubt. From our acquisition of BioMed Central in 2008, to the launch of SpringerOpen and SpringerPlus—an interdisciplinary OA journal—and our recent SpringerOpen Books announcement, we are constantly discovering new ways to deliver more and better open access content."
So, where does Springer want to be a year from now and beyond?
"The simple answer is that we want to be where we are right now," Merkel-Sobotta says. "Springer has always been out in front on open access, and I am certain that this is where we will remain. We will continue to add value to our products and services while maintaining the same high quality that the scientific community has come to expect, whether it be in our traditional subscription-based content, or its open access counterpart."
The Bad Guys
Jeffrey Beall is a man on a mission. This faculty librarian, from Auraria Library, University of Colorado Denver, routinely calls out publishers around the world who he says are finding new ways to exploit the concept of open access for their own profit.
We're not talking about the established STM publishers, rather the fly-by-night operations that have popped up overseas to take advantage of authors willing to pay fees to have their scholarly work published. These are the ones that are being deceptive to authors and readers, he says. They're the ones who are non-transparent to the outside world and ultimately are harmful to the idea of open access.
"My work has led me to discover an increasing number of people exploiting the model all over the world," Beall says.
Beall refers to them as "the bad guys," and since 2010, he's kept an ever-growing list of them on his blog—Scholarly Open Access.
"The major publishers are very open about what they do," he says. "They've established policies for retractions. They're open about what they charge. They're transparent. I haven't got any complaints about how they do business. It's the predatory publishers that will hurt the reputation of open access. People can't always tell what is legitimate or not—and it might make them hesitant to print in an open access [publication]. Are they really doing peer review? Are they following industry standards? Many of them have no policies."
One or two new ones pop up each week. There's an editor in Oman out there trash talking Beall right now on the Internet. There's another guy over in Singapore who wants to sue him. But Beall's crusade has gotten the good kind of attention lately, too. He penned an article that appeared in The Scientist magazine in August. His most recent piece—"Predatory Publishers are Corrupting Open Access"—appeared in the World View column in the September issue of Nature.
He recommends authors and publishers alike rally around the OASPA and display the group's logo on their Web offerings as a sign of being legit. But, he adds, that surely won't be the magic bullet to rid the industry of these "bad guys."
"There's no easy solution to the problem," he says. "People have to become more aware of it. And it's going to take a while."
As the industry grapples with the numerous questions that surround open access, Burley continues to find ways to help Wiley move forward into a world that consists of much more than the delivery of primary research. This includes offering article-level metrics for authors to utilize, creating apps for researchers to access works more easily and streamlining internal processes to get pieces published and into the hands of peers more quickly.
As questions on open access are being asked, it's coming down to people like Burley to find the role that publishers will fill in the years to come. The future for Burley, Wiley and the industry will be to help keep it moving ever forward as that role changes.
"It's much more about collaboration and connecting researchers together," Burley says. "There's a lot more around tools to filter and find content and find other relevant content. The big rapid change does mean that publishers are much more involved in the services and tools side of it. We definitely want to continue to innovate. We want to make sure we're doing everything we can."