Platforms and pipelines in academic publishing

Two days of discussions about academic publishing covered China's role in OA, Plan S, value propositions, book publishing and much more. The event was not without controversy!

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It's unusual for controversy to break out in the first few minutes of a two-day professional conference but that's what happened at the Academic Publishing Europe (APE) conference, held in Berlin, 15-16 January 2019 (www.ape2019.eu). It started calmly enough, with Arnaud de Kemp welcoming delegates to the 14th annual conference, always held in the Leibniz Hall of the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and always limited to 200 delegates. The theme of this year's APE conference was Platforms or Pipelines? Where is the Value in Scholarly Communications? Heated discussions about Plan S and Chinese OA policies and practices dominated the conference. 

In his opening remarks, Michiel Kolman, Immediate Past-President of the International Publishers Association and Senior Vice President, Information Industry Relations, Elsevier, stated that the value of academic publishing is built on the "bedrock/roadblock of copyright". Publishers are "stewards of the truth" and their goals are not the same as those of "big tech". Kolman named two other essential values of academic publishing: Freedom to publish and the moral imperative of diversity and inclusion. No one in the room objected to the latter two.

Value propositions

He delivered almost the same speech last year in his opening remarks at APE2018. However, this year his contention that copyright is the bedrock of publishing drew the ire of the keynote speaker, Robert-Jan Smits, Special Envoy of the European Commission for Open Access and Innovation, European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC). Before beginning his prepared talk, Smits tore into Kolman. "The value of academic publishing is not built on copyright," he firmly asserted. In his view, open access is the future for academic publishing and authors should own their copyright not publishers. This is firmly in line with Plan S, the initiative for OA publishing in the sciences, launched by Science Europe (scienceeurope.org) in September 2018 as an initiative of cOAlition S (coalition-s.org). 

Smits then reminded the group of the origin and ten principles of Plan S as he reviewed "where we stand with Plan S." He lauded the Open Access 2020 Initiative (oa2020.org) but claimed that the key to total OA adoption success is funders. Listing the countries and institutions supporting Plan S, he was particularly excited by recent actions from China and Zambia, proving that Plan S is not just for Europe. Smits acknowledged that not everyone was on board with Plan S, singling out chemists for their criticism. He then categorized the criticisms as either genuine (particularly the learned societies that need help transitioning to OA), fake news (misrepresenting the principles of Plan S), or demagogic (seeing OA as contributing to a decline in science). 

Smits encouraged the audience to submit feedback by the mid-February deadline, but admitted that the feedback will be used to provide "implementation guidance," not to fundamentally change anything about the underlying structure. His final message was that change is in the air and it requires new business models for sharing research results. 

Rush Holt, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) started his talk with a minor disagreement with Smits. While Smits said the health of publishing depends on the health of science, Holt said it's the other way around; the health of science depends on the health of publishing. His objections to Smits' remarks was more robust when he disputed Smits' view that scholarly societies' new business models should move away from having publishing support to other activities. Holt firmly defended using publishing income to support other AAAS activities and argued against Smits' contention that learned societies "make too much money."

Wiley makes a deal 

Describing herself as the token woman on the morning's programme, Judy Verses, Executive Vice President, Research, Wiley, Inc., brought what she termed an "outside view" to publishing. She's only been in the publishing industry for two years, but sees clearly that it is in the midst of disruption. She identified three keys for future success—adaptability/agility, sustainability, and collaboration. Unmet customer needs should drive change. "If we were doing things differently," she stated, "there would be no Sci-Hub, no ResearchGate, and no Plan S." When she considers her North Star, she sees that a sustainable future relies on OA, Open Science, Open Standards, and Open Data. 

She closed her talk with the blockbuster announcement that Wiley had signed a partnership agreement with Projekt DEAL, which represents almost 700 academic institutions in Germany. For an annual fee, all Projekt DEAL institutions will have access to Wiley’s academic journals back to 1997 and researchers at those institutions can publish OA articles in Wiley journals (projekt-deal.de/wiley-contract).

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