Since April 2013, when RCUK and the Wellcome Trust introduced policies and funds for open access, concern has risen that the UK will end up paying twice for research, and even footing the bill for larger contributors of research output such as the US and China. In an op-ed for The Guardian David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, argued that publicly-funded research findings should not be published “behind paywalls that individuals and small companies cannot afford, even though they have paid for the research through their taxes”. So instead of paying for journal subscriptions, which make research accessible mainly to their staff and students only, universities will pay to make the research they have supported publicly accessible to everybody. Willetts goes on to say: “[The cost of gold open access] will be partly met by the research councils and also institutions, which should gradually see their library costs reduce in return.” This last point is only possible if everyone does the same thing at the same time (i.e. pays for open access). The total cost of publishing research does not change. Whether the author pays at the beginning of the process or the reader pays at the end, the total costs are the same. However, as more content is published through open access fees, there would be a decrease in subscription prices.
A number of publishers, including Wiley, have introduced policies to adjust subscription prices for any shift from subscription-funded articles to pay-to-publish open access articles. Journals publishing more open access articles will see price decreases because the publication costs for those articles have already been met. Since non-UK authors don’t have the same type and level of funding to pay open access fees, the majority continue to choose to publish under the subscription model, keeping this the predominant publishing model. This means subscription prices haven’t decreased significantly and UK institutions continue to pay for journal subscriptions to obtain international research. So the UK is seeing an increase in publishing costs as they pay for both open access and subscription fees.
In order to address this, UK library consortium, Jisc Collections have partnered with publishers, including Wiley and Taylor and Francis to pilot offsetting agreements for articles published on an open access basis. The pilot agreement between Wiley and Jisc gives institutions funding both subscription and open access publication charges credits to be used on article publication charges for open access. The amount of the credit is based on the total spend the previous year. Institutions need to have a Wiley Open Access Account set up to be eligible to receive their APC credits.
It’s estimated that the UK budget for pay-to-publish open access fees from RCUK, the Wellcome Trust and COAF amounts to 33 million. Institutions are, as a result, under increasing pressure from funders to manage and report on open access payments. To help authors with funder compliance and payments when publishing open access, a number of institutions are leading the way by setting up open access funds and allowing their authors to use these funds when publishing in open access journals. However, not much help is available to institutions for managing these ‘open access funds’. Typically, it’s librarians armed with nothing more than excel sheets and a familiarity with publishers and journal collections who are given the task of managing their institution’s open access fund.
In an OA world librarians care about fee management, reporting, funder compliance, archiving, not paying twice and increasing, easy administration. To aid customers with funding pressures, Wiley Open Access Accounts provide transparent payment options and an account management tool. These accounts provide discounts to institutions and reduce the administrative burden on librarians. And now, the APC credits for UK Universities address the problem of paying for both open access and subscription journal content.
So until everybody in the world does the same thing at the same time, and joins the UK in funding open access charges, the need to pay for journal subscriptions will not go away. In the meantime, the offsetting agreement between Jisc and Wiley can help keep institutions from paying twice for published research.