Over the past few years the MIT Libraries – like many US research libraries– have been watching with interest the development of “offsetting” agreements in Europe and the UK. In offsetting agreements, a single license incorporates costs associated with access to paywalled articles and costs associated with open access publication. This type of agreement has emerged in Europe and the UK and been the source of both new deals and broken deals.
In the MIT Libraries, we have been following this offsetting approach closely, as it seems to have the potential to transition subscription-based journals to a fully open access model. We have felt, though, that there was one major contingency we would want met in order for us to go down this path: the agreement would need to establish that over the long term, the publisher plans to use the hybrid approach to enable a transition to full OA. Our concern is that –if perpetuated indefinitely– a hybrid model will not realize the full potential of open access to make research available to all, worldwide, rather than to only those with the capacity to purchase access.
Given this context, we are pleased to report that we have just completed a license with the Royal Society of Chemistry –the first “Read and Publish” license agreement among North American institutions – that contains language acknowledging that the read and publish model is a step on a path to full OA. The language reads:
Publisher represents that the Read & Publish model, with its foundation in “hybrid” open access – where some articles are paywalled and others published open access – is a temporary and transitional business model whose aim is to provide a mechanism to shift over time to full open access. The Publisher commits to informing Customer of progress towards this longer-term aim on an annual basis, and to adjusting Read & Publish terms based on its progress towards full open access.
The agreement will run for two years, through 2019; articles published by MIT authors during that period, when the MIT author is the corresponding author, will be made openly available at the time of publication. Costs are calculated through a formula based on the volume of MIT authorship and the volume of paywalled articles. The idea is that over time, as more universities adopt this kind of contract, the proportion of paywalled articles will decline, and funding will shift from paying for access to closed content, to supporting open access to research produced by authors on one’s campus. In this way, the read and publish model provides a mechanism for a staged transition from hybrid to full OA.
For the MIT Libraries, this contract represents an important experiment with a nonprofit scholarly society, in which we use library collection funds to accomplish open access to MIT research through a business model that aims to transition journal publishing more broadly to open access. This experiment builds on the idea that there is enough money in the system to support a move to open access, if there is a collective will to make that move, and it is accompanied by transparent, sustainable mechanisms (possibly, as some have called for, incorporating author participation) to shift subscription dollars towards open access models.
We take seriously our effort to ‘vote with our dollars’ by supporting publishers whose values and aims align with ours and whose business models have the potential to make science and scholarship more openly available. That effort includes assessing whether costs are reasonable and justifiable. We carefully considered whether increased library-based payments to the Royal Society of Chemistry, necessary in order to adopt the read and publish approach, was viable and justifiable for us. We concluded that it was a worthy experiment, particularly as the added costs are directly making MIT authored articles openly accessible, and because the Royal Society of Chemistry was willing to work with us to contain the cost.
These kinds of judgements and strategic decisions –within a complex and evolving market– are difficult. We recognize and are engaging with important questions about how a move to a publishing-based fee structure for journals could impact universities and authors around the world. For now, we believe this experiment promises to be a productive one on the path to finding a workable model for scholarly societies to transition their highly-valued, high-quality subscription journals to open access, and for universities like MIT – whose mission is to disseminate research as widely as possible – to expand open access to articles authored on their campuses.
In order for the transition to full open access to take place, however, it will take more than the actions of one campus. We look forward to engaging with others throughout this experiment, and to thinking together about how we can collaborate to advance open access to science and scholarship in productive ways.