What we’ve learned from the evaluation of the 2016-2018 Springer Compact agreement

As we come towards the end of the first year of our second read and publish agreement for the Springer Compact collection with Springer Nature, Jisc has evaluated the previous pilot scheme and asked what our agreement could mean for the future of Open Access publishing. Here’s what we’ve discovered…

The previous Springer Compact agreement was the UK’s first “read and publish” agreement. It was active from January 2016 to December 2018.

This pilot agreement had three core aims:

  • To contain the costs of publication and subscription access for institutions
  • To reduce cost and administration barriers to hybrid open access (OA) publishing and support compliance with UK funder policies
  • To increase the number of funder compliant OA articles

Our recent evaluation of the 2016-2018 Springer Compact agreement looked at the pilot’s effectiveness in achieving these aims, particularly in regard to open access publishing. We also investigated whether the agreement has been effective in constraining costs for institutions and reducing administrative barriers.

Why Open Access?

OA is not just important for economic purposes; it allows for the sharing of valuable, potentially life-saving research across the globe. Jisc has been a strong advocate of open access since the idea initially emerged and plays a key role in supporting our members in the implementation of UK policy that recommends OA for all publicly-funded research.

Our pilot agreement increased Open Access publishing

Over 10,000 articles by UK-based authors were published open access between January 2016 and December 2018. By the last year of the agreement, we saw an increase of almost 300% in the number of articles published OA in Springer hybrid journals compared with in 2015.

In 2018, the number of articles published OA represented 74.4% of the total articles published in all Springer titles by eligible UK authors – an increase from 55.9% in 2016.

Our pilot complied with funder policy and removed complicated workflows

99.97% of the OA articles were published under CC BY licences meaning that they were compliant with major research funders OA policies (COAF/Wellcome Trust, UKRI (RCUK), Research England (HEFCE), Horizon 2020 etc).

Plan S requires that, from 2021, scientific publications funded by public grants must be published open access. Both the pilot agreement and our new transformational agreement support the Plan S principles.

Furthermore, the simplicity of the process for authors and universities has been welcomed.

Our pilot agreement has helped constrain costs for higher education

The total cost of the agreement was based on combining institutions’ subscription spend in 2015 and with their 2014 article processing charge (APC) spend. This total fee was then split into a reading pot (10%) and a publishing pot (90%) which would cover all articles published by UK authors to be made OA.

During the three-year pilot, all 95 participating institutions published OA articles equivalent to or exceeding their total 2014 APC spend – thus capping their costs.

14 institutions have published APCs to a greater value than their total spend on the combined fee in all three years of the pilot, offsetting the entire cost of the agreement. A further 23 institutions have offset their combined fee in at least one year of the agreement.

The average adjusted cost per download (CPD) fell from €0.44 in 2016 to €0.24 in 2018. This is a benefit to institutions that do not publish a large number of research articles.

What challenges do we still need to work on?

In the UK agreement, authors can choose to opt-out of publishing their article OA. Although the numbers of authors doing this has decreased (from 34.5% of the total number of OA articles published in 2016, to 17% in 2018), it still remains an issue as opt-outs decrease the value returned to institutions and reduce the overall number of articles being made OA. In financial terms, this equates to €5,379,000 (if applying the standard APC rate of €2,200).

In 2017, UK institutions were invited to revise the article “opt-out” wording in the “My Publication” online article submission and acceptance process. This revision/action may have contributed to the reduction in author opt-outs.

We also need to work on transparency with regards to understanding when a title will flip from being a hybrid journal using a subscription model to a pure gold OA journal. Throughout the pilot, only two titles have flipped and there is more to be done with Springer and other consortia who also participate in Springer Compact to understand the decision process and the financial point.

What needs to be done to achieve a full transition to open access?

With our new agreement with Springer in place, we have taken the findings of the evaluation on board. Our evaluation suggests we should be looking to achieve the following success indicators:

  • 80% of institutions offsetting the entire agreement and benefit from cost avoidance
  • A reduction in author opt-outs, from 17% to under 15%
  • An increase to 90% of articles published OA in eligible journals
  • The inclusion of some of the “excluded” non-eligible journals into the agreement to increase the ability of the UK to publish 100% OA
  • A significant increase in the number of titles flipping from hybrid to OA and the release of a clear methodology behind the decision to flip

Thanks to the evaluation, we can see our successes so far, as well as gaining insights into how and where we can improve. We share these insights with other consortia to help improve how we collectively can support the transition to full open and immediate open access at an international level.

Further information can be found in Transitioning to open access: an evaluation of the UK Springer Compact Agreement pilot 2016-2018, which is due to be published in September 2020 by College & Research Libraries.

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