Conclusions and Recommendations
8.1. The research communications system is in a period of transition towards open access. We believe that, at its simplest, this is a shift from a reader-pays to an author-pays system, which in turn requires a shift in publications processes and business models. The aim of our recommendations is to accelerate that process, but in an ordered way; and to sustain while it takes place what is most valuable in the complex ecology we have described. It is critically important also to sustain an environment which promotes innovation from both established players and new entrants, especially in key areas we have identified, including linkages between publications and underlying data, the publication of monographs, and experimentation in the mechanisms of peer review. Achieving those goals depends on concerted action from universities, funders and publishers, as well as researchers themselves. The process will be complex, since when we set the available mechanisms against the criteria for success we presented in Section 6, it became clear that no single one of them can provide a satisfactory means of achieving all of our objectives, at least for the foreseeable future. We reach that conclusion for a number of reasons.
8.2. First, research and its publication are international activities: as we have noted at several points in this report, researchers in the UK collaborate with colleagues overseas, but they are responsible for only about 6% of the nearly two million articles published across the globe each year. It is entirely appropriate in the public interest that the UK should, as one of the leading research nations in the world, take a lead in adopting policies that maximise access to research undertaken in the UK, particularly when that research is publicly-funded. Such policies in themselves, however, will have little impact in improving access to the great majority of publications produced by researchers in the rest of the world.
8.3. Second, it is of the utmost importance during the transition to sustain the world-leading status and performance of the UK research community. That success is underpinned by the support that researchers receive from learned societies in the UK, and by systems to ensure that they have effective and high-quality channels through which they can publish and disseminate their findings. These are key elements in an ecology of international co-operation and competition that helps researchers to perform to the best standards, not least by subjecting their findings to rigorous peer review. Those key elements must not be put at risk.
8.4. Third, periods of transition almost invariably bring with them additional costs. It is unlikely that significant increases in access – in the amount of quality-assured content that is available free at the point of use, and in the numbers of people and organisations to whom it is available – can over the next few years be achieved cost-free. During the transition, it is essential to sustain the key and valuable features of the research communications system; and the key players in that system require revenues to support their core activities. But the costs must be sustainable
for funders too. That poses a particular challenge when there are severe constraints on public expenditure.
8.5. We are also conscious that the interests of different groups of stakeholders and players in the research communications landscape do not necessarily coincide.
i. Researchers are interested in speedy and effective publication and dissemination of research publications. As authors they are interested in securing publication in high-status journals which maximise their chances of securing high impact and credit for the work they have done, and their chances of winning the next research grant. As readers and users they are interested in speedy access, free at the point of use; ease of navigation; and the ability to use, and re-use, content with as few restrictions as possible.
ii. Universities and other research institutions are interested in maximising their research income and performance, while bearing down on expenditure. The larger research-intensive universities already enjoy (and pay for) access to the majority of the journals relevant to their work; but they could face additional costs as a result of a shift to author-side payments. Less research-intensive universities could see reductions in costs as a result of such a shift.
iii. Research funders are interested in securing the maximum impact from high-quality research, and thus in ensuring that publications arising from work that they fund are widely accessible – across the global research community as well as all other communities that may have an interest in the results – with as few restrictions as possible. Like universities, they are also interested in bearing down on costs.
iv. Libraries – in the HE sector in particular – are interested in maximising the number of journals and other research publications they can provide for their readers, at the lowest possible cost. Librarians have been in the vanguard in seeking to limit increases in the costs of journals, and in promoting the development of repositories. They are also developing their roles in providing new services to researchers in an information environment that has changed fundamentally in the last decade.
v. Publishers come in many different guises: those that publish thousands of titles and those that publish one; the commercial and the non-commercial; university presses and learned societies; and open access and subscription-based, with many operating both models. All are interested in sustaining and developing services for the effective publication and dissemination of research publications that are underpinned by peer review. Subscription-based and open access publishers operate different business models; but both are interested in securing the revenues that enable them to offer high-quality services to authors and to readers/users. For subscription-based publishers, developments such as repositories – particularly if embargo periods and other restrictions on use and re-use rights are reduced – pose risks that cause
them great concern, because this can undermine business models by preventing them recouping their costs. For open access publishers, such developments are essentially immaterial because they recoup their costs up-front through APCs; repositories simply provide an additional channel for the dissemination of the articles they publish.
vi. Learned societies are interested in sustaining their support for the publication and dissemination of high-quality research, but also their work for public benefit in promoting and supporting scholarship in the disciplines they represent, and in helping to ensure that the UK sustains a strong international presence in those disciplines. Any risks to the surpluses they secure through their publications imperil also the wider activities of the societies in question, which publication surpluses are used to fund.
8.6. There are tensions clearly between the interests of different players; and in the complex ecology we have outlined, it is not surprising that each of the possible mechanisms for achieving our goal of increased access has its own strengths and weaknesses. In the course of our work we developed a grid to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the three mechanisms, and a version of that grid is presented in Annex D. We consider the issues in more extended form in this Section.
8.7. It is important also to stress that the mechanisms are not mutually exclusive: as we have noted, journals can work effectively with repositories, particularly the subject-based ones. Indeed, some key policy issues revolve around the relationships between repositories and subscription-based journals on the one hand, and open access journals on the other.
8.8. It is clear to us that in moving towards the goal of increased access combined with sustainability and research excellence, our analysis points to the need for a shift in policy and funding arrangements. We are already seeing a shift from articles and journals supported by