Royal Society announces five-year open access plan for journals

The move comes as the organisation – like others in its position – responds to the growing pressure on publishers to reduce subscription-only academic publications

The Royal Society will embark on a five-year programme to ‘flip’ its journals to open access, it announced today. 

The move comes as the organisation – like others in its position – responds to the growing pressure to end paywalled academic publications.

Following a review, the society’s council committed on 13 May to ‘flipping’ four of its titles – Biology Letters, Interface, Proceedings A, and Proceedings B – to a fully open access model when it publishes three-quarters of articles on an open access basis. It expects to reach this 75% threshold in five years; presently, 40% of its articles are published open access. 

The chair of the 360-year-old organisation’s publishing board, Dame Wendy Hall, described the announcement as “a landmark in the history of the Royal Society”. 

“Just as we pioneered science publishing three and a half centuries ago, I am delighted that we are taking this important step forward to maximise the reach and usefulness of the research we publish,” she said.

This transition will be made possible by the growing number of ‘Read & Publish’ agreements the Royal Society expects to sign with major research institutions, which will enable it to publish signatories’ scientific research without paywalls or subscription fees. 

The Royal Society supports open access publishing to maximise the dissemination and impact of high-quality scientific research
– Dr Stuart Taylor, Royal Society

The process is “already well underway”, it says after it launched the Royal Society Read & Publish in January 2021. It now seeks “transformative journal” status from cOAlition S, the consortium of research organisations and funders behind the Plan S open access initiative. The consortium’s plan – launched in 2018 – is supported by some of Europe’s biggest national and private funders, including UKRI. In signing this pledge, the society will agree to flip its journals when it reaches the 75% threshold, offer transparent pricing and commit to an annual increase in the proportion of articles published open access. 

The Society publishes 10 journals, including six already open access or part of the OA75 commitment. The remaining four – Philosophical Transactions A and B, Interface Focus, and Notes and Records – will “continue to operate on a hybrid model for the time being”, the council added. The Royal Society does not think it feasible that journals that commission content directly from authors would reach the 75% open access threshold. 

The announcement is a continuation of an “open access journey the Society began in 2006”, it said. The group introduced open access publishing as an option on all articles and launched Royal Society Open Science in 2010, and Open Biology, in 2014.

Dr Stuart Taylor, head of publishing at the Royal Society, said the society “supports open access publishing to maximise the dissemination and impact of high-quality scientific research”. 

Said Taylor: “Publishing income supports our internationally recognised journals output, as well as the Society’s wider mission to promote scientific excellence for the benefit of all.

“We have seen steady growth in open access publishing, and over 40% of our articles are now published open access. With Read & Publish, and other transformative agreements, we expect that trend to accelerate and all our research journals to become fully Open Access within five years. 

“The approach set out today ensures we can transition towards a transparent and sustainable open access system while continuing to support our wider work.”

Read more: UK research funding less geographically concentrated than US and Germany – Hepi report

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