Open Access Price Transparency
By Alicia Wise and Lorraine Estelle
This independent report is published by Information Power. It reports on a project funded by Wellcome and UKRI [UK Research and Innovation] on behalf of cOAlition S to engage with stakeholders to develop a framework for the transparent communication of Open Access (OA) prices and services. cOAlition S aims to help make the nature and prices of OA publishing services more transparent, and to enable conversations and comparisons that will build confidence amongst customers that prices are fair and reasonable. Ultimately, it seeks a framework which enables publishers to communicate the price of services in a way that is transparent, practical to implement, and insightful.
During the project we consulted widely with stakeholders to gain an understanding of concerns and needs and worked to gain the voluntary engagement and support of publishers. It was clear from the outset that mobilising this engagement and support would be crucial to success. It was also clear that this would be a challenge. While funders, libraries, and library consortia were broadly supportive of the work, many publishers – both mixed model and OA-only – expressed significant concerns about:
- being told what to price, how to price, or how to communicate about price;
- greater transparency with competitors giving rise to anti-trust issues, or conflict with fiduciary duties to charity/shareholders;
- any focus on costs, because publisher prices reflect the market and the value provided and not only costs;
- usefulness, as publishers record price and service information in different ways and costs and practices vary enormously between houses, subject areas, and titles;
- a range of negative outcomes including the imposition of price caps, downward pressure on prices, or funders and libraries ruling out of scope services that are valued by researchers or societies or that are important for business continuity and innovation.
Throughout we have worked to emphasise that this is an evolving framework open to influence by publishers. We have been mindful of competition law and fiduciary duties and have sought expert advice to ensure that the approach we have recommended supports competition and is aligned with competition law.
In this report we present a draft framework and we propose ways in which it could be implemented. It consists of 24 pieces of metadata about platforms or titles providing OA publishing services. The metadata are clustered into three sections: the first for high-level information about the title itself, the second for a range of metrics that together convey a sense of the nature and quality of the title, and the third to indicate the percentage of the total price apportioned to publishing services.
Implementing this framework will require changes in practices, closer alignment between stakeholders, effort, and infrastructure. These metadata would be most conveniently made available by platforms and publishers via the CrossRef service, and from there surfaced via an open licence for ingest and use in a wide array of services. Many relevant services operate now, and there is also potential for new services.
We recommend to publishers that they transform the way they think about price and service communication and provide customer-critical information in more customer-friendly ways. We encourage them to embrace the idea that their customers are genuinely interested in more standard, transparent, and granular price and service information and to take this opportunity to better understand and serve customers. There are opportunities here for publishers to be responsive, to demonstrate their commitment to open business models and business cultures, and to build better awareness of and appreciation for their services and value.
We recommend to cOAlition S that the introduction of a new reporting requirement needs to be organised with clear implementation guidelines and a proper plan for testing, development, release, review, and refinement. We recommend an iterative approach to implementing this requirement, carrying a range of publishers along at each step of the way, with a pilot as the next step.
We recommend that customers align their price and service transparency requirements. At least some publishers currently feel that the scale of market demand for price and service transparency is too low to warrant the implementation effort and costs. Librarians are key stakeholders and yet are not signatories to Plan S, and so the additional weight they wield in terms of purchasing power may understandably be missing from the calculations of publishers at present. We therefore recommend that cOAlition S works with other customers to align requirements for price and service transparency.
We recommend the creation of a level playing field for publishers, with customers requiring price and service transparency from all publishers, no matter what route they follow to provide OA.
Customers will need services to make use of data provided by publishers, and to gather customer feedback on the quality of those services and customer perceptions of value for money. There are cost implications here. Publishers will incur costs to develop and provide price and service transparency data, and if aggregated via CrossRef will fund the provision of these data via their DOI registration fees. Customers should take responsibility from there, ensuring the data are ingested into services as necessary and actively used in practice to inform decisions.