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Read & Publish contracts in the context of a dynamic scholarly publishing system
Etudes & rapports
Le rapport étudie les implications des accords « Read & Publish », qui risquent de reproduire les mêmes inégalités et dépendances que les « Big Deals ». La question est de savoir comment concevoir une édition ouverte et durable, et quelle place accorder à ce type d’accord. Le devenir de l'édition scientifique est exploré à travers quatre scénarios.

Read & Publish contracts in the context of a dynamic scholarly publishing system

A study on future scenarios for the scholarly publishing system

Final report – July 2020


The scholarly publishing world has seen a rapid evolution over the last few years. After many years of advocacy and hard work, Open Access finally appears to become a new normal. However, enabling free and rapid access to all scientific publications and at the same time controlling and reducing total publishing expenses remains the great challenge. Universities and consortia are increasingly successful in securing transparent agreements at national level that solve some of the drawbacks of the traditional Big Deals, sometimes including Open Access publishing, authors retaining copyright and an end to unaccounted amounts paid for individual Article Processing Charges. Thus, there are many examples in Europe of negotiations leading to many different types of agreements, depending on the publisher and the different characteristics of the agreement, such as cost, duration of access, copyright model, text and data mining, etc.

While positive, partial remedies to some of the problems at first glance, many fundamental issues remain unsolved. The dominance of a handful of commercial publishers seems unfettered – and many universities and researchers wonder if new business models will simply reproduce the inequalities and dependencies of the Big Deal. For many, Open Access means a system in which the academic and scholarly community maintains much closer control of the publishing process and its infrastructure. These questions, of course, concern the price of scholarly publishing―almost certainly inflated through the market’s long-standing lack of transparency―but go much deeper into the basic structure of scholarly publishing for the 21st century.

This is the starting point for the present report. EUA’s widely received surveys on Big Deals and the resulting publications have laid a foundation for continued, critical inquiry into scholarly publishing markets―and highlighted their shortcomings. Mistakes that were made with Big Deals should not be repeated. The broad, international support of national rectors’ conferences, universities, and national consortia to conduct this study highlights the interest of the European higher education community into the question how to design an open, equitable and sustainable publishing system, in particular to understand the place that could be taken by the « Publish & Read » model.

Now, the work of more than one year of intense discussions and research has come to an end. We hope that this report―a cross-sector inquiry into the possible short-term and long-term implications of a Publish & Read system and its alternatives―will be useful to guide the decisions of universities, rectors’ conferences and consortia in this crucial period. It is intended to contribute to the debate on the long-term process of transforming scholarly publishing. Of course, scholarly publishing does not only concern universities. Therefore, we hope that researchers, research funding organisations and publishing initiatives will also find this report helpful to recognise and reflect about their role in the scholarly publishing market.

I would like to thank the entire project team of Technopolis Group, in particular Annemieke van Barneveld-Biesma, and Robert van der Vooren for their effort and dedication. I extend my thanks to the Steering Committee of the project and the supporting organisations that made the study possible. The EUA Secretariat staff―Vinciane Gaillard, Acting Director for Research & Innovation, Lennart Stoy, Project Manager, and Lior Gianni, Office Manager―provided essential support and direction. Finally, we are indebted to Lidia Borrell-Damián, now Secretary General of Science Europe, having supported this work in her previous role at EUA, and Liam Earney (Jisc) and Dyveke Sijm (Royal Danish Library), who laid the crucial groundwork for this study.


Prof. Jean-Pierre Finance, Chair of the EUA Expert Group on Science 2.0/Open Science


Management summary

Research performing (in consortia) and research funding organisations have, in recent years, taken steps to bring together the mission-based and economic drivers to accelerate the transition of scholarly journal publishing to open access. The discussions around implementing open access are, however, extremely complex: scholarly publishing is not merely a lucrative economic sector with considerable vested interests and financial investments of both private and public parties. It is also one of the most central elements of the very system of research and the scientific endeavour.

In this study we have essentially explored two future open access scenarios and one transitional pathway to open access in which the role of publishers, primarily, and the academic community varies. We have compared these with the baseline of predominantly subscription-based contracts with delayed open access through repositories after publishing. We did this with a Delphi survey among stakeholders and used reflections from experts. In our scenarios we included various stakeholders and their different motivations.

Respondents clearly see Read & Publish (R&P) contracts as an intermediary phase on the way to a different scholarly publishing market – not as an endpoint. Based on the set of scenarios defined in this study, it seems that the scholarly publishing market is most likely to move toward OA platforms over the long-term. Whether these are publisher-owned or community-owned may largely depend on the actions of stakeholders in the market (ambition and organising power of the scientific community, for instance). For now, the publisher-owned platform scenario is perceived to be most realistic. In this scenario, current journals and their distinguished brands could be maintained. Both publishers and scholarly stakeholders seem to benefit from this scenario. Moving beyond the current journal format will require a departure from the current researcher performance assessment mechanisms of institutions; while there is a strong movement to reduce reliance on bibliometric indicators associated with journals, practical implementation of new, alternative policies is a slow process.

On an overarching level we suggest five recommendations.

First, we recommend further exploration of the two platform scenarios, which were deemed most desirable by respondents. As the publisher-owned platforms are considered most realistic, further study of the desired characteristics of publisher-owned platforms, as well as their shortcomings. Is recommended. Although perceived as less realistic, EUA members might also undertake further reflections of the conditions that are necessary in order to arrive at a scholarly publishing landscape dominated by community-owned platforms.

Second, if one of these scenarios for the scholarly publishing system would then be the ambition of EUA members, it would be wise to develop a plan or strategy to arrive at the ambition in the medium to long term.

Third, to understand and keep track of this rapid development, periodic research into the drivers and positions of stakeholders in the publishing landscape is required.

Fourth, as the majority of respondents view R&P type agreements as a transitional mechanism towards open access, EUA members could improve and strengthen their position through systematic information sharing and collaboration on strategies, negotiation expertise, and capacity building.

Finally, it is relevant to note that despite differences between EUA members they share common goals and urgency for open access. A transition from national negotiation consortia to a (more) European negotiation consortium could increase the negotiation position towards publishers. A European policy that provides all EUA members with the necessary negotiations safeguards to sustain new open access strategies would be supportive to promote Europe’s aim for a Digital Single Market.


Table of Contents


Management summary

1 Introduction

1.1 A study on Read & Publish contracts in the context of a dynamic scholarly publishing system

1.2 Objectives of the study

1.3 Methodology used for this study

1.4 Reading guide

2 A dynamic scholarly publishing system

2.1 A two-sided market

2.2 Transitioning from the traditional subscription-based model

2.3 Open access modalities

2.4 Transformative agreements

2.5 Publishing platforms

3 Actors in the scholarly publishing system and their main drivers

3.1 Stakeholders in the context of open access negotiations

3.2 Authors and readers

3.3 Negotiating consortia

3.4 Publishers

3.5 Research funders

3.6 Governments

4 Four scenarios

4.1 Reference scenario 1: Predominantly subscription-based contracts with delayed OA through repositories after publishing (‘Classical/Green’)

4.2 Scenario 2: Predominantly Publish & Read contracts (‘P&R/R&P’)

4.3 Scenario 3: Predominantly contracts for publishing open access through publisher-owned journals or platforms (‘publisher-owned OA platforms’)

4.4 Scenario 4: Predominantly contracts for publishing open access through community-owned platforms (‘Community-owned OA platforms’)

5 Differences in implications between the scenarios

5.1 Methodological note and limitations

5.2 Impact on academic freedom and the freedom to publish in preferred journals

5.3 Ability to perform current research(er) performance assessment

5.4 Service levels of publishers and innovation in research communities

5.5 Transparency in the market

5.6 Effects on the arts, humanities and social sciences

6 Perceived strengths and weaknesses of hypothetical scenarios

6.1 Scenario 2: R&P contracts

6.2 Scenario 3: Publisher-owned OA platforms or journals

6.3 Scenario 4: Community-owned OA platforms

7 Potential effects of the hypothetical scenarios on each stakeholder group

7.1 Authors and readers

7.2 Negotiating consortia

7.3 Publishers

7.4 Funders

8 Desirability and feasibility of the hypothetical scenarios

8.1 Scenario 2: Predominantly Publish & Read contracts (‘P&R/R&P’)

8.2 Scenario 3: Predominantly contracts for publishing open access through publisher-owned journals or platforms (‘Publisher-owned OA platforms’)

8.3 Scenario 4: Predominantly contracts for publishing open access through community-owned platforms (‘Community-owned OA platforms’)

9 Overview and main conclusions

9.1 Open access drivers

9.2 Implications of R&P contracts

9.3 Implications of future scenarios for the scholarly publishing system

9.4 Implications of future scenarios for various stakeholders

9.5 Desired future, realistic future and likelihood of implementation

9.6 Schematic overview of scenarios

9.7 Discussion and reflection

9.8 Recommendations

Appendice A List of abbreviations used

Appendice B Consulted stakeholders

Appendice C Description of the behavioural model and application to scenarios

Appendice D Details on the Delphi surveys

Appendice E Scenario summary tables

Appendice F Details on contractual conditions

Appendice G PESTLE Factors