How to achieve open access publishing for society journals?

Norway has made the first OA-agreement with Elsevier and is negotiating with Taylor & Francis. But most society journals are not included in the national agreements. (Ill: Financial Times)

What does it take to make society journals open access? We have seen the first national agreements with the some of the biggest publishers, but society journals are often not included. Why is that, and what can be done? How can the Nordic countries be pioneers in the transition towards sustainable and open publishing models for society journals? Taylor & Francis has many Nordic society journals in their portfolio. We invited the editors and society chairs to discuss the way forward to open access.

The meeting was initiated by Nordic University Association (NUS), organising all Nordic Rector’s conferences, and took place at Gardermoen on August 23.

NUS believe that learned societies can play a pivotal role in ensuring that high-quality journals are available, namely journals that are owned and operated by these societies. The high academic standards of the learned societies will constitute a guarantee for the scientific quality and integrity of such journals, independently of the model used to fund the operational costs of these journals. NUS recognize that it is difficult to predict the consequences of switching from a subscription-based model to an Open Access funding model. NUS are committed to help Nordic society-owned or operated journals in the transition to an Open Access publication model.

NUS’ focus at this first stage is journals owned by Nordic learned societies published by Taylor & Francis. This is motivated by the fact that Finland did not reach an agreement with T&F and currently is without access to journals handled by this publisher. Norway is still negotiating its agreement for the years 2019-2021, and Sweden will soon have to start negotiations with Taylor and Francis for a new agreement. But even with agreements in place, society journals are often not included, and the reason given by the publishers is that they cannot make an agreement on behalf of the societies. This is the case in Norway’s agreement with Elsevier, Wiley and Springer/Nature. NUS believe that the societies themselves should enter these discussions as owners of the society journals, which can help showing Taylor & Francis that the community wants to change to an Open Access publishing model that is economically viable for all parties involved. In this way, learned societies can contribute and play an active role to the transition to open access. Also, they might be drivers in the ongoing negotiations with Taylor & Francis, - and other publishers- , towards acceptable agreements for open access publishing in journals of the Nordic learned societies.

Routes towards sustainable Open Access business models

In the meeting university rectors presented their views on the future of scholarly publishing and provide examples on journals that have made a transition to open access publishing models. Furthermore, main concerns an obstacles to a transition was discussed, as well as how NordForsk, the NUS, the Nordic negotiating authorities and the Nordic members of cOAlitionS best can assist the learned societies in this transition if they decide to flip their journals to an Open Access publishing model?

The meeting revealed that the basic principles of open access publishing is quite new for many of the learned societies and editors that attend the meeting. There seems to be a lack of information from the publishers about the ongoing negotiations and one interesting finding was that several of the participants had no information whether their journal where included in the negotiated deals (read and publish) or not. It seems that the publishers tells the negotiation authorities that they cannot include the society journals in their deals, but none of the societies attending the meeting can recall that their publisher had discussed this with them. Many of the attending societies where not aware of the details in the contract with their publisher but revealed that they are depending on the royalty from the publisher to maintain basic activity within the society. The meeting also revealed that the level of income to the societies varied a lot. A core  problem with flipping to open access is to find a way to replace the income societies receive from today’s subscription model.

Based on the input from the meeting, NUS will seek to identify routes towards sustainable Open Access business models that considers the diversity in both readership and author profiles of journals owned or operated by the Nordic learned societies. Next step is to collaborate with some of the learned societies for pilots where alternative models can be tested.


The presentations held at the meeting are now available. 

Kenneth Ruud: Open Access - Publishing and the future of scholarly publishing seen from the university rectors

Wilhelm Widmark: Open access publishing seen from the University of Stockholm

BIBSAM Sverige: Negotiation transformative agreements with academic publishers

Unit - Nordic project – transition to open access for society Journals

Nordic project: Transition to open access for society journals

The Nordic initiative is organised as a project, and the project is coordinated in close collaboration with the Nordic negotiating authorities and NordForsk.

The practical facilitation of the project is made by Universities Norway, together with The Norwegian Directorate for ICT and Joint Services in Higher Education and Research (Unit), the Norwegian negotiating authority and is also a part of Universities Norway’s ongoing Action plan for Open Science.

Torbein Kvil Gamst Pro-Rector and professor in Chemistry, Kenneth Ruud, UiT, The Arctic University of Norway. Ruud is also chair of the strategic unit at Universities Norway, UHR-Research and is leading the Nordic Learned Society project on Open Access.