Report from the SOAP Symposium

The SOAP project (Study of Open Access Publishing), presented its final results on January 13th, 2011 in Berlin to an audience of publishers, librarians and funding agencies, including the European Commission. Videos are available at http://river-valley.tv/conferences/soap-2011.

The project, which runs from March 2009 to February 2011 describes and analyses the open access (OA) publishing landscape and provides facts and evidence allowing libraries, publishers and funding agencies to assess drivers and barriers, risks and opportunities in the transition to OA publishing.

The event showcased the main findings of the project regarding:

  • the OA publishing landscape (slides;video)
  • the beliefs and attitudes of researchers in respect of OA publishing (slides;video)
  • and the drivers and the barriers for the submission of articles to OA journals (slides;video).

The key findings of the project are:

  • The number of OA articles published in “full” or “hybrid” OA journals was around 120’000 in 2009, some 8-10% of the estimated yearly global scientific output (see also http://arxiv.org/abs/1010.0506). Journals offering a “hybrid” OA option had a take-up of around 2%.
  • OA journals in several disciplines (including Life Sciences, Medicine, and Earth Sciences) are of outstanding quality, and have Impact Factors in the top 1-2% of their disciplines.
  • Out of some 40’000 published scholars who answered a large-scale online survey, approximately 90% are convinced that OA journals are or would be beneficial for their field. The main reasons given for this view are: benefit for the scientific community as a whole; financial issues; public good; and benefit to the individual scientist. The vast majority disagrees with the idea that OA journals are either of low quality or undermine the process of peer review.
  • A separate survey of scientists who published in OA journals reveals that their drivers for this choice were the free availability of the content to readers and the quality of the journal, as well as the speed of publication and, in some cases, the fact that no fee had to be paid directly by the author.
  • The main barriers encountered by 5’000 scientists who would like to publish in OA journals but did not manage to do so are funding (for 39% of them) and the lack of journals of sufficient quality in their field (for 30%).

Several speakers commented on the SOAP results during the event.

Bettina Goerner, from project-partner Springer, who recently launched a range of fully OA journals under the SpringerOpen brand, found the SOAP results encouraging, while remarking that the publisher’s experience of marketing SpringerOpen to the scientific community matched the SOAP finding that funding is still the biggest obstacle to OA publishing.

Deborah Kahn, from project-partner BioMed Central, commented that the SOAP research on the supply side shows a healthy OA publishing landscape, while BioMed Central and other main OA publishers have recently experienced around 100% growth in submission and publication numbers. She remarked that the SOAP results imply further efforts are needed to raise awareness of the quality of OA journals and the availability of funding and waiver schemes, so that no one need be barred from publishing due to lack of funds. Finally, she noted that the SOAP findings indicate stakeholders in OA need to continue to work with funders to ensure the availability of research funds to cover publication fees.

David Ross from project-partner SAGE remarked among the SOAP results that there was as much appetite for OA in the Social Science and Humanities (SSH) than other disciplines -if not more, and that those from these disciplines who publish OA do not generally pay to do so – although many of those that do had their fees covered by their institution.  He stated that it was SAGE’s challenge to work with institutions and funding agencies to find a way to enable SSH authors to publish OA as reflected in their recently launch of SAGE Open.

Mark Patterson from the Public Library of Science noted that on the ’supply’ side, the SOAP data support the view that OA is an established (and growing) part of the publishing landscape while on the ‘demand’ side, while researchers are very supportive of OA, publishers, funders and institutions must address the funding flows that are necessary to support OA publishing and drive its widespread adoption.

Peter Strickland from the International Union of Crystallography, which publishes a large OA journal, commented that in their experience journal quality and impact factor are more important for authors than OA when selecting a journal to publish in and that for a small publisher. For a small publisher, the SOAP data and results are very helpful in shaping communication with potential authors.

Caroline Sutton, president of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), concluded that many of the results confirm what was intuitively felt in the community, while some results – e.g. that 90% of Humanities researchers feel that OA would benefit their field – were surprising. She noted in particular three findings of SOAP: that a minority of researchers continue to have doubts about the quality of OA; that funding is difficult to come by for many researchers across academic fields, even in relatively mature OA disciplines such as the biological sciences; and that more information is needed to better understand the long tail of OA journals published as the sole journal of a publisher. She concluded that the SOAP results will provide an excellent benchmark against which future studies can be compared.

During the event, several funding agencies commented on the SOAP results. Robert Kiley from the Wellcome Trust mentioned that they validated three action items for funding agencies to promote OA: to have clear OA policies, enforce them appropriately and work to communicate the benefits of OA to researchers; to make it easier for researchers to access funding to cover OA publishing costs; and to develop better metrics for assessing research outputs. Heinz Pampel from the Helmholtz Association found that the SOAP results translated “feelings” into “facts” and gave the Association a good basis for the further development of their gold Open Access strategy. Celina Ramjoué of the European Commission, SOAP Project Officer, concluded that the SOAP results illustrate that funding agencies need policies on OA to mainstream this issue in a way linked with, and strengthened by, national OA policies and strategies. In addition, funding agencies should address the issue of OA publishing and how their evaluation systems work in a broader sense, with particular attention to the dominant role of Impact Factors.

During the event the project made data from its main survey available to the audience, and a full release under a Creative Common CC0 waiver will soon follow.

Note: The project is co-funded by the European Commission comprises publishers (BioMed Central, SAGE Publication Ltd., Springer Science and Business Media), research institutions (CERN – European Organization for Nuclear Research, Max Planck Society) and funding agencies (STFC – Science & Technology Facilities Council UK).