A Guide to a “Plan S” Impact Assessment

To explore what Plan S could mean for the future of publication programs at researcher-supported societies, we spoke with two leading executives – Malavika Legge of the Biochemical Society and Portland Press and Tasha Mellins-Cohen of the Microbiology Society – who offered an informal Guide to a “Plan S” Impact Assessment for society and independent publishers.


“The key message in the context of Plan S is we want to make that transition sustainable, i.e., that we can continue on our mission to return sustainable revenues to our parent society.” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press/The Biochemical Society

“[At] The Microbiology Society…75-80% of all revenue is derived from publishing. Now, that supports our grants programs for early-career and mid-career microbiologists… our policy work… lots of our events programs… and all of the professional development activities that we do. Societies don’t have a God-given right to exist, but if we’re going to pull the plug on all of these activities, which Plan S might well threaten to do, we might want to have a bit more of a conversation about it.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“What is the practical detail around payment workflows [in Plan S]? That remains to be explored, particularly where you’ve got international collaborations, and you’ve got part-funded work, and you’ve got authors or researchers… focusing on their science [who] don’t need to be distracted by administrative burden around bills and part payments and things like this.” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press/The Biochemical Society

“What about humanities scholars?  What about social sciences and arts and all the rest of those fields, which we know do not have the same kind of funding, certainly don’t have the same kind of acceptance of open access that our fields enjoy?  We know that the cOAlition’s thought about having a different ruling for social sciences, arts, and humanities and decided against it.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“That’s very worrying to me that you’re having this very broad-brush approach with no flexibility to allow for differences in fields and publisher types.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“We do see this as risk, but we also see it as an opportunity.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society “There’s an opportunity for us to look to transformative business models, transformative editorial models, and also potentially to really force a change in the way that research metrics are looked at to … make the break with the impact factor.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“We’re mapping every affiliation metric that we have, every piece of XML that includes affiliation details… back to what we’re calling parent organizations. We are then creating a global map of where our authors are, where our subscribers are, and we are looking at what Plan S could do. Something that came through very clearly when we started doing this mapping exercise was that even those authors within Plan S countries … [do] not all have Plan S funding. So, you can’t simply say, ‘20% of our author base is going to go away because they’ve got Plan S funding.’ You’ve got to be more nuanced than that.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“There is a route to just doing a very, very quick proxy analysis… You could look at authors [based in Plan S countries] publishing in the journals in a particular time period and get a very quick reading of what the possible scale of impact is. Straightaway… you might find that … different journals are affected in different ways… Taking a quick reading can really help to focus … on where the risk is falling.” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press/The Biochemical Society

“[It] has been made very clear by cOAlition S is that they’re not expecting us to have our new model in place on the 1st of January 2020… [but rather] we need to provide a document stating how we will get to a pure open access world.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“Editorial options include things like doubling the size of our portfolio by providing Open Access B versions of all of our journals. That obviously has huge overhead implications. [Would] your authors who are open access-funded move to a B version? It takes several years to get indexed properly, to get all the metrics you might want, and so on and so forth.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“On the business model side, obviously there’s … the read and publish model. The question that you have to ask is if, you’re very small … how many librarians are going to want to talk to you about a bespoke read and publish model?” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“Do you want to leverage the existing relationships with librarians’ existing workflows that currently exist around subscriptions, but change the conversation to talking about funding open access?” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press/The Biochemical Society

“Something that is potentially quite exciting and positive about that [Open Access B version] model is you take away the individual APC payment. You start having a conversation about institutions and consortia [funding] the journal … open access and able for everybody to access the content. …The risk that one has to consider with that is one of institutions saying, ‘Well, not me. I’ll wait for somebody else to stump up that money.’” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press/The Biochemical Society

“It would be great to hear from the funding bodies how they plan to influence [institution and consortia funding] so that [publishers] can continue to operate and provide on the editorial front the rigorous peer review, being the independent validator of research communications.” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press/The Biochemical Society

“Isn’t there benefit in having an independent party that is not deciding what research is funded –independent to the funder, [to the institution] and to the researcher – coming in and having a very robust validation process for that work, whatever the output might look like?” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press/The Biochemical Society

“We looked through nine different options around how we could respond to Plan S, ranging from do nothing to complete flip to APC-driven OA through things like institutional membership models, subscribe to open along the lines of the Knowledge Unlatched model and so on.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“I have taken a whole lot of the affiliation data and a whole lot of other data around funding, around APCs, around institutions who have open access mandates, so on and so forth, and I also looked at deposited green copies of articles that we’ve published, and I have crunched all of that data through a nifty little script that I wrote to give us an exposure level journal by journal to open access risk and potential.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

“We’re now seeing a huge new market for … an institutional membership model, which would allow us to go way beyond the existing subscriber base and actually reach out to all of our affiliated institutions one way and another.” – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, The Microbiology Society

View the full transcript here.

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Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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