Get Smart About Plan S

An initiative of 13 European national research funding organizations announced only a month ago, “Plan S” puts pressure on Open Access (OA) publishing business models by capping article fees, ending embargoes and withdrawing support for “hybrid” OA journals.

Not only publishers but also authors are affected by Plan S’s ambitions. Researchers are concerned that under Plan S, funders can decide where they may publish their work – with adverse effect on their academic careers.

Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s Open Access special envoy and mastermind of Plan S, says the “S” in “Plan S” can stand for “science, speed, solution, shock.” In a special “pop-up” program for the Frankfurt Book Fair, Copyright Clearance Center welcomed a trio of leading scholarly publishers who shared what it takes for Open Access publishers to be smart about Plan S.


  • Tim Britton, Managing Director of the Open Research Group at Springer Nature
  • Malavika Legge, Acting Director of Publishing at Portland Press, the wholly-owned publishing arm of the UK’s Biochemical Society
  • David Ross, Executive Publisher for Open Access at SAGE Publishing


“Plan S is an initiative of 13 national research funding organizations, and it puts pressure on open access publishing business models by capping article fees, ending embargoes, and withdrawing support for hybrid OA journals. Not only are publishers affected by Plan S ambitions, but authors as well. Authors and researchers are concerned that under Plan S, they may have limited choice about where they can publish their work, which could adversely affect their careers.” – Chuck Hemenway, CCC

“Plan S…overtly recognizes that and says hybrid as part of a transitional arrangement is acceptable. But more generally than that, why would we want to relaunch or recreate a whole existing journal network to kind of have a separate OA offer? It does seem to me that the use of the existing journals [that have] been around for hundreds of years [such as] society journals – why are we trying to shut them out of the market? It doesn’t make sense to me. We should use…the capital that we’ve already got as a way of helping us move forward.” – Tim Britton, Springer Nature

“There is no direct funding in social sciences and in the humanities. So, how [could] a model that was [clearly] being developed for highly funded biomedical disciplines…just be read across to these disciplines? …Within that, many social science [and humanities] journals…are small niche journals, and they’re communities in themselves. There’s actually no way you could convert them to a charge per article basis. They just would never be sustainable. …For all those small social science publishers, of which there are thousands, …literally would not be able to operate under this model.” – David Ross, Sage

“The social sciences and humanities…has to rely on a combination of hybrid and green archiving. …The idea that…anyone could just flip some of these journals and create brand new vehicles…is beyond me.” – David Ross, Sage

“If you take transformational agreements as I’m currently reading them to be, read and publish deals or some kind of arrangement like that, [niche society publishers] are just too small from a librarian’s perspective to have those individual conversations, because from an institute’s perspective, the output from their researchers in our tiny portfolio of journals is not high enough that it warrants a conversation around a bespoke read and publish deal or some other kind of bespoke arrangement. If Plan S is going to say, ‘Hybrid is only compliant in a world where you have these kind of deals,’ well, these kind of deals can only be done by the biggest publishers with the largest scale. So where does that leave the kind of publisher that we are?” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press

“Science doesn’t have borders. Science is about international collaboration these days. It’s getting more multicultural, more interdisciplinary. You’ve got people collaborating across the globe. So, when you have a group of funders in a ring-fenced number of countries saying, ‘Where we are funding things, we want these rules to play out,’ what happens? What happens when a Chinese author is collaborating with somebody based in Europe, is collaborating with somebody based in the US, and the work is only [partially] funded by one of these funders? Whose rules are going to play out?” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press

“APCs… is there a bill to be paid… This sort of administrative burden matters, because ideally none of us want to burden a researcher’s life with the hassle of any of this.” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press

“Is Plan S possibly going to drive further consolidation in the market? If the major complaint of the science funding bodies is that the major publishers have too much leverage, this type of fast movement can force the hand of smaller societies to give over their programs.” – Chuck Hemenway, CCC

“With Plan S, what we have is the problem, perhaps, or a challenge, of a lack of consultation or consideration, around perspectives [of small society publishers]. [Plus] potentially, a lack of details – certainly at the moment, and it remains to see what that detail is. A lot rests on what that detail looks like. And thirdly, a lack of time, because 2020 is essentially right here.” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press

[The value of publishers in an Open Access environment.] “We have a number of different stakeholder groups, of which our shareholders are one, of which our authors are one, of which our employees are one, of which our funders are one, and that is why, ultimately, we do have a mixed model. All we can do is continue to point out what we do and the value that we bring.” – Tim Britton, Springer Nature

“There’s a lot of the US societies kind of shrugging their shoulders at this and going, well, we just won’t publish that 2% of researchers in our journals, then, and we’ll move on, because it’s not impacting the US.” – David Ross, Sage

“This is academic publishing. Every journal is different. That’s why they’re not fungible goods – they’re communities. And many of these communities, if it were played out as in the 10-points of Plan S, would be destroyed by that. That’s how you’ve got to engage.” – David Ross, Sage

“I think where we have to work is with the funding bodies, with the institutions, to make workflows and make ways that can shield the researcher community from this, because their focus needs to be on the science.” – Malavika Legge, Portland Press

View the full transcript here.

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Author: Chuck Hemenway

Chuck Hemenway is Director, Publisher Solutions for CCC. He has been at the company for over 20 years and is responsible for helping publishers find efficiency through automation, technology, and market-wide collaboration. His primary focus is the market-wide adoption of the RightsLink platform, and the exploration of new efficiencies and revenue opportunities for publishers.
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