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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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The report on Learned Societies and Plan S commissioned by Wellcome, UKRI, and ALPSP has been released. In general, this is a very good document. Societies should read it and act.

There is one amusing element to which I’d draw some attention, though.

The report, co-authored by Alicia Wise, notes that ‘It would be helpful for publishers to acknowledge that other stakeholders do not feel publishers delivered enough transparency or any price restraint. Rather than deploying hybrid journals to help drive a quick and orderly transition to full OA in a way perceived as fair and sustainable for all stakeholders, publishers added a new Article Publishing Charge (APC) revenue stream on top of existing subscription revenues, crafted options in such a way as to maximise both of these revenue streams, focussed effort on increasing article market share and/or the total volume of articles published, and reserved the benefit of any efficiency gains for themselves’.

Who are these publishers who ‘added a new Article Publishing Charge (APC) revenue stream on top of existing subscription revenues’? Who were the people sent out to sell the opposite message of the above sentiment in order to craft ‘options in such a way as to maximise both of these revenue streams’?

It certainly wouldn’t be Wise herself in 2015, would it, where she was quoted in an interview thus?: ‘According to Wise, there is no connection between subscriptions and APCs: they are “decoupled”. She says the money coming in through a journal subscription is used to pay for a particular number of articles, and that open-access articles in hybrid journals are additional to that’.

Of course, perhaps it’s the case that the second clause here (‘publishers added a new Article Publishing Charge (APC) revenue stream on top of existing subscription revenues’) is just what ‘other stakeholders […] feel’. However, it’s not written like this. It’s written as the opposite to ‘Rather than deploying hybrid journals to help drive a quick and orderly transition to full OA in a way perceived as fair and sustainable for all stakeholders’, publishers did this. That is: rather than acting in a way that was perceived as fair, publishers added a second revenue stream atop their subscriptions.

This is all true. But it’s a bit galling to be told it by the person who was, at the time, in my view, the chief mouthpiece of the line that publishers were not double dipping and that the revenue streams were ‘decoupled’. Perhaps Wise has changed her mind. That’s fine and allowable. Or perhaps she doesn’t really believe the things that she says. I find it hard to tell.