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Martin Paul Eve

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

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I am tempted to think that Taylor & Francis’s acquisition of F1000 should be critiqued on grounds of yet more gross for-profit consolidation in the scholarly publishing ecosystem. I believe this is true. But funders won’t care. The EU wants to maintain its stance of market non-interference and I do not believe that the for-profit status of such entities bothers others like Wellcome or Gates.

There is a different aspect of the purchase that should bother these funders, though. The more naive commentators believe that this is about T&F changing by partnering with (purchasing) a new radical startup. But that’s not it either.

What is actually happening here is that T&F is neutralizing the threat of Plan S. The Plan states that funded research must be published in pure (not hybrid) gold OA venues or under zero-embargo green. If these venues do not exist, because publishers do not convert their journals, then funders plan to ‘in a coordinated way, provide incentives to establish and support them when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary’. I call these the ‘threat infrastructures’.

But the threat infrastructures are now not threatening to T&F. It is my prediction that T&F will not fully convert its journal portfolio to pure gold to comply with Plan S. The reason for this is that if they control the threat infrastructures, then they will profit if researchers do turn there. If the Plan falls through, though, then they have not had to risk any conversion of their existing titles.

That said, it’s complex. This move simultaneously puts pressure on T&F’s competitors to convert to pure gold or zero-embargo green to comply with Plan S. Others will not want their researchers turning to the threat infrastructures thereby boosting their competitor’s revenues. The difference for T&F in the acquisition here is that the threat infrastructures come with funder-associated prestige that is extremely difficult and time consuming to build if a competitor started a new Plan S-compliant title.

So, doing that dodgy soothsaying thing that could come back to bite me:

  • I predict that T&F will not now wholeheartedly convert its journal portfolio for Plan S compliance
  • They might selectively switch some titles to zero-embargo green but this will be done on an analysis of the volume of funded research published
  • I predict that other publishers will feel increased pressure to convert theirs