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This blog post was originally published on May 29, 2019 based on the initial Plan S implementation guidelines. The post was updated and republished on June 3, 2019 to reflect the revised Plan S guidelines.

Since it was announced in September 2018 there’s been a lot of information swirling around about Plan S, including discussion about the initial guidelines, theorizing as to what the final Plan S requirements would be, and evaluations of what’s needed to ensure sustainable and equitable publishing under Plan S. Now that the revised guidelines have officially been released there are many changes to unpack. It’s a lot to keep up with!

For publishers, ready or not, Plan S is coming (which is fitting given that the S really stands for “shock,” as well as “science,” “speed,” and “solution”). If you still have questions about what Plan S is exactly and how it will affect the journals you publish or work with, you’re not alone. Here at Scholastica, we’ve been getting a lot of questions from our journal users about the overall aims of Plan S and the technical specifications. We decided to compile this FAQ blog post to provide answers to some of the most common questions we’ve heard. This post is meant to be a living resource and we will update the answers to each question with any new information that becomes available.

If you have a suggested revision for one of the below responses or an additional question you’d like answered, let us know in the comments section!

Q. What is Plan S exactly, and who is behind it?

A. Plan S is an initiative launched by Science Europe in September 2018 to make research fully and immediately OA that is supported by cOAlition S, an international consortium of (currently) 18 research funders. Among the funders supporting Plan S are UK Research and Innovation, the Academy of Finland, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Plan S states: “With effect from 2021, all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.” (We’ll get into compliance specifics in the questions below.) At the highest level, in order for a journal to be Plan S compliant it must make all research fully and immediately open access upon publication—no embargo models—and it must use a Creative Commons OA license that enables authors to retain all copyrights to their works. It must also meet specific technical guidelines (more on that below).

Statements of support for Plan S have been released by many institutions including SPARC Europe, The Swiss National Science Foundation, and OpenAIRE among others.

Q. My journals aren’t based in Europe—do I still have to worry about Plan S?

A. To answer a question with a question—where do your authors receive funding from? If it’s possible for the authors submitting to your journals to receive funding from any of the cOAlition S supporters than you should be preparing for Plan S.

While Plan S is currently backed by mostly European funders, it is not a regional initiative. There are cOAlition S members like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that fund research from scholars all over the world. So publishers have to review the list of supporters and determine which, if any, of their journals are likely to be impacted. cOAlition S also has open recruitment for new members, so new organizations could join at any time.

On a side note, even if you don’t think your journals will be impacted by Plan S as it stands, we think it’s still worth reviewing the Plan S principles and technical requirements to have a sense of what OA expectations your journals may have to meet in the future and to also see how your journals stand up against Plan S’ publishing ethics and professionalization requirements. Generally speaking, most of the more technical Plan S publishing requirements are best practices publishers should aim to adhere to in order to improve the quality and reach of their articles.

Q. What do I have to do to make my journals Plan S compliant?

A. Plan S has 10 Principles listed here that include expectations of publishers for compliance as well as commitments from funders. Publisher expectations include that all published research should be:

  • Fully OA with author-owned copyright: All articles must have a CC BY copyright license and authors must be able to retain unrestricted, full copyright ownership.
  • Transparent publication fees: The exact wording on this from Plan S is “When Open Access publication fees are applied, they must be commensurate with the publication services delivered and the structure of such fees must be transparent to inform the market and funders potential standardisation and capping of payments of fees.”
  • Full and immediate OA: In order for an OA journal to be Plan S compliant ALL of the research published within it must be made fully and immediately OA. That means journals cannot use embargo publishing models. As in the initial guidelines, Plan S still takes a firm anti-hybrid OA publishing stance. However, they have added some leniency with regard to hybrid journals in the revised guidelines stating that they will still support research published in hybrid journals that have clearly defined transitional pathways and timeframes until 2024. Additionally, the revised guidelines include some big changes with respect to publisher and author archiving, which will make it possible for subscription journals to be Plan S compliant via clearly defined Green OA routes (e.g. immediately depositing the author-accepted manuscript into a Plan S-compliant open repository).
  • Produced and funded in a transparent way: Plan S calls for transparent publishing models and agreements. Principle six states, “The Funders encourage governments, universities, research organisations, libraries, academies, and learned societies to align their strategies, policies, and practices, notably to ensure transparency.” It’s worth noting that the original Principle read “The Funders will ask…” so this wording has been somewhat tempered.

Plan S also has specific implementation guidelines. Within the guidelines are some more technical requirements for journals to be Plan S compliant. We address those in the next question.

Q. What are the Plan S technical requirements for academic journals?

A. There are some specific technical requirements for journals to fulfill the 10 Plan S Principles. So even if the journals you publish are already fully OA, there may still be some criteria that your journals have to meet to be recognized by Plan S.

The revised technical Plan S requirements that journal publishers need to know about are that journals must:

  • Be registered in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) or have an application under review.
  • Enable authors to publish under a CC BY 4.0 license or alternatively CC BY-SA 4.0 or CC0. The revised Plan S guidelines also state that they will consider non-derivative licenses in select circumstances: “the CC BY-ND license for individual articles, provided that this is explicitly requested and justified by the grantee.”
  • Have a clear peer review policy in place, detailed on the journal’s website, that meets the standards of the journal’s discipline and that complies with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines. The revised guidelines add that “at least basic statistics must be published annually, covering in particular the number of submissions, the number of reviews requested, the number of reviews received, the approval rate, and the average time between submission and publication.”
  • Make publicly available all costs/factors impacting any publication fees.
  • Offer APC waivers “for authors from lower middle-income economies, as well as waivers and discounts for other authors with demonstrable needs.” Waiver policies must be listed on the journal’s website/platform and stats on waiver acceptance rates must be provided.
  • Not have “mirror” subscription journals with overlapping editorial boards.
  • Have persistent identifiers such as Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for all articles (DOIs are preferable).
  • Deposit content into a long-term preservation or archiving program (e.g. Portico, CLOCKSS).
  • Have rich machine-readable metadata for all articles in standard interoperable formats that include cited references, complete funding information, and copyright license information.

The revised Plan S guidelines break out some previously required technical criteria into a new section—“Strongly recommended additional criteria for all publication venues.” Strongly recommended criteria include that journals should:

  • Make full-text machine-readable files of all publications (including supplementary text and data) available for download, such as JATS XML
  • Support persistent identifiers for all relevant entities such as “authors (e.g., ORCID), funders, funding programmes and grants, institutions”
  • Register a self-archiving policy in SHERPA/RoMEO
  • Have metadata that complies to OpenAIRE criteria
  • Link to underlying article data and code in external repositories
  • Provide “openly accessible data on citations according to the standards by the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC)”

It’s yet to be determined whether these recommended criteria will eventually become a part of future Plan S implementation requirements.

Q. What changed in the revised Plan S guidelines?

A. The (we believe) final Plan S revised guidelines were released on May 31, 2019 and take into account the feedback provided by over 600 individuals and organizations. What’s changed in the revised guidelines? At the highest-level the biggest changes are:

  • A new launch date: Plan S will now go into effect on January 1, 2021
  • Extended support for transformative agreements until 2024
  • A clearer Green OA compliance pathway: “Authors publish in a subscription journal and make either the final published version (Version of Record (VoR)) or the Author’s Accepted Manuscript (AAM) openly available in a repository”
  • Flexibility around non-derivative copyright licenses: cOAlition S may allow CC BY-ND licenses for individual articles on a case-by-case basis if requested and justified
  • Leeway for some previous technical requirements, which are now “strongly recommended,” including making full-text machine readable versions of all article files available
  • Expanded information on transformative options including the addition of “transformative journals” or journals that have clear plans/paths to gradually transition to OA (more on this below)

As noted in the previous version of this blog post, the leading concerns expressed in Plan S feedback from publishers and associations across disciplines were namely about:

  • The conditions of the January 2020 Plan S launch and what leeway publishers would have to transition journals to Plan S compliant models once the mandate goes into effect, since about 85% of journals are currently not Plan S compliant. This has clearly been addressed with the pushback to 2021.
  • What “a fair and reasonable APC level” meant and what the final APC waiver policy requirements would be—it seems that the new guidelines define “fair” APCs as ones that can be justified stating any fees “must be commensurate with the publication services.” There is no official APC cap at this time, though a cap may be introduced at a later date.
  • Whether Coalition S would reconsider allowing hybrid OA publishing models—this is one area where Plan S has not budged. However, the new repository pathway provides some leeway for journals to be Plan S compliant via alternative subscription routes.
  • Whether the Plan S CC copyright license options would be revised to include the CC BY-NC or CC BY-ND license—as noted above, CC BY-ND is now acceptable on a case-by-case basis.
  • Whether Plan S would provide specific recommendations and/or financial support to help smaller academy-owned publishers make the transition—this one remains somewhat opaque still. However, the guidelines do now state that “when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary.”

In the original version of this blog post, we pointed to some articles and reports that provided insights into what we could and most likely shouldn’t expect from the revised Plan S guidelines. For example, Danny Kingsley’s assessment suggested copyright requirements would likely undergo further consideration. She wrote, “there are members of our Arts, Humanities and Social Science communities who only feel comfortable with a CC-BY-NC-ND license. It is the Non Derivative aspect of the license that is of greatest concern and has been the subject of considerable discussion.” It looks like Kingsley was spot on there, and hence the CC BY-ND license is allowed in some cases.

Springer Nature has also played a more active role in providing Plan S feedback and weighed in on what it expected in revisions based on hints from Plan S. They were confident that Plan S would not budge on the hybrid OA front stating, “although we await the conclusions of cOAlition S’s consultation, we understand that their views haven’t changed and that Plan S will require hybrid journals to commit to flip to OA within a specified period.” This is indeed the case, although as noted there are new subscription routes for compliance not previously available. In response to the initial Plan S guidelines, Springer Nature released additional feedback that seemed to be pushing for longer transformative timelines for hybrid OA journals if publishers can show that they are making progress towards making their entire portfolio OA. Plan S has responded to this with a more definitive timeline for transformative agreements stating, “Recognising that a fundamental principle of these transformative arrangements is that they are temporary and transitional, where cOAlition S members provide funding to support publication fees of journals covered by such arrangements, this funding will cease on the 31 December 2024.”

Q. How long will publishers have to make journals Plan S compliant?

A. As we noted in the previous version of this post, Plan S will only go into effect for research funded on or after the launch date, which is now January 1, 2021. So in addition to the year pushback, there is a bit of an extra lag built into the plan as most article submissions in 2021 will be funded by grants issued before that year. As noted above, Plan S has come out with a more definitive transition timeline for journals to still receive articles funded by CoalitionS members should they choose the transformative agreement route, stating “where cOAlition S members provide funding to support publication fees of journals covered by such arrangements, this funding will cease on the 31 December 2024.” It appears that journals that choose to take the fully OA or repository route will have to do so by January 1, 2021.

Q. Are preprint servers and repositories Plan S compliant?

A. Yes (as long as they meet the Plan S requirements)

This is where one of the biggest revisions occurred. In the original guidelines Plan S acknowledged the importance and role of preprints and repositories in the future of OA publishing and it looked as though preprints and repositories would be viable hosting options so long as articles were CC BY and made immediately OA in their final versions. A question that was still to be determined was whether the technical requirement to make full-text machine-readable versions of all articles available would stand.

The new guidelines state that journals may take a repository route to Plan S compliance so long as they “either enable authors to publish with immediate and permanent Open Access (without any kind of technical or other form of obstacles) under an open license […], or to deposit the AAM or VoR in an Open Access repository at no extra cost and under an open license.” There can be no embargo period or deposit restrictions imposed on articles. As noted above, making available full-text machine readable article files is not a part of the final Plan S technical requirements for journals or repositories and is instead included in the section of strongly recommended technical guidelines. Under the revised guidelines, in order to be compliant, repositories must have adequate metadata, including funding and license metadata, as well as issue unique identifiers with DOIs being the preferred format.

Q. Are there clear transition options to make non-OA (subscription) journals Plan S compliant?

A. The short answer is—sort of. Coalition S acknowledges that paths to compliance and OA publishing and funding models will likely have to be determined on a publisher-by-publisher and journal-by-journal basis. Plan S does now list three possible routes to compliance:

  1. Open Access publishing venues (journals or platforms)
  2. Subscription venues (repository route)
  3. Transition of subscription venues (transformative arrangements)

We’ve already covered the first two options, research can either be published in already fully OA venues or be made immediately available and fully OA in repositories, per the guidelines outlined above. There’s a bit more to unpack in the “Transformative Arrangements” section. So what are the options?

Plan S details transformative agreements as one transitional option wherein “funds previously spent for subscriptions are repurposed to cover the costs associated with open access publishing.” The plan states that transformative agreements must adhere to the ESAC Guidelines. The two terms coined to describe transformative agreements are:

  • Read and publish: Single fee is paid to cover costs of reading paywalled research and of authors publishing under open-access terms bundled in one contract.

  • Publish and read: Publishers receive payment from institutions for the cost of publishing articles and all articles can be read at no additional cost.

For many smaller institutional and society publishers transformative agreements may not be a viable transition option at this time. OASPA stated in its Plan S feedback, “many of these publishers are too small to negotiate the kind of ‘transformative’ national Big Deals we are seeing for the largest publishers, while exclusively open access publishers without legacy subscription businesses are also unable to participate. Many are not even of sufficient size to make agreements directly with institutions.” OASPA urged Coalition S to consider the bigger publishing picture stating, “Smaller publishers, learned societies and innovative new platforms will be at a significant disadvantage unless they are properly considered and steps are taken to ensure they are able to compete fairly in the market.” cOAlition S did respond to such concerns in the revised guidelines by adding “Transformative model agreements” as a transition option, which seems to be a promise from cOAlition S to work with smaller publishers that are not positioned to enter transformative agreements to develop new transformative pathways. The section states, “cOAlition S will work together with all stakeholders to develop new models for agreements that ensure Open Access publishing and avoids double payment. In particular, cOAlition S will, in partnership with stakeholders, help to facilitate new transformative mechanisms for learned society presses and smaller and medium sized publishers, including potentially through e.g., ‘transformative agreement model contracts’.”

Additionally, the revised “Transformative Arrangements” section of Plan S now includes the option of “Transformative journals,” which it defines as journals “where the share of Open Access content is gradually increased, where subscription costs are offset by income from payments for publishing services (to avoid double payments), and where the journal has a clear commitment to transition to full Open Access in an agreed timeframe.”

There is limited research available at present as to what types of approaches have worked best for transitioning society-owned journals to OA. “How subscription‐based scholarly journals can convert to open access: A review of approaches,” a literature review co-written by Mikael Laakso, David Solomon, and Bo‐Christer Björk found that efforts to transition hybrid OA journals to fully OA models have had mixed results. In an interview Laakso said, “my perception of the economics of journal flipping is that it would be good if flips could be more of an immediate thing where journals embrace OA and also align costs accordingly to very much reduce or get rid of unnecessary expenses.” He points to cutting print editions as one of the most immediate ways for many publishers to reduce costs as well as looking at whether their current publisher or service agreements are sustainable compared to other options.

There are some initiatives underway to determine the most viable OA publishing models/options for society publishers including the Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S project.

Q. Will Coalition S take steps to redirect funding towards supporting compliant academy-owned OA journal publishing initiatives?

A. This is an important question, and the answer is still somewhat to be seen. One of the major concerns about Plan S is that the APC model may not work in all disciplines, namely in the humanities and social sciences, and that many journals will be at a loss for funding options otherwise. OASPA stated in its feedback, “Another key area for cOAlition S to consider and consult with stakeholders on is in making funds available for non-APC models, again of particular importance in the arts, humanities and social sciences. APCs are by no means the only route to open access and a system for identifying and supporting other business models should be developed as Plan S takes shape.” It seems that in the revised guidelines the new repository compliance route will help by providing journals with an alternate transition option. Plan S has also come out with more specific promises of support for OA publishing now stating, “In cases where high-quality Open Access journals or platforms do not yet exist, the Funders will, in a coordinated way, provide incentives to establish and support them when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary.” It’s not yet clear how Plan S will determine when support is needed and how it will be allocated.

Q. Will Plan S help push demand among researchers to publish in fully OA journals?

A. One of the main concerns about Plan S voiced by researchers is that it could infringe on their freedom to choose where to publish. When researchers assess journals for submission they are of course looking at common tenure and promotion assessment factors, many of which have become intertwined in the serials crisis in a virtuous circle arguably fueled by the Impact Factor—researchers vie to publish in high IF journals, high IF journals publish the top research, high IF journals become “brand names.”

cOAlition S has spoken to these concerns and points to its support of the DOAJ and DORA as steps towards fostering new more purely merit-based research assessment. The revised Plan S implementation page states, “cOAlition S supports the principles of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) that research needs to be assessed on its own merits rather than on the basis of the venue in which the research is published. cOAlition S members will implement such principles in their policies by January 2021.” Additionally, the revised guidelines state that cOAlition S funders will base funding decisions on article merit and not publication venue saying “the Funders commit that when assessing research outputs during funding decisions they will value the intrinsic merit of the work and not consider the publication channel, its impact factor (or other journal metrics), or the publisher.”

Q. How will cOAlition S verify that all research they fund is Plan S compliant and what will happen if it’s not?

A. The revised Plan S guidelines provide further insight into how Plan S compliance will be checked as well as what the repercussions may be for publishing articles in journals/platforms that do not adhere to the Plan S guidelines. Plan S states, “cOAlition S will work with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR), SHERPA/RoMEO, Efficiency and Standards for Article Charges (ESAC), and other potential partners to establish mechanisms for identifying and signalling whether journals/publishing platforms, repositories, and transformative arrangements respectively fulfil the cOAlition S requirements […]. cOAlition S will support the development of a tool that researchers can use to identify whether venues fulfil the requirements.” With regard to repercussions for publishing in non-compliant journals, Plan S states that possible sanctions will be determined on a funder-by-funder basis.

Further Reading

As you continue to learn about Plan S and how it will impact the journals you publish, be sure to review the full Plan S website. There are also TONS of helpful overviews and analyses of Plan S to explore. Below are the articles that we referenced throughout this blog post as well as some additional recommendations: