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Since Plan S was announced in September 2018, there’s been a lot of information swirling around about it. Publishers have been working to stay abreast of the latest Plan S news, as well as discussions surrounding the immediate and long-term implications of the initiative. With the release of the updated “Transformative Journals” addendum, the final price transparency requirements, and the beta Journal Checker Tool, as well announcements about more funding organizations joining cOAlition S, there are many updates 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 will entail 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 FAQs blog to provide answers to the most common questions we’ve heard. This post is meant to be a living resource and we are updating it as new information 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!

Table of Contents

  1. What is Plan S exactly, and who is behind it?
  2. My journals aren’t based in Europe — do I still have to worry about Plan S?
  3. Has the makeup of cOAlition S changed since the launch of Plan S?
  4. What do I have to do to make my journals Plan S compliant?
  5. Are there clear transition options to make non-OA (subscription) journals Plan S compliant?
  6. What are the Plan S technical requirements for academic journals?
  7. What changed in the revised Plan S guidelines?
  8. How long will publishers have to make journals Plan S compliant?
  9. Will cOAlition S take steps to redirect funding towards supporting academy-owned OA publishing initiatives?
  10. Will Plan S help push demand among researchers to publish in fully OA journals?
  11. How will cOAlition S verify that all research they fund is Plan S compliant, and what will happen if it’s not?
  12. How does the Journal Checker Tool work, and what requirements does it cover?
  13. What updates are included in the latest Plan S addendum on Transformative Journal criteria, and are they final?
  14. What are the cOAlition S requirements around “transparent pricing”?
  15. Is cOAlition S still eliciting feedback on Plan S, and will they make further changes?
  16. Further Reading

Plan S FAQs

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 funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional, and international research councils and funding bodies fully and immediately open access by the 1st of January 2021. Plan S is backed by cOAlition S, a consortium of (currently) 26 national and international research funders. Among the funders supporting Plan S are UK Research and Innovation, the Academy of Finland, the Wellcome Trust, 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 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 research fully and immediately open access upon publication — no embargo models — and it must enable authors or their institutions to retain publication copyright. 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 members 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 funders 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 implementation criteria 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’ technical requirements. Generally speaking, most of the technical Plan S requirements are best practices publishers should follow to improve the quality and reach of articles.

Q. Has the makeup of cOAlition S changed since the launch of Plan S?

A. When Plan S was announced in September 2018, it was initially backed by 11 national funding agencies in Europe. As noted, currently, 26 national and international research funders are backing Plan S. The latest Plan S funders include The Templeton World Charity Foundation and The Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Plan S lost one funding member since its launch when ERC Scientific Council decided to pursue its OA efforts independently. cOAlition S issued a response to ERC Scientific Council’s decision to leave Plan S here.

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 requirements for research funded by members of cOAlition S include:

  • Fully OA with author-owned copyright: All articles must be made freely available to read immediately upon publication, with an open copyright license. And authors or their institutions must be able to retain the copyright of their work. Publishers following the repository Plan S compliance route (detailed below) that require licenses to publish must allow authors and/or their institution to make either the Version of Record (VoR), the Author’s Accepted Manuscript (AAM), or both versions available under an open license.
  • 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.”
  • 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.
  • Full and immediate OA in journal or compliant repository: In order for a journal to be Plan S compliant, it must make articles funded by cOAlition S members 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 support research published in “Transformative Journals” (subscription/hybrid journals that have committed to transitioning to fully OA publishing). 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 a clearly defined Green OA route (e.g., immediate deposit of the author-accepted manuscript into a Plan S-compliant open repository). We cover more details on these options in the question below.

Plan S has specific implementation guidelines, including some technical requirements that journals must meet to be compliant. So even if the journals you publish are already fully OA, you may still have to make some updates to them to be recognized by Plan S. We cover technical requirements in a subsequent question.

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 lists 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)

The first two options are pretty straightforward — articles can either be published in fully OA journals that meet the technical criteria explained below, or be made immediately available and fully OA in repositories that meet the Plan S “Requirements for Open Access Repositories” outlined here. For the repository route, journals must enable authors to deposit either the final published version or the Author’s Accepted Manuscript. 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 fees 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. You can learn more about transformative agreements in this primer by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe.

In response to concerns expressed by smaller institutional and society publishers, including members of OASPA, that transformative agreements may not be a viable transition option for all publishers, due to limitations in deal negotiating abilities/options, cOAlition S also introduced a new “transformative model agreements” option in its revised guidelines. This option 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.” Plan S provides answers to Transformative Journal FAQs here. This compliance option is currently under development. cOAlition S added an addendum to the implementation guidelines, last updated on the 8th of April 2020, with more details on criteria for Transformative Journals (covered in subsequent question).

cOAlition S partners Wellcome and UKRI also commissioned a project, in partnership with ALPSP, to identify viable transition options and OA publishing models for scholarly societies. The final results of the project, titled “Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S“ (SPA-OPS) were released in September 2019. The project outputs include a report covering 27 OA publishing models and strategies for societies to consider as well as a “transformative agreement toolkit.” We break down the key takeaways from the report in this blog post.

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

A. The latest 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 (if following a non-repository route).
  • Journals following a fully OA compliance route must enable authors or their institutions to retain publication copyright at no added cost. Journals following the “repository route” must include in their license to publish “the right and responsibility of the author/institution to make the VoR or the AAM of the article OA immediately upon publication, under an open license” — again at no added cost.
  • Journals following the “repository route” must ensure the repository meets the “Requirements for Open Access Repositories” in the Plan S guidelines.
  • Works funded by cOAlition S members must be made openly available immediately upon publication under a Creative Commons Attribution license barring funder exceptions (final published versions for journals following fully-OA Plan S routes and either the VoR or the AAM of the article for journals following the repository route). cOAlition S requires the use of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 license by default or, as secondary alternatives, either a CC BY-SA 4.0 license or the public domain dedication, 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 clear editorial and peer review processes and policies in place, detailed on the journal’s website, that meet the standards of the journal’s discipline and follow the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) best practices. 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 (if following a non-repository route).
  • If charging APCs, offer 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 (if following a non-repository route).
  • Have persistent identifiers such as Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for all articles with versioning (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 includes funding information (as a minimum, the name of the funder and the grant number/identifier) as well as the open access status 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.” The guidelines now state, “criteria which are strongly recommended will be subject to review in 2024 and may become mandatory after the review.”

Strongly recommended criteria include that journals should:

  • Make full-text article files available for download in a machine-readable community standard format such as JATS XML (including supplementary text and data)
  • 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)”

Q. What changed in the revised Plan S guidelines?

A. The latest revised Plan S 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 1 January 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”
  • Expanded information on transformative options, including the addition of “transformative journals” or journals that have clear plans/paths to gradually transition to OA

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 “Transformative journal” and repository pathways provide some leeway for journals to be Plan S compliant via alternative subscription routes in the short or long term.
  • 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 still remains somewhat opaque. However, the guidelines do now state that “when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary.”

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

A. Plan S will only go into effect for research funded on or after the launch date, which is now 1 January 2021. So in addition to the year pushback, there is a bit of an extra lag built into the plan for journals planning to take the repository route or fully OA route (i.e., no transformative arrangements) as most article submissions in 2021 will be funded by grants issued before that year. For publishers following a “Transformative Arrangements” route, Plan S has also come out with a more definitive transition timeline for journals to still receive article funding by cOAlition S members 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.”

Q. Will cOAlition S take steps to redirect funding towards supporting academy-owned OA 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.” The Journal Checker Tool has since been initiated and a beta version is now availale here. A report commissioned by Jisc titled “Data Needed to Identify Plan S Compliance” that was released on the 7th of February 2020 was used to help guide the development of the data checker tool. (We provide more details on the tool in a subsequent question.)

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. The Plan S guidelines state that possible sanctions could include “withholding grant funds, discounting non-compliant publications as part of a researcher’s track record in grant applications, and/or excluding non-compliant grant holders from future funding calls.”

Q. How does the Journal Checker Tool work, and what requirements does it cover?

A. The Journal Checker Tool, which was released in beta on the 18th of November, is a web-based tool to help researchers determine whether a journal offers Plan S compliance routes. The tool uses data from the Directory of Open Access Journals, Shareyourpaper.org Permissions, the ESAC Transformative Agreement Registry, Crossref, and the Research Organization Registry Community (ROR). Researchers must simply input the name of their preferred journal, the cOAlition S Organization they are funded by, and their institution, and then the tool returns available compliance route information. In the Journal Checker Tool announcement, Plan S states that “in this first release the tool provides information on a basic set of Plan S requirements: whether a given journal offers a route to open access compliance with a CC BY (or equivalent) licence and no embargo, and the ability to retain sufficient copyright to enable open access. In due course, the tool will extend its query to include the other (technical) requirements as set by cOAlition S.”

The beta Journal Checker Tool is now in an “open testing phase,” and Plan S states that “the community will have the opportunity to get acquainted with the JCT and provide feedback, so that the tool increases its readiness ahead of the implementation of Plan S in January 2021.”

Q. What updates are included in the latest Plan S addendum on Transformative Journal criteria, and are they final?

A. Plan S released an “Addendum to the cOAlition S Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S“ in November of 2019 with additional updates announced on the 8th of April 2020. The addendum contains a framework of “Criteria for Transformative Journals.” It requires transformative journals to fulfill all of the current Plan S guidelines with some notable additions, including that publishers of transformative journals must:

  • Continually increase their share of OA content and specifically, “demonstrate an annual increase in the proportion of OA research content of at least 5% in absolute terms and at least 15% in relative terms, year-on-year.”
  • Publicly announce their commitment to transition their journals to OA “as soon as possible and in any event no later than when 75% of its research content is published Open Access” acknowledging that financial support from cOAlition S funders will end by 31 December 2024.
  • Make pricing transparent for OA content and ensure institutions aren’t double-paying for subscription and OA content.
  • Provide authors with regular updates on “the usage, citations, and online attention of their published articles.”
  • Provide an annual public report to cOAlition S to show their progress towards OA, demonstrate that their transformative journals are adhering to all cOAlition S guidelines, and report on OA article usage.

Publishers that wish to apply to set up Transformative Journals can do so here.

Q. What are the cOAlition S requirements around “transparent pricing”?

A. cOAlition S announced its price transparency requirements for journals on the 18th of May 2020. The requirements state that publishers using any model of financing open access publications (e.g., APCs, transformative agreements, and transformative journals) must submit pricing data to cOAlition S in line with one of two endorsed price and service transparency frameworks:

The new price transparency requirements will go into effect on the 1st of July 2022, after which point, only journals that adhere to one of the approved Plan S price transparency frameworks will be eligible to access funds from cOAlition S members. Currently, price breakdowns will be expected at the publisher level as a minimum, but Plan S will encourage journal-level price details also. The method of delivery for transparent pricing information is yet to be determined. The the price transparency requirements announcement states, “no later than the 1st December 2021 cOAlition S will provide details on where publishers should deposit data in line with either of the Frameworks and indicate what conditions will be imposed on accessing the data. Publishers who wish to provide the data for 2019 and/or 2020 will be welcome to do so even though this is not required.”

At present, Plan S does not enforce any pricing caps but calls for “fair and reasonable” pricing. The current price transparency requirements page states, “In line with the Plan S guidance, cOAlition S will only support open access publication fees which are fair and reasonable. 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.” However, the implementation guidelines also state, “Individual cOAlition S funders may decide to standardise and cap the reimbursement of services that they will cover through their grants. cOAlition S may at a later time decide to implement caps in a coordinated way if unreasonable price levels are observed.”

The Plan S pricing transparency requirements were informed by the “Open Access Price Transparency Project,” which was led by Information Power. The project was funded by Wellcome and UKRI on behalf of cOAlition S. The results of the transparency project are available here.

Q. Is cOAlition S still eliciting feedback on Plan S, and will they make further changes?

A. While the official feedback period for the revised Plan S principles and implementation guidelines has passed, cOAlition S is still seeking input from the community. On the 28th of August 2019, cOAlition S appointed Johan Rooryck, Professor of French Linguistics at Leiden University, as Open Access Champion as part of the “Work Plan and Priority Actions for cOAlition S.” In the announcement Plan S stated, “In his role as Open Access Champion, Rooryck will represent cOAlition S in meetings with external stakeholders including funders, researchers, librarians, and publishers. He will present Plan S, listen to concerns, and develop plans to help participants adapt to a changing publishing landscape. He will also advise cOAlition S on the ways to implement the transition to full and immediate Open Access as smoothly as possible.” The “Work Plan and Priority Actions for cOAlition S” also includes working with “publishers, societies, consortia, and others to develop clearer approaches to transformative arrangements towards full and immediate Open Access.” Plan S has also announced a monitoring framework “by which funding agencies who are signatories of Plan S can track or monitor the most significant of these effects, both positive and negative.” Among potential Plan S impact areas the framework will address are researcher employment/evaluation and Journal choice.

In terms of whether cOAlition S will make further changes to the current Plan S guidelines, they state that “before the end of 2024, cOAlition S will conclude a formal review process that examines the requirements, effects, and impact of Plan S.” As noted previously, some or all of the “strongly recommended” Plan S criteria may become mandatory after that review. It’s uncertain whether changes to the overall Plan S principles will be considered.

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:

To learn more about how Scholastica is supporting sustainable open access publishing and helping journals fulfill the Plan S implementation guidelines, visit our Product Roadmap: Plan S, Core Open Access Publishing Standards & Scholastica.

Update Notes:

  • This blog post was originally published on the 29th of May 2019, based on the initial Plan S implementation guidelines. The post was updated and republished on the 30th of November 2020 to reflect the latest Plan S updates.