Big deals and prepaid

If the negotiations are to succeed, the foundation must be sound. What is open access, exactly? Why is it so important? How can we most effectively reinforce the unique strengths of publishers and universities, and what result can we expect?

Big deals and prepaid open access

The universities are striving to realise open access publications in major academic journals. Universities have signed magazine subscriptions with large publishers; negotiations are in progress regarding the terms of these contracts. These negotiations are also sometimes referred to as the big deal negotiations. For around ten years, the subscriptions have been offered by the publishers in package deals. Universities are renewing contracts currently nearing expiration on the condition that the publishers are willing to take serious steps towards realising open access.

The VSNU does not support the transition to a so-called individual APC model. This is a model in which an individual author pays up front to make his or her article freely accessible from the first moment. The type of contract preferred in the Netherlands is also referred to in other countries as ‘prepaid’ open access. Further agreements on subscription fees will be made for all the Dutch universities with the individual scientific journal publishers, including lump-sum payment in advance of all costs associated with licenses and open access publication as part of the ongoing big deal contracts. This will prevent individual Dutch authors from having to make agreements on their own behalf and eliminate the need for individual transactions. In the Netherlands, in other words, we are acting collectively to conduct negotiations with the large publishers so that no individual author need negotiate for themselves, or pay a fee for the open access publication of his or her own article.


Why open access?

The results of scientific research are published in scientific journals of large national and international publishers. Scientific journals have high subscription costs, leaving only financially strong institutions such as universities and hospitals able to afford access. Other interested parties, such as teachers, patients, policymakers or SMEs, often do not have unrestricted access.


Dutch universities believe that everyone should have open access to science. After all, most research is publicly funded. Open access allows researchers to disseminate their results to a wider audience, which is something that can benefit society. For example, open access allows doctors, practitioners and patients to access the latest developments in treatment methods. Open access also helps companies develop and apply innovations, and allows teachers and students to more easily utilise scientific knowledge in their classes and assignments. Moreover, open access knows no geographical boundaries, meaning scientists and academics in developing countries can also have access to the latest scientific findings.


Two key routes

There are two key routes to open access: the green and the gold route. The green route assumes that the author will make their work public themselves, by depositing the manuscript in a repository (a freely accessible database) of some kind. This is already possible at all Dutch universities. Publishers allow this, but often employ a waiting period, an embargo period, which varies per magazine. You have to pay for quick access to the documents. People who are patient get free access.

In the gold route publications are made available, on an open access basis, via the websites of the publishers.  After publication, it is then accessible to everyone online for free. In this case, the publisher receives a fee not from the reader, but from the party submitting the publication: this compensation takes the form of an article processing charge (APC). Publishers such as BioMed Central, Public Library of Science (PLOS) and Frontiers are already working in this way. Many publishers also offer an intermediate form of open access: hybrid journals. These journals have a hybrid form, in which some of the articles are available only to subscribers, while others can be accessed by everyone.


Gold as sustainable solution

The Dutch government is strongly in favour of open access. State Secretary Dekker wants to work towards 100% open access publications in the Netherlands by 2024, as he announced in his letter to the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament of November 15, 2013. The Netherlands has opted for the gold route, as have England, Sweden and Hungary. Countries such as Denmark, Belgium and the US, on the other hand, are proponents of the green route. Germany and Finland have not declared a preference and support both routes. The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, ‘Horizon 2020’, has also shown ‘a slight preference’ for the green route.

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) supports this choice for the gold route. According to the VSNU, ‘green’ is a good addition to the options that are currently already available, and a good intermediate step, but not the sustainable solution that is needed, as the gold route is expected to replace the current publishing model in time.