Restructuring financial streams to enable open access
The transitional “publish and read” cost model adopted in Projekt DEAL’s agreements restructures the current subscription-based financial streams, orienting institutional investments around open dissemination of research, instead. The model eliminates extra open access publishing fees paid by authors and disaggregates former lump-sum subscription fees to introduce price transparency and foster a more fluid, equitable and competitive scholarly publishing market.
Re-organizing current subscription-based funding streams to support the open publication services needed by researchers can be challenging for some institutions, but the DEAL collective financing strategy provides an immediately-viable and risk-free framework to smooth the transition while institutions set in place future-oriented funding mechanisms for the scholarly communication needs of their authors.
Projekt DEAL’s transitional “Publish and Read” cost model
DEAL’s transitional “Publish and Read” cost rolls up the costs for both open access publishing services and comprehensive reading access into one fixed, all-inclusive fee paid for each article published by a German (corresponding) author.
This is a significant innovation, as institutional investments in scholarly journals are currently organized around up-front, lump-sum subscription fees that cannot transparently be assessed in terms of cost/service. Under the DEAL model, costs are articulated at the article level so that publishers earn in proportion to the actual services they provide, and institutions pay in proportion to the services their researchers receive—open access publishing services and, to a lesser degree, reading access. The fixed, comprehensive, per-article fee therefore becomes a viable bridge for institutions to redirect their former subscription funds to support their authors with open access publishing services.
Seeking a fair and reasonable cost accord, the per-article fees negotiated by DEAL are grounded in robust analysis of the collective subscription expenditure in Germany and the total number of articles published by authors affiliated with German institutions in a year. The negotiations thus result in a cost-neutral re-orientation of the collective subscription expenditure in Germany. At the same time, since the per-article fees are inclusive of open access publishing, author-facing open access publishing fees, which previously came on top of subscriptions, are eliminated, effectively reducing costs overall on a national scale.
Organizing institutional budget streams around open dissemination of research
For many of the hundreds of universities, universities of applied sciences, research institutions, state and regional libraries of Germany, the nationwide DEAL agreements with Wiley and Springer Nature are the first opportunity to directly support their authors in the open publication of their articles.
Depending on previous institutional subscription spending levels and publishing profiles, reorganizing library budgets around open access publishing services according to DEAL’s transitional “publish and read” cost model could be a challenge for some institutions on the immediate term. The vast majority of institutions will find that their former subscription expenditure is disproportionate to their projected costs based on the open access publishing needs of their authors.
While many institutions can expect substantial savings, research-intensive institutions with a high publishing output stand to see their costs jump significantly with respect to their former subscription payments, as they are the greatest beneficiaries of the scholarly publishing services provided.
The DEAL agreements give libraries, research administration, research funders, and federal and state governments a framework to uncover the publishing needs of researchers and develop adequate funding strategies that are oriented toward a fully digitalized and open science system.
DEAL’s collective financing strategy to smooth the transition
To enable every German institution to readily and sustainably implement the DEAL agreements, a risk-free collective financing strategy has been set up which plugs into current subscription budget lines and has built-in flexibility to harmonize with institutions and funding organizations as they adjust their financial streams around the open access publishing needs of authors. Here’s how it works:
Upon registration, or at the start of the year, institutions make a down payment, based on their former subscription expenditure with the publisher or, if the institution has no previous subscriptions, a small nominal fee. The down payments generate the central fund managed by MPDL Services GmbH, the contractual partner for the Projekt DEAL agreements, and used to pay the publisher(s) in accordance with DEAL’s contractual obligations.
In the course of the year, authors and readers make use of the services provided by the publisher, in reflection of their research activity. Librarians play a key role in ensuring researchers benefit from the opportunities provided by DEAL, communicating and supporting the publishing activities of authors, verifying affiliation and eligibility, organizing financial processes, and, of course, provisioning access.
After the close of the calendar year, articles by corresponding authors of each institution are tallied and total counts are scrupulously verified and validated by MPDL Services GmbH, in
order to determine the fair share due by each institution for the actual amount of service utilized: one “publish and read” fee for each article published. MPDL Services GmbH issues invoices that reflect the article tallies (N articles x the DEAL “publish and read” fee established in the relative agreement), noting the difference with respect to the down payment made to the central fund at the start of the year.
Those high-output institutions whose publishing activity generates a total amount of “publish and read fees” that exceeds their original down payments are expected to pay the balance in accordance to their financial abilities. As re-organizing federal, state and institutional funding to support the actual needs of authors takes time, the central fund is used to cover any deficit.
While the majority of institutions would be entitled to dividends from the central fund, as their down payments (based on former subscription fee levels) exceed their publishing-based costs, the central fund is expended, first, to ensure the overall viability of the DEAL agreement. Committing their down payments to the central fund is both immediately feasible and advantageous, as institutions receive much more service in exchange for the same level of payment and can anticipate cost reductions in the medium-term as financial streams are restructured, prompted by DEAL’s transitional approach.
A definitive departure from the inequities of subscriptions
Departing from the inequalities and inefficiencies of the subscription system, DEAL’s nationwide approach to negotiations with scholarly publishers introduces several key principles:
The only realistic and acceptable payment formula is one based on the principle of cost-neutrality with respect to the former total subscription expenditure in Germany.
By enabling open access publishing for all authors affiliated with German institutions, DEAL’s nationwide approach eliminates extra author-facing “hybrid” open access publishing fees (“double dipping”), effectively, reducing costs on a national scale.
In contrast to the opaque pricing of subscriptions, institutions pay a clear and reasonable price in direct proportion to the amount of service they receive: one article, one fee.
With publishing and reading rolled up into one fee associated at the article level, institutions gain central oversight of all costs associated with scholarly journal publishing and can organize their budgets around the actual, quantifiable needs of researchers.
The fixed, comprehensive per-article fee introduces price transparency and enables comparisons and assessment of what the community holds to be fair and reasonable pricing for the services provided with scholarly journals.
The old system guaranteed publishers lump-sum fees that institutions paid in advance for the opportunity to read their scholarly journals, but associating costs at the article level disaggregates lump sums and allows investments to follow researchers wherever they choose to publish.
Over the past two decades, subscription fees for journals in the STEM fields have taken up an ever-greater proportion of library budgets. Reorganizing funds around open publishing services normalizes investments across the entire research community.
The Covid-19 pandemic gives a sobering lesson on the urgent need to make open publication the default in scholarly communication. DEAL’s “publish and read” model is a viable framework for institutions to begin restructuring their own financial streams and processes related to scholarly journal publishing in order to meet this challenge.
Participation and openness
Together with other national consortia and institutions around the world, the DEAL agreements form a concerted effort of the scientific community to drive a definitive transition of scholarly publishing to open access. The resulting large swaths of research articles published openly drive journal portfolios ever closer to a tipping point where research findings can be freely disseminated.
United in the nationwide approach of Projekt DEAL, the scientific community of Germany creates financial efficiencies and drives innovation in the system of scholarly journal publishing to improve the research process and accelerate the advancement of science.
Be part of the open access transition
Librarians play an essential role in driving the open access transition, for the benefit of German research, and in successfully implementing the DEAL agreements on behalf of their institutions.
The next step in restructuring financial streams
DEAL’s collective financing strategy was created ad hoc to help institutions begin reorganizing their financial streams around open access publishing. With the experience gained in implementation of the first two DEAL agreements, with Wiley and Springer Nature, the institutions comprised in DEAL will take further steps in transitioning their budgets and processes around open access publishing as future agreements are implemented. To this end, the rules of procedure of
the DEAL Operating Entity, MPDL Services GmbH, approved by the ministries of the federal states and the Alliance of German Science Organisations, provide for a definitive shift in orientation of scholarly communication funding streams around open access publishing. Progress on this shift will be shared with the community in due course.