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UC Davis and CDL complete Pay It Forward project

The University of California, Davis and the California Digital Library have recently completed the 18-month Pay It Forward project, an effort funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation.  The project brought together research libraries at Harvard, Ohio State University, the University of British Columbia, and all ten University of California campuses; publishing industry and bibliometric partners Thomson Reuters (Web of Science), Elsevier (Scopus), and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers; and scholarly communications experts and researchers at several institutions across North America and Europe.

The research team was tasked with evaluating the viability and sustainability of a financial model for scholarly publishing funded entirely through APCs from the perspective of large, research-intensive North American institutions.  This evaluation involved both a qualitative assessment of authors’ attitudes towards open access publishing through article processing charges (APCs), undertaken through a series of focus groups and a large-scale author survey across several of the institutional partners on the project; and a quantitative financial evaluation, performed through an in-depth analysis of a wealth of data describing institutional publishing patterns, library subscription expenditures, extramural research funding, and publisher pricing patterns.  By combining the results of these qualitative and quantitative data gathering and analysis processes, hypothetical models were proposed for distributing costs among stakeholders in the scholarly publication process, with varying economic implications.

The project draws several important conclusions which we hope will further the discussion of an APC-funded model for scholarly publishing- and, more broadly, of the prospects for a large-scale ‘flip’ of the journal literature to open access.

  • First, for research-intensive North American institutions, library journal budgets alone are unlikely to be sufficient to fund publishing activities through APCs. However, the difference in funding could be made up by other stakeholders, such as granting agencies, who in many cases already support publishing costs.
  • Second, while author attitudes towards open access publishing vary across disciplines, all authors exhibit price sensitivity with regards to publishing charges. Leveraging this price sensitivity appropriately has the potential to induce competition in the marketplace, thereby restraining costs.
  • And finally, funding models can be developed which ensure that authors have some “skin in the game” while still providing sufficient financial support to allow these authors the freedom to choose where to publish. One possibility would be to provide a flat library subsidy which would approximately cover the costs of publishing in a baseline-level journal, and then to establish author discretionary funds that are controlled by authors and can be used for publishing costs above the subsidy level, as well as for any other research activity.  In this way, the institution provides funding to support its authors’ publishing activity along with other research activities, requiring authors to think strategically about where their discretionary funds would be best invested.

The final report, the publicly-available datasets compiled and used throughout the project, and an Excel-based tool that enables other institutions to replicate the study within a local context by estimating an institution’s publication costs and funding distributions under various conditions, are all available at