OA2020 is an initiative building on the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, which has been embraced by more than 560 signatory institutions. Building on the Mission Statement of 2013, OA2020 aims to accelerate the transition to open access by transforming the existing corpus of scientific journals from their current subscription system to open access. A key reference is the Expression of Interest – a document that was discussed and adopted at the Berlin 12 conference, held on 8-9 December 2015.
Over the course of the last 10-15 years, open access has become a shared vision of many if not most of the world’s national and international research councils. Open access as a principle is very well-established in the international discourse on research policies; however, open access as a practice has yet to transform the traditional subscription-based publishing system, which is as vigorous and prosperous as ever, despite its inherent restrictions on access and usage and its remarkable detachment from the potentials of a 21st century web-based publishing system.
OA2020 aims to bring a new approach to the transactional side of the publishing system and the ways in which its cash flow is organized. The goal is to achieve on a larger scale what SCOAP3 has successfully done for some core journals in the field of High-Energy Physics: to convert journals from subscription to open access by re-directing the existing subscription spend into open access funds, and from these to finance the essential services that publishers provide for scholarly communication, i.e. the administration of peer review, editing, and open access article dissemination. OA2020 would enable an orderly transformation of the current publishing system, since the disruptions would affect only the underlying cash flows, rather than the publishing process itself or the roles of journals and publishers. The bonus is open access to research results from the moment of their publication.
The OA2020 initiative is based on the understanding that the subscription system that has underpinned scholarly journals will eventually become obsolete. Subscription belongs to an era when the challenge for the sharing of knowledge was physical distribution; a journal’s hard copies needed to be laid out, printed and shipped, with payment organized accordingly. The subscription system is clearly no longer in sync with the modern modes of production, distribution and consumption that have emerged with digitization and the Internet. Now that distribution is no longer an obstacle, the challenge is to re-organize journal publishing to avoid the unnecessary access restrictions that are a legacy of the transactions that related to print. While the modernization of the publishing industry has enabled easy distribution in a context of abundant supply, the step that has yet to happen is the cash flow’s shift from the journal level to the article level. Scholarship’s crucial publishing services should be remunerated directly, rather than indirectly through subscriptions. With such a move, the publishing system will be able to engage with the realities and potentials of the 21st century.
In considering the financial aspects of this initiative, OA2020 builds on analysis that shows that there is already enough money within journal publishing to allow for a transition to open access that will be – at a minimum – cost-neutral. This analysis is outlined in a widely-read White Paper, published by the Max Planck Digital Library in April 2015.
The key to success is in the hands of the world’s research organizations, as they decide – in tandem with their libraries – how to allocate their funds. What is required is a broad, global consensus among these organizations to withdraw all spending from journal subscriptions and re-allocate those same resources to publishing services. Some publishers are already keen to move into this new world; along with those who may be more hesitant, they await the signal from the scholarly institutions that professional publishing services will still be required and that journals will continue to be soundly financed. It is incumbent on the research institutions and their libraries to take this important initiating step.