For journals, the shift to open access can feel like venturing into the great unknown, but is there a way to make this process easier? In this episode, Nikesh Gosalia talks to Robyn Mugridge about the adoption of open access practices. They start by discussing Robyn’s journey from an English lecturer to an open access proponent at Frontiers. Robyn debunks some common myths surrounding open access and talks about how society journals can transition into Gold Open Access through Frontiers’ Article Processing Charge (APC) model. Nikesh and Robyn discuss the drawbacks of the subscription model in publishing. Robyn talks about how paywalls could hold back scientific progress and reiterates that open access is the way forward. She addresses the issue of expensive APCs and what commercial publishers can do if researchers can’t afford the APCs. She also offers ideas on potential alternatives to APCs — value-added services that publishers can use to generate revenue. Finally, Nikesh and Robyn discuss the latest OSTP mandate that requires the results of taxpayer-funded research to be open access. They also briefly touch on the evolution of open access in Asian countries, with a focus on China and India.
Robyn Mugridge is the Head of Publishing Partnerships at Frontiers in London. A strong advocate for open access, Robyn is a member of the ALPSP Education Committee. She has over 7 years of experience in the publishing industry with different organizations, including the Springer Nature Group and NIHR Journals Library. Reach her through Twitter or her blog mugspubs.com.
Insights Xchange is a fortnightly podcast brought to you by Cactus Communications (CACTUS). Follow us:
When we open up science, we open up the future of science. We are working towards an agreement that open access is the way forward. It's going to develop science at a faster pace It's going to benefit everyone really. Most importantly, for our society partners, to ensure that open access is not just a success but also financially it needs to be sustainable. I think one of the myths around open access is that the quality is somehow reduced with open access, and it's really not. It's a complete myth, to be honest. Just the process of finding the right article, being allowed to access it, let alone download it, it was quite frustrating, to be honest. My concerns with the traditional subscription model is just that it holds back science. I think that the value of the publisher, it needs to be visible, it needs to be demonstrated. I think publishers have a little bit more work to do to show that value. Absolutely. All Things SciComm What does the future of science look like? What's happening in science communication? Here's your host, Nikesh Gosalia. Hello, everyone. Welcome to All Things SciComm. Today's guest is the Head of Publishing Partnerships at Frontiers in London. She's a member of the ALPSP Education Committee, and a huge proponent for the open access. All Things SciComm Today's innovator, knock-knock. If you've checked out her blog, you know she's an active voice in the publishing industry and provides tons of great advice for people looking for careers in this space. We're very excited to have her on today's episode. Everyone, please welcome Robyn Mugridge. Welcome, Robyn. Hi, thank you for having me. Before we go into any specifics, we'd love to hear a little bit about your background. I was born in Portsmouth, and I live in Hampshire. Although I work in London as well, travelling back and forth, but I'm based in Hampshire; I'm still a Hampshire girl. I studied history with English literature, I did a BA, and then I left uni. I didn't know what I wanted to do at all. I took a job as an English lecturer at a local college and quickly discovered that teaching was not for me. A huge props to anyone who teaches because it's a hugely challenging job, but not for me. But I did have a relative who worked in trained publishing, who recommended that I have a look. I thought, you know what, as interesting as trade publishing is, it's just not really for me, it's not quite right for me, I felt. But I had some experience working in the NHS. I thought, you know what, I'm kind of interested in medical, publishing and kind of science, I'm going to go into that field. I got my first job in publishing at the NIHR Journals Library, which is based in Southampton. I was an Assistant Publishing Manager. I was there for a couple of years, and it really set things in motion for me. It set the tone for open access and all future things. Then, I went on to work for Springer Nature in London. Then, on to Frontiers, which I've been at Frontiers for about 5 years now in various roles. You did mention that you are currently working with Frontiers, so you currently serve as the Head of Publishing Partnerships. Can you tell us a little bit about what exactly you do in that role, what is Frontiers all about? Frontiers is a Gold Open Access publisher. We only publish Gold Open Access journals. The company has really seen huge growth, if you look at any of the publication rates, huge quality growth as well in the last sort of 10 years, really. Five years ago, I joined Frontiers, and I was working in the Journals Program, and we decided to do some work with societies. I established our Publishing Partnerships Program for societies back in 2019. We sort of officially launched in 2020 with three partners. We've now signed our 14th partner. Really, it's grown a great rate over the last few years. The majority of the journals that we work with are they're all society journals, and most of them have flipped from full subscription models or hybrid subscription models to fully Gold Open Access. It's been a huge change for them. My role really is to oversee that process of flipping the journals, to run those journals to make sure that they're successful. But perhaps, most importantly, for our society partners, to ensure that open access is not just a success in terms of the journal and the publications, but also, financially, it needs to be sustainable for our partners. That is part of my role, finding a path for the society where they can transition but transition their journal in a financially sustainable way. Congratulations on the 14th partnership that you just mentioned. If you're allowed to talk a little bit more about these society partnerships and how they look, could you just elaborate a little bit on how does Frontiers support these societies in terms of their publishing programs, etcetera. The reason I mentioned this is that I know that it's been a couple of years that Plan S came in. I think there was a lot of conversation around that point of time, perhaps a little bit of panic as well in terms of an extreme situation, what will happen to societies, will they cease to exist. We all know the importance of societies, and the super specialization that they bring in. Just to kind of maybe talk a little bit more about that, in terms of how is Frontiers supporting. Of course, if you have any thoughts around how are societies doing now, are they thriving? Frontiers works on an APC model. We're very transparent about the way we work with our societies. I think that's one of the real pluses about Frontiers, we're very upfront about things. It's very clear when societies come to us, exactly what the model is, how we work, and how it's going to work for them. Our model is APCs, Article Processing Charges, and we essentially split that revenue with the society with varying rates depending on what the society negotiate, but we split that revenue, so it's a revenue share agreement. But we offer our institutional partnerships to society. This is where the society can benefit because the institution has agreed to pay the article processing fees for their authors. We do find that a large proportion of our articles, that are published in our society journals, are actually covered by these institutional partnerships, which means that the revenue is a little bit more predictable. The society can say, okay, so even though it's based on volume of papers published, I can relax a little bit because I know that a percentage of the papers are going to be covered by institutions. It's not quite as much of a risk. I think the risk is in the unknown with open access, and when you can take away that unknown for societies, it's a lot easier to predict what's going to happen when their journal actually moves to open access. We provide access to those institutional partnerships, but also, the actual publishing process, I think one of the myths around open access is that the quality is somehow reduced with open access, and it's really not. Actually, we find that there are excellent citation rates within journals with open access options, and fully open access, and they're very comparable and sometimes exceed subscription. It's a complete myth, to be honest, about open access. One of the things that we do is ensure that the quality is there throughout the publishing process throughout the peer review so that they can be assured by the end of the process they're publishing a very high-quality journal as well as a sustainable financial option for the society. You run a blog, which is fantastic by the way. Anybody listening in, you should subscribe to Robyn's blog. But you talk about your experience working in the journal publishing industry. Could you talk a little bit about, first, of course, what was the motivation around doing that? I know, from experience, you need that inherent motivation to say that I want to give back something to the industry, I want people to kind of read about this, and then, to actually get that time, make it happen, considering how busy you are. I started the blog because I was getting questions from my teams. I have quite a large team now. Onboarding new people who are brand new to the industry, I was getting lots of different questions. It kind of reminded me of when I started in the industry, and the only real blog I found was– I'm not sure if I can say the name – probably I can, but one of the main blogs in the industry that is very prevalent, but it was very in-depth, it was really, really detailed, and then it would say something about the industry about a new development. Then, I'd go, you know what, I don't know what that is now, and I need to go and research that because I don't know what that is. It was aimed at an audience that was much more experienced in the publishing industry. There wasn't really anything out there for people who were newly coming into the industry, have questions about how things worked, what new developments were, and just generally didn't have anywhere to go. I thought, right, I'm going to create a blog, all with the best intentions to write loads of articles, loads of blogposts, and I did. It is hard to keep it up, I will say that. I'm still going. I just published a recent one on copyright, because I found that I was getting lots of questions about copyright rules and what's going on there. But it is hard. But it's nice, I do get lots of really positive feedback about people who have shared it with their teams, newcomers in their team, and encourage them to subscribe. I get ideas from readers who say to me, oh, could we maybe have a blogpost on this please, that'd be really helpful. I've even had a couple of people who have been in the industry a few years say to me that it's quite a fresh perspective. I'm not serious on the blog. I'm pretty open. I'm pretty frank about what I think about things. I'm not going to pussyfoot around things. I like to be a little bit humorous on there and take a different perspective and a little bit of a lighter perspective. We work in publishing. No one's going to die from what we do. It's publishing, so we can afford to be a little bit lighter, I think, with what we say and what we think. Do you do your own research at times when you probably are not as familiar with a particular topic and then, come up with what you write or is it that you handpick a certain theme? I tend to pick things that I'm knowledgeable about, because I don't want to be giving information and portraying myself as an expert in an area where I'm not so knowledgeable. But there have been times, the latest blogpost I did around copyright, it's all kind of basic stuff around copyright that I wanted to give to people and information I wanted to convey in a slightly new and interesting way. But I learned a few things myself when I was doing that around the in-depth details about[Unclear] non-commercial and all of these different things that when you don't do it daily, and that's not your specialty every day, you do have to do some research and find out a little bit more. That all takes time. It is an investment. I would encourage anyone who's in publishing, especially people who are new to publishing, I'd love to see a blog from an early career publisher, starting out their career and their troubles and tribulations around that process. I would encourage anyone to give it a go. It is great fun, and it's nice to see all the people reading it as well. Absolutely. I'm sure I can say this on behalf of a large part of the industry, Robyn, that we'd really appreciate the fact that you've taken up this initiative because I had a similar problem. When I would read a lot of blogs, a lot of people, who were very experienced, would write from the lens of assuming that you know the basics and then building on it. Whereas I would kind of find myself a lot of times trying to connect the dots in terms of, okay, hold on, I need to, I think, know step 1 before understanding this particular written article. I think that's where the way you've written it, and the fact that you've made it really light, easy to understand, not put a lot of pressure on yourself in terms of, I need to get everything right and technical. I think that's absolutely perfect because I think that was the missing gap. Thank you for all the efforts and keep going with that. It's the same for you. Thank you for doing your podcast. I do listen, I regularly listen in. It's always great to hear about different people in different sectors of the industry and find out what they do. I think for me, it's been really enlightening. We all know that there are a few concerns and issues with the traditional subscription model in the industry. But just for the benefit of the listeners, what do you think are maybe top 2 or 3 issues with the model? Do you think that will cease to exist? Or will there be some sort of a hybrid structure in future? Just any thoughts on that. I think most people know that there are some concerns around the subscription model. The content is published behind the paywall. When we publish things and we put them behind a paywall, there is the issue of access there. It means that researchers who can't afford that subscription, and believe me, they are expensive individual subscription plans, or their institution doesn't have access to that journal through an institutional subscription, that that researcher can't look at that paper. Imagine, if we find the keys to solving climate change, or curing cancer, and we have that in a paper, but it's hidden behind a paywall, and the researcher who needs to use that paper to really progress that field of research cannot access it, then we're holding back research, we're slowing down research. When we open that research up, it has positive ripple effects everywhere. Scientists can build on the work of others, no matter where they are in the globe. The globe is not limited to Europe and North America, there are researchers producing excellent work throughout the world. To progress their work, they need to have access to the foundations that have gone before. I think my concerns with the traditional subscription model is just that it holds back science. When we open up science, we open up the future of science. I also have spent some amount of time in the industry and I knew about some of these issues. But more recently, I've enrolled myself for a course in Warwick, and I went through this kind of painful journey myself where I wanted to access so many research articles. Fortunately, the university did have licenses and partnerships with a lot of publishers but just the process of finding the right article, being allowed to access it, let alone download it, and then maybe kind of share it more freely, it was quite frustrating, to be honest. You want access to as many topics, you want to kind of gather all of that knowledge and then maybe come up with, so I know what you mean. I'm glad that we are kind of moving towards open access. Talking a little bit about open access. I mean, through your blogs, through your panel discussions, and presentations I know that you're a huge proponent for open access. But maybe, why do you believe open access is the right way to be your…? Or is that an interim step towards maybe something larger? Or do you think that open access, hopefully, will solve these issues for us? I think open access is itself in the middle of development. At the moment, there are open access models that are working really well and really smoothly. But there are always criticisms of open access as well. We need to smooth those out. But I think we are working towards an agreement that open access is the way forward. I think most publishers, most researchers would say that that is the optimal model, but it's how they get there that where they face some challenges. I think if we're working collectively towards open access, then we will innovate and develop solutions that mean that everyone can afford article processing charges, for example, which can be a barrier in itself to open access publishing. There are lots of new innovations that are coming out now to provide access for publishing. I've mentioned institutional agreements, there are transformative agreements, there's lots of different things coming out. Diamond Open Access Publishing, I think it's around 73% of the DOAJ indexed journals are actually Diamond Open Access, so no fees whatsoever, which is fantastic to see a growth in Diamond Open Access. I think open access, we all can say that that is the way forward. It's going to develop science at a faster pace. It's going to benefit everyone really because of that. Are we fully there yet? Do we have all the kinks sorted out? No, we don't. But we are getting there, which is the most important thing. Absolutely. In terms of, just staying on with the model of open access and APCs, how do you feel about researchers having to pay to publish in an open access journal? Do you think that this could be a hindrance for researchers from underdeveloped countries or organizations, institutes who probably cannot afford? I speak to researchers all the time who have concerns about paying for an article processing charge, and it's completely valid. Especially when you look at some of the APCs where there are journals with subscription and [Unclear]. There's APCs of thousands and thousands of pounds, 5000, up to 10,000 pounds. We just look at those numbers and think, wow, you that's crazy, crazy fees. It's completely valid that they would have concerns. I think most open access, fully open access journals have a sort of benchmark around kind of $2000 to $3000. That's kind of the market price. But even that, for researchers in institutions where they have no funding support and can't afford to pay this out of their pocket, shouldn't really afford to have to pay out of their pocket, to be honest. That's just not feasible for them. I think this is where it falls on the publishers to provide some support here. Commercial publishers are for-profit organizations. They have the ability to support researchers, either through models that they've developed, so institutional agreements, although it's not always possible to develop these institutional agreements with institutions in countries outside of Europe, North America, and Oceania, for example. It is falling on the publisher. Commercial publishers, like Frontiers, where I work, they have waiver programs where authors can submit a request. Usually, these are generous programs. They take into account where the author's from, whether the author has any funding or no funding, and they provide the support. For me, I think, yes, it is a worry for me as a publisher that there are people in different countries who cannot afford to pay the fees. I believe that it's our responsibility as publishers to enable access and provide that support. Whether it's a longer-term solution, I don't know. I think it's an intermediary step, and that there's changes needed in the infrastructure, in funding, and publishing more broadly to actually facilitate a change in the longer term. Just staying on with that particular topic. There's also an argument saying that without going into the specifics of a number for the APC charges, that publishers are charging that APC because, obviously, you need to cover a lot of the costs and they are cost-intensive processes, peer review, and so many others. In light of that, my question is that, how do you think publishers in general, or your experience within Frontiers, are maybe people thinking around, what could be the other revenue sources? Is there a conversation around, maybe looking at value-added services, which the authors can benefit from? Because I guess, from what I understand when I read funders' websites, I think they do mention saying that, in case, if there are value-added services, which are useful, help further dissemination and access to science, they would be willing to pay for them as well. I'm just kind of trying to also bring in or get your thoughts on the other perspective that it's not completely wrong. I mean, publishers also do have and carry so many costs. How do you, kind of, think of creative, innovative ways to look at revenue generation as well? It's actually something that I've been looking into more and more recently. Working with societies, we need to show that we are providing an excellent level of service for our societies. It's not just for the societies, but for the authors themselves. I think publishers are increasingly looking to show value for money. If publishers can work to provide additional author services, either through providing that themselves or working with other companies, they are showing that that APC, that value is there for that number. But also, we know authors willing to pay a little bit more for these extra services because it increases the quality of that paper. If you look at editing, for example, or proofreading, the statistics say that they're more likely to be accepted if they have a really nice, coherent, detailed paper, that is very clear and the English language level is very strong, they are more likely to be accepted in the journal and also have their research read and downloaded much more frequently. I think the value of the publisher, it needs to be visible, it needs to be demonstrated. I think publishers have a little bit more work to do to show that value because we are still receiving criticism that why are we paying this amount. The publisher provides a lot of services that, perhaps, go unseen that we need to highlight. In summary, the OSTP requires results of taxpayer-funded research to be released openly. I think we've got a deadline of 2025, 2026. In your opinion, how do you think that will affect science's role in general on society? I'm excited. I want to know what's going to happen as much as anyone else. I'm excited to start having conversations with researchers from the US where it's less about, oh, paying the APC, that kind of thing. It's more about their actual work and seeing that published, and seeing that open for everyone, I'm really excited for that. We do have a few years to get there, though. I think it's going to have a big impact. I think we need a little bit more definition around the mandate that the OSTP, with all good intentions, kind of plonked this on our desk, and we want to implement it, but we need a bit more guidance as to as to how it's going to be implemented, how it's going to be funded. I think that we're going to see a ripple effect. We're going to see not just tax-funded research being published to open access, I think it's going to change the mindset in researchers and institutions in the US. I think they are now going to see that the future will be publishing open access in whatever model of open access might be, but they're going to see that it is open access for the future. We should make the change and start making the change now. I do think by 2025, whether we'll see the entire publishing industry in the US move to open access? Probably not. But what we will see is a shift in mindset towards open access. I think in the longer term, maybe in another 5 years down the line, we'll see maybe huge. I think the majority of the publishing industry in the US will then be open access because of this mandate. Absolutely, yes. Just to kind of build on that, Robyn. We all know, of course, US is one of the top three in terms of research output. We know that a lot of other countries, especially developed countries are also moving more and more towards open access. Clearly, that should help in terms of the overall transition, like you said, or a mindset shift. But to talk about some of the other, potentially, growing countries in terms of research output, namely, China, some of the Asian markets, perhaps India in future, do you think that there will be a ripple effect at some point of time in those countries as well where, perhaps, the policymakers will say, I think we need to look at this very closely or do you think there's some more time to go? I think China is already pretty much there in terms of open access. We do see huge numbers of publications across all publishers, from China. They are a powerhouse when it comes to research. I think that they're pretty much there. I think there are some issues around what journals you can publish in from China. I'm not an expert in this. But as I understand, Chinese researchers can only publish in journals of a certain impact factor, for example, which maybe isn't the best way to go forward. But in terms of other countries, India, for example, I know they're already having discussions about open access and mandating open access. I think that we are now in a period where we're going to see a succession of mandates coming from governments, the taxpayer research. I think the emphasis there is on taxpayer because the person paying for that research is the public. They want to be able to access the results of that research. There is a demand there so that they can themselves benefit personally. Patients want to be able to read the research about their conditions, and they can't currently, not always. I do think that there will be a succession of mandates like I say, throughout different countries. How that will look, I really don't know at this stage. But I think there will be, like you say, a further impact on other countries, not just US and Europe. Just to kind of wrap up the conversation around OSTP. I know that you did mention, Robyn, there's still lack of clarity on some of the aspects. Obviously, it's a huge change. The detailing needs to be done. But are there any potential drawbacks to the new OSTP policies from a point of view of the vision of increased open access or just science being available to everyone? As I said, the way the policy has been announced, and how it's going to be implemented, has been poorly defined. I think the one thing I would say is that large commercial publishers are well set up to accommodate for this change. Where I have some concerns working with societies is that smaller publishers, independent publishers, and societies may get a bit lost in this. Where this is going to benefit is these big deals. You're looking at big transformative deals, commercial publisher deals, and commercial institutional partnerships, like Frontiers as well, we are a commercial publisher. We will naturally be well set up for this change to facilitate open access publications for US taxpayer-funded research. Will independent publishers be able to compete with this and offer these pathways to publishing? I don't know. I think that there is, perhaps, a drawback there or a threat to independent or smaller publishers who are already struggling, I think, sometimes in competition with the bigger publishers. That's all the time we have today. Catch more of this episode in the next part with your host, Nikesh Gosalia. See you soon.