The RSC commits to 100% open access within five years

Article by Kerry Hebden

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has committed to 100% open access for all of its fully RSC-owned journals within five years

THE Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has announced that it plans to make all of its fully RSC-owned journals open access within five years by seeking financial support from partners rather than making authors pay article processing charges (APCs). 

Article processing charges (APCs) refer to charges incurred by authors or their institutions during the submission process, specifically when submitting papers to open access journals. In essence, these fees pay for the journal production costs such as for editing, peer review, hosting, and archiving - services that are covered by the subscription fees that libraries traditionally paid for in order to gain access to research articles.  

Journal APCs vary greatly, and although many open access journals are free to publish in, some cost thousands. To publish open access in Nature’s Scientific Reports for example starts from €1,570 (US$1569) and rises to € 9,500 for its main publication. 

But, by paying an APC, that article is then available to anyone with an internet connection, and the information is free to be mined, analysed and re-used in all sorts of ways. It’s a model that was used to full effect during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Very shortly after the virus caused global chaos, researchers sequenced the viral genome and shared it freely online as an open-access publication in the Lancet. This prompted researchers from around the world to build new data-sharing tools such as literature hubs and ‘knowledgebases’ so that new findings on the virus could be made available to other researchers significantly faster, and for free. 

Open access is not new, but more and more organisations like UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the European Research Council (ERC) have adopted it as a means to disseminate research results more easily. 

The RSC’s pledge to make all of its journals open access will make it the first chemistry publisher and one of the first society publishers to commit to a 100% open access model, it says. 

“Open Access is at the core of the RSC’s mission to help the chemical sciences make the world a better place. Free, unrestricted global access to all of the cutting-edge research published in Royal Society of Chemistry journals is a key component of this,” the not-for-profit organisation said in a statement. 

Established in 1841, the RSC’s international publishing business contains over one million articles, chapters and records from across the chemical sector, and its global publishing arm produces 1,500 printed books and 44 peer-reviewed journals. It is the society’s current portfolio of fully-RSC-owned journals that it aims to make open access within five years, assuming sufficient support and participation from partners, the RSC said. 

However, open access is not without its problems. A recent analysis of tens of thousands of articles shows that open-access papers have drastically fewer lead authors from low-income regions, in particular those in the global south, such as Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, than do paywalled articles, reports Nature. 

Even when authors qualify for publication-fee waivers, the study found that they almost never publish open-access articles. And when waivers are used, even large discounts don’t reduce the cost enough for authors from lower-income regions, who often pay APCs out of their own pockets, the report noted. 

As part its commitment to Inclusion and Diversity, the RSC said its goal is for the majority of its global author community to be covered by institutional or funder level deals, a practise that will only be possible with the involvement and collaboration of its international partners, including institutions, corporations and funders, the RSC said.  

“RSC authors come from all over the world, so it’s essential that, in our transition to open access, all authors retain the same ability to publish in our journals,” said Emma Wilson, Director of Publishing at the RSC. “We are aiming for a future in which OA publication makes authors’ work accessible on a global scale.” 

Although the move towards open access has been noticeably slower in chemical engineering than in other sectors such as the medical and biomedical sciences, two of IChemE’s eight journals are fully open access and the remaining six are ‘Gold’ Open access, meaning that authors can choose to have their papers made open access while the rest of the journal requires a subscription. Is IChemE likely to follow suit and go fully open access?  

“Take up varies a lot depending on the topic area and the geographic region the author is based in,” said IChemE’s Director of Learned Society, Claudia Flavell-While. “IChemE and its publishing partners continuously monitor the demand for open access publishing in the chemical engineering sector, particularly by authors who publish in IChemE journals, so that we can change our publishing models appropriately when required.” 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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