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“Not Just APCs”: the FP7 Post-Grant OA Pilot's alternative APC-equivalent funding mechanism

The identification of Gold Open Access with the payment of Article Processing Charges (APCs) is a widespread misunderstanding that has often led this alternative route for OA implementation to be dismissed as commercial publisher-friendly and prone to double dipping. However, Gold OA means publishing in any Open Access journal, and it's a well-known fact that over two thirds of the OA journals hosted in the DOAJ charge no APCs to their authors.

This is the reason why when discussing the way the funding would be delivered by the EC FP7 Post-Grant OA Pilot, it was agreed very early on by the project team that there should be some kind of alternative funding mechanism to complement the main project activity based on the coverage of APCs (or BPCs for books). Once this was decided, there were two big issues to deal with: first, to define this alternative funding mechanism itself, and then to try to ensure that once the funding scheme had been devised there will be a sufficiently high number of eligible manuscripts submitted to these APC-free journals and journal platforms.

Something was clear from the start in terms of defining the APC-equivalent funding mechanism, and it was that instead of funding APCs, this mechanism would support technical improvements for enhancing the quality of the publishing processes and outcomes. Discussions are subsequently being held with a number of non-APC-based journals and platforms across Europe – such as Revistas CSIC in Spain, EKT ePublishing in Greece or the Open Library of Humanities in the UK – in order to establish these specific technical improvements, plus the actual funding procedures and the indicators that will allow to provide evidence on the outcomes of such funding. A set of technical improvements potentially eligible for funding has already been established and is shown for comment below.

The issue of how to ensure that eligible researchers choose these APC-free OA titles to  submit the manuscripts arising from finished FP7 projects is somewhat trickier, and a number of complementary strategies will be applied for the purpose. These will basically involve dissemination towards eligible authors from institutions, journals and publishers, keeping in mind that scholars and projects in the SSH will in principle more likely to submit to these journals that their colleagues taking part in STEM projects. Besides this, an analysis will be carried out to identify which APC-free OA journals may be the most qualified ones to collect such eligible submissions.

This analysis will involve checking such journals for impact factors and for registration in the European Reference Index in the Humanities and Social Sciences (ERIH+), plus identifying the previously published FP7-funded articles in these titles. It is expected however that most of the APC-free OA journals will have no previous FP7 project publications, and then it'll be up to the journal editors and the journal platform managers to come up with the best strategy for attracting submissions that can lead to this APC-equivalent funding being awarded.

The APC-equivalent funding mechanism aims to become an instrument to promote an evolution towards a healthy and sustainable Open Access market across Europe that the Pilot has been requested to do some research on. Pushing for a wider adoption of the APC-based business model was not an option, as in most cases it would hardly be sustainable once this Pilot was over. The project has instead chosen to offer opportunities to reinforce the publishing standards for non-APC-based journals, hoping that there may be some way for having this aligned with parallel initiatives at national level aiming to promote a gradual business model switch from subscriptions to Open Access.

An announcement will be made towards the end of the year with the final details and working procedures for this alternative funding. Institutions and NOADs will then be able to start advertising it to eligible researchers in early 2016, in time for the news to reach authors before the Pilot policy guidelines become updated in early spring 2016 with the additional funding mechanism and criteria.

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