Plan S Price Transparency Frameworks: guidance & requirements


The Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S specifies that:

Where Plan S requirements apply, no later than 1 January 2020, cOAlition S, in partnership with publisher representatives and other stakeholders, will define the various services (e.g. triaging, peer review, editorial work, copy editing) publishers will be asked to price. This price transparency requirement will apply to all articles funded through transformative arrangements as well as those levied by Open Access journals and platforms.

A draft pricing and service framework, developed by Information Power, was published in January 2020 and to help validate this – and ensure that the information sought could be provided – ten publishers (Annual Reviews, Brill, The Company of Biologists, EMBO, European Respiratory Society, F1000 Research, Hindawi, Institute of Physics Publishing, PLOS, and Springer Nature) participated in a pilot. Based on the outcomes of this – and informed by workshops and discussions – the framework has been updated and endorsed by the cOAlition S leadership. It consists of a data collection spreadsheet, an implementation guide, and recommendations.

Independent of this work, the Fair Open Access Alliance (FOAA) developed a Publication Services and Fees framework which, to date, has been implemented by Frontiers, MIT Press, Copernicus and MPDI.

Both frameworks have been endorsed by cOAlition S.

The data collection spreadsheet: Information Power

The data collection spreadsheet is in three parts:

  • Part 1 seeks to collect bibliographic metadata about the journal, such as the journal name, ISSN etc, and data on list prices and waiver and discount policies.
  • Part 2 looks at contextual metadata such as acceptance rate, frequency of publication and peer review times.
  • Part 3 focuses on price information, and eight categories of service are identified. For each, the publisher is asked to indicate what percentage of the overall price relates to the different services provided.

The data collection spreadsheet: Fair Open Access Alliance

The FOAA framework collects data according to seven, broadly defined service baskets. Publishers have an option to extend this framework by a further three baskets, as required for their specific operations.

Implementing price transparency: requirements

Transparent pricing is a cornerstone of the Plan S principles: When Open Access publication fees are applied, they must be commensurate with the publication services delivered and the structure of such fees must be transparent. [Principle 5]

To deliver on this commitment, cOAlition S has:

1. Endorsed two Price Transparency Frameworks; the one developed by Information Power and the one developed by the FAIR Open Access Alliance;

2. Determined that from 1st July 2022, only those publishers which adhere to at least one of the approved Frameworks will be eligible to receive funds from cOAlition S members. This covers funder contributions to any model of financing open access publications including, but not limited to:

  • Non-APC journals or platforms
  • APCs
  • Transformative Agreements
  • Transformative Journals

3. Agreed that no later than the 1st December 2021 cOAlition S will provide details on where publishers should deposit data in line with either of the Frameworks and indicate what conditions will be imposed on accessing the data. Publishers who wish to provide the data for 2019 and/or 2020 will be welcome to do so even though this is not required.

Encouraging competition for the benefit of all

We anticipate that the provision of transparent price and services information will help researchers, libraries and funders better understand the services they are procuring from publishers, and thus introduce more competition in the scholarly publishing market.

We are mindful that this joint effort towards more transparency rests on the buy-in of all parties involved. We are therefore attentive to the specific regulatory requirements with which publishers need to comply.

To reassure publishers, who may have concerns regarding legal implications of sharing price and service information, we will ensure that any system we support to collect and share the price and transparency framework data is developed in a way that fulfils competition law requirements.

The details will need to be determined but one likely solution would be through the establishment of a registration and authentication system, which would allow customers (researchers, funders and institutions) to access these data but would not allow publishers to access their competitors’ data.

Conclusion & next steps

The price and service information we seek from publishers will help publishers’ customers better understand if the fees they pay are commensurate with the open publication services delivered, and to better understand the elements of those services, for example, peer review, editorial work, and publishing infrastructure. Institutions will be able to use these data to inform discussions with researchers, for example, to offer advice to them about their publishing options.

Providing this information is also an opportunity for publishers to demonstrate their commitment to open business models and business cultures, to build awareness of their services and value, to build trust with their customers and to be more responsive to their needs.

Over the next 18 months, and in advance of the 1st December 2021, we will work with all key stakeholders to determine the best way to share and aggregate these data in accordance with competition law requirements, whilst being mindful of the need to enable access to these data in ways which are cost-effective and responsive to the needs of customers.

Relevant links & news

Examples of publishers adopting price transparency (external links)