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Open Access

The Society cannot ignore changes to the established scientific publishing model, say Neal Marriott and Jonathan Turner*.

accessIt is almost 350 years since the first scientific journals were published – the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and the Journal des Sçavans - in 1665. Since then, scholarly publishers have flourished and the value of peer-reviewed publication in the sciences has been firmly established.

Throughout this time the business model that has supported the vibrant journal-publishing world has remained largely the same. Authors submit articles to preferred journals; publishers review, edit, process, print, sell and distribute it, largely via subscriptions. Online versions offer wide exposure, automatic linking to cited material, a range of email alerts, downloadable figures and a wider range of access options for readers.


But these established business practices may be about to change. There has been a growing call for the outputs from taxpayer-funded research to be made available to all, without charge. Those in the Open Access (OA) movement who call for such a move argue that not only is it right to do this, but that it will benefit researchers in both academe and business and, indirectly, lead to increased economic growth.

Such advocates argue for different forms of Open Access, but the two most common are often known as ‘Gold’ and ‘Green’.

In ‘Gold OA’, authors pay an upfront Article Processing Charge (APC) for the range of publication services offered by the publisher. The publisher makes the article freely and openly available to all, online, upon publication. In such cases publication will be under licence terms allowing the re-use of all or part of the article (subject to appropriate attribution), even on a commercial basis.

With ‘Green OA’, no charge is made and the publisher continues to charge subscribers for access to the published article. However, in this case, the author may deposit a version of their paper in an online repository after an agreed embargo period has passed. The repository may be operated by their institution, or focused on a specific subject area.

There are those, of course, who make a different case and argue strongly for the continuation of the subscription model; but whichever view you side with – and there are plenty who shout loudly on this matter – the detailed arguments are complex and highly nuanced.


In June 2012 a working group chaired by Dame Janet Finch reported on expanding access to research findings. Its key recommendations included: effective and flexible funding arrangements to enable a clear UK policy direction for APC-funded ‘Gold’ Open Access, and minimal restrictions on commercial use and re-use of publications arising from publicly funded research.

In July 2012 the Government accepted Finch’s key recommendations and shortly afterwards Research Councils UK (RCUK) published their new OA policies. For research papers submitted from 1 April 2013, RCUK require Open Access publication, and will provide universities with block grants to be managed centrally to cover APCs. The intention is that, over time, these grants will fund an increasing proportion of papers arising from Research-Council-funded research, and that the number of Gold OA articles will rise. Authors who are unsuccessful in securing a share of the funds available for ‘Gold’ OA will be required to follow the ‘Green’ OA route.

For the Geological Society, Open Access presents both an opportunity and a serious challenge. There is the opportunity to enhance our attractiveness to authors, librarians and readers, and to form new relationships with the research community at home and abroad. If managed well, we also have the chance to ensure the widest possible exposure of new and novel research.


But Open Access is a potential threat, too. The Society has established itself as a successful and internationally respected publisher of Earth science material. Using the subscription model, we have built a business which delivers a surplus that we reinvest in activities supporting the geoscience community. The Open Access transition has the potential to disrupt our ability to operate profitably, and so undermine our ability to offer the full range of services currently available to Fellows and others.

In preparation for the changes ahead the Publishing House has undertaken careful analysis of our costs, income and authorship, and Council has now agreed our policy. Its key features are that we will:

  • give authors a choice between Gold (ie charged) and Green (ie free) OA routes.
  • charge a flat rate APC of £1500 per article accepted for publication where the author chooses the Gold OA route, and publish under the CC-BY licence (permitting sharing, copying, re-mixing, translation, text- and data-mining, and commercial use).
  • offer a £250 discount to all Fellows submitting an article for Gold OA.
  • allow the deposit of the final authors’ versions of their papers (accommodating all peer-reviewer comments) in a repository, or on their personal website, after a 12-month embargo period.

In setting the level of APC, the Society needs to ensure the continuing profitability of the Publishing House, while competing with other publishers (who often operate at greater scale and adhere to lower standards). GSL journals and Special Publications, EGSPs and Memoirs will all offer choices, taking a ‘hybrid’ approach to OA, enabling a combination of Gold and Green articles.

So, will our journal titles and book series be given away free from now on? The answer is no. For as long as our publications continue to feature articles for which no APC has been paid, we will need to charge subscribers for access to the full text. However, we will take into account any APC income received and reduce our subscription prices accordingly so that we are not seen to be charging twice for the same material.

Changes come thick and fast in the world of modern publishing and we often need to pick and choose which developments we respond to, and which we don’t. But Open Access, it must be said, is one we simply cannot afford to ignore.

  • For more information on open access and the Society’s policy, go to

* Dr Jonathan Turner is Publications Secretary of the Society. Neal Marriott is the Society’s Director of Publishing.