Publisher’s Note

A correction article relating to this publication can be found here:

A broken system

The current subscription-based system is outmoded and no longer viable. Firstly, the system keeps scientific articles locked behind publishers’ paywalls. Secondly, library budgets can no longer meet the demands for exorbitant price increases in a non-competitive market. The largest five publishers have profit margins well exceeding those of Google and Amazon and are asking for annual price increases high above the Consumer Price Index. Publishers are able to uphold these high prices as no journal can be substituted for another in the current research assessment and reward systems, which are often based on traditional citation metrics and journal impact factors.

Since the introduction of mandates and policies demanding immediate open access (OA), publishers are able to continue to charge for subscriptions for reading, traditionally paid for by libraries, while at the same time charge for making them open upon publishing through article processing charges (APCs). These publication charges are paid directly to publishers at list prices by individual researchers or higher education institutions (HEIs). This situation, with two separate revenue streams for the publishers, results in ‘double-dipping’ whereby publishers are able to charge twice for the same content. Today’s publishing system is neither transparent, nor comparable across organizations and consortia, nor between one nation and another. To achieve this, we need to gain an overview of the total cost of publication (TCP).

The total cost of publication and state of OA in Sweden

The NLS has worked on advancing OA to scholarly publications since 2006. In 2016 the Swedish Government’s research policy directive for the next ten years, as set out in the Swedish Government’s Research Bill (ref No. 2016/17:50) ‘Knowledge in Collaboration’, includes the goal that scientific publications which are the result of publicly funded research should be made immediately OA on publication. In order to acquire an overview of the total number of OA articles published yearly, the NLS has introduced a new evidence-based way of collecting publication data to be used as a basis for publisher negotiations.

In 2016 the NLS set up a pilot repository on GitHub called Open APC Sweden, inspired by the German initiative Open Intact.1 There are currently eight HEIs contributing data about their collective spending on APCs, based on information retrieved from local finance systems.2 As a result of the pilot, a recommendation was introduced by the Swedish Rectors’ Conference that HEIs should use a special code when registering invoices for APCs in local finance systems.3, 4

Open APC Sweden is an important factor in the desired monitoring and overview of the TCP, and from 2018 the NLS has been assigned to monitor and report this cost on a yearly basis to the Swedish Government. Another annual report, which was commissioned and published in 2017, showed that in 2015 42% of Swedish article output was OA (see Figure 1), a percentage similar to statistics published in other, pivotal, international studies.5

Figure 1 

Share of OA for various types of articles and conference proceedings which have been marked as peer reviewed in the Swedish national publications database Swepub 2010–2016

Enough money in the system

According to a White Paper6 produced by the Max Planck Digital Library, there is enough money in the publishing system for a transition to OA. No country would have to finance its entire publication output, but only the share of publications that can be attributed to a particular country’s corresponding authors. Calculations carried out by the NLS have shown that this hypothesis holds true for Sweden. The average publication output by corresponding authors affiliated with Swedish HEIs amounts to around 17,000 articles per annum.7 Assuming, as in the White Paper mentioned above, a mean APC is well below €2,000 in a purely OA scenario, the total expenditure on APCs would amount to €34 million. This is equivalent to the current spend on e-resource licences today and proves that a flip from a business model based on paying for subscriptions to paying for publishing articles immediately OA is possible.

In order to achieve a transition, though, there is a clear need for national and supranational commitment. Sweden’s key stakeholders, such as the Swedish Research Council, the Association of Higher Education and the NLS, have all endorsed the global alliance OA2020 committed to accelerating the transition to OA.8

The Bibsam Consortium

A Swedish library consortium, Bibsam, was formed in 1996 and today consists of 81 participating organizations from Swedish HEIs, research institutes and governmental agencies. (See Table 1 for some facts about Bibsam.) The Consortium is administered by the NLS and governed by a steering committee consisting of representatives nominated by the Swedish Rectors’ Conference, the Association of Special Libraries and the NLS. The steering committee is headed by the Vice-Chancellor of Stockholm University, Astrid Söderbergh Widding. Committee members take an active part in high-level negotiations with publishers. The table below summarizes some facts about the Bibsam Consortium.

Table 1

Facts about the Bibsam Consortium at the NLS

Facts about the Bibsam Consortium 2018

Participating organizations 81
Participating HEIs 42
Agreements 41
E-resources and packages 282
Turnover 2017 €36 million

In 2016 the steering committee took the principled decision that every negotiation should contain an OA element. If acceptable terms regarding OA cannot be met, an agreement should be limited to a single calendar year.

Negotiations for journal agreements with OA components

The first OA agreement in Sweden was signed with CERN for SCOAP39 in 2014, a consortia agreement for key journals in the field of high-energy physics. SCOAP3 has converted journals to OA at no extra cost for authors and the cost for the Swedish part of the total publication output is shared by six HEIs.

Sweden, the first Nordic country to do so, signed a pilot with Springer in July 2016 which will end in December 2018. This ‘read and publish’ model combines licensing and publishing fees in a single agreement. The aim is to increase OA publishing and at the same time create an overview of the costs involved in order to get control over the total spend. Approximately 1,400 articles were published as immediate OA in 2017. This can be compared to numbers from 2015, when only 157 articles were published OA. As the Springer agreement was the first Swedish OA pilot combining licensing and publishing, an independent national evaluation group was formed with the objective of studying the outcome of the pilot. A third interim report in a series of four was published in February 2018.10 It provides evidence-based guidelines for the upcoming renegotiation, recommending, for example, inclusion of gold OA journals and lower levels of APCs.

Another type of offsetting agreement was reached with the Institute of Physics (IOP) in 2017. The IOP model balances local and global offsetting. The participating organizations’ total amount spent for APCs in year one is offset against the same organizations’ licence fees the following year. The model is based on a sliding scale, meaning that when the proportion of hybrid articles grows, the licence cost is reduced.

Three new agreements with OA components are in place for 2018. The agreements with the Royal Society of Chemistry and De Gruyter for 2018–2020 are all read and publish models. The agreement with Taylor & Francis is a read and publish model during 2018, but with the objective of changing to a model based solely on paying for publishing output for 2019–2020.

The renegotiation for a deal with Elsevier for 2018 and onwards started in 2017 and is still ongoing. A high-level meeting with key national stakeholders and Elsevier representatives was held in the autumn of 2017, presenting the views of both parties. The basis of any agreement from the Swedish viewpoint is that it should contain a substantial OA element without increasing the overall spend.

Table 2 below summarizes the current deals made by the Bibsam Consortium containing OA components.

Table 2

List of current OA agreements negotiated by the Bibsam Consortium

Publisher agreements Time period Business model Capped no. of articles Expected publication output 2018 No. of titles for publication No. of titles with reading access Gold OA journals included

Springer Compact 2016–2018 read and publish 1,853 1,665 1,600 2,156 No
Institute of Physics 2017–2019 offsetting uncapped* 30 41 91 No
De Gruyter 2018–2020 read and publish uncapped 30 381 381 Yes
Royal Society of Chemistry 2018–2020 read and publish uncapped 200 40 40 No
Taylor & Francis 2018–2020 read and publish 1,450 2,040 2295 167–2,391** No

*APCs refunded to a maximum of the yearly licence fee

**Different packages available

There is currently no satisfying OA business model on the market. Prepaid read and publish models with large publishers, containing a licence to read the content and an option to publish a set number of projected articles, are only to be regarded as pilots or transitional models since there is a risk of such agreements becoming permanent, which in turn would threaten to replicate the current lock-in with bundled journal collections tying up a substantial part of library budgets.

Negotiations with gold OA publishers

Even though negotiations with traditional publishers who offer hybrid OA journals have hitherto been the focus of the Bibsam Consortium, we are also exploring the possibility of entering into agreements with gold OA publishers. An overview of the total Swedish article output with gold OA publishers has therefore been compiled in preparation for forthcoming negotiations by Stockholm University, which was one of the first HEIs signing agreements with gold OA publishers (see Table 3 below).

Table 3

Overview of the estimated article output for corresponding authors affiliated with Swedish HEIs with gold OA publishers

Publishers No. of OA Journals No. of institutional memberships Number of publications
2014 2015 2016

BioMed Central (Springer Nature) 304 7 401 339 361
Copernicus 38 0 67 38 46
EDP Open (EDP Science) 23 0 48 57 63
Frontiers 59 0 66 78 101
Hindawi 400 0 76 69 51
MDPI 185 3 52 78 122
PLOS 8 1 274 256 234
Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP) 200 N/A 45 17 16
Total 1029 932 994

The NLS supports OA initiatives

Apart from journal negotiations, the NLS also supports initiatives for both OA infrastructure services and OA content services. The former consists of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), COUNTER, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) [a project originally started in 2003 funded by the NLS], the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and Sherpa/RoMEO. The latter consists of Kriterium, Knowledge Unlatched, Open Book Publishers and the Open Library of Humanities.

Redirection of funding streams

In 2017 the NLS received an appropriation directive from the government to co-ordinate open access to research publications in Sweden.11 As part of this assignment the NLS has initiated five studies on how to overcome obstacles for a transition to OA to take place. The studies cover the following topic areas:

  • the current merit and resource allocation system versus incentives for open access
  • funding for a transition from a subscription-based to an open access publishing system
  • open access to scholarly monographs
  • financial and technical support for converting peer-reviewed and scholarly journals from toll access to open access
  • monitoring of compliance with open access policies and mandates.

The second study, ‘Funding for a transition from a subscription-based to an open access publishing system’, is of particular interest in this context and will be finalized at the end of 2018. Although the matter needs to be further explored in the study and new workflow processes to be developed, a need for institutional redirection of funding streams in Sweden among national stakeholders has already become clear. Swedish HEIs and the Bibsam Consortium also need to be backed by funding from national stakeholders during a transitional period. The European University Association succinctly phrases it as follows in their recommendation: ‘Governments and research funders should further their support in the transition towards OA by contributing to costs incurred by institutions and researchers with OA, such as those related to infrastructures and APCs.’12

As some organizations are research intensive and some are not, a fair and transparent model for a required cost reallocation must also be developed. A complete redesign of current cost reallocation models is a necessary next step to take, both in negotiations with publishers and within the consortium.


It can be concluded that there is enough money in the current subscription system and that an OA publishing system is no longer only a mirage on the horizon, but is in fact currently under way in Sweden through:

  • national OA co-ordination
  • ongoing OA studies
  • new evidence-based ways of collecting publication data to support high-level negotiations with publishers for agreements combining both OA components and subscriptions
  • monitoring of funding streams and compliance with funder mandates
  • national and international co-operation on these issues.

In order to reach the target of immediate OA on publication of publicly funded research outputs by 2026 set by the Swedish Government, there is a strong need for institutional reallocation of funds. The main stakeholders in Sweden must not lose momentum in this process but make a concerted push forward in negotiations with publishers to achieve a sustainable scholarly publishing system in unison with its international counterparts.