Thursday, 21 March 2013

Open Access and Jisc APC

Whilst the rest of the sector tear chunks out of each other over Open Access, something more constructive is happening over on the Jisc farm. As I’m sure you know, Jisc is a registered charity that works on behalf of UK HE and FE to champion the use of digital technologies.

'Hey! Sir! You like? I give you good APC price'

When Finch prescribed a strict course of Gold OA, Jisc recognised the potential for a 24 carat headache. they foresaw crowds of naifs, like daytrippers at a Moroccan souk, each haggling separate deals with stall owners. What was needed was some unified system to handle article processing charges (APCs), which would simplify the payment system, but also allow - so they hoped - for some bulk negotiating leverage. Moreover, it could help institutions to better manage their RCUK block grant.

Having recognised the need for such a system, they had a look around at what was already available, and identified a small start up company that seemed to have just what they needed: Open Access Key (OAK). Linking up with them made sense for both parties: Jisc got a ready made system that seemed to be fit for purpose; OAK got the backing of a known and trusted body, a government-funded supplier that had had experience of rolling out similar such projects.

On Friday I went up to that London to have a look at the system - branded as ‘Jisc APC’ -  in practice. I was impressed. It seemed to work, and seemed to provide a smooth, effortless integration between the needs of the publisher (i.e. to be paid), the academic (i.e. to have their work published) and the institution (i.e. to manage the money and approve the payment).

The bulk of the audience, however, was made up of more seasoned information service types than me, and there was much close questioning of the practical detail. Many of the questions revolved around money, inevitably: how will fees be split between different institutions? How often will requests for payments be sent? Will administrators have control over the system? Will they approve the payment, or is this automated?

To their credit, both Jisc and OAK fielded the questions openly, and were honest about the state of development. The major fly in the ointment is the buy in from publishers. Whilst Jisc have been talking to all the major players, none has yet committed to it. Nevertheless, Jisc believed that, initially, one or two would soon be on board, and that would start a snowball. Whilst there might be some benefit in them dividing and conquering the sector, the certainty, simplicity and administrative clarity offered by Jisc APC was very tempting.

Jisc are currently working with 52 pilot institutions who have expressed an interest to trial the system. Hopefully it will be positive, and one more hurdle to OA will be overcome.  

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