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The Society Publishers' Coalition - a year on

It’s been over a year since the Society Publishers’ Coalition (SocPC), our group of likeminded, not-for-profit learned societies and membership charities, came together.

Comprising a broad alliance of organizations that publish as part of their charitable objectives, SocPC members reinvest their surpluses from publishing back into the disciplinary communities they serve and continue to be unified by the common ambition to see an orderly and sustainable transition to open scholarship.

More than shared visions alone, our members are equally brought together by a desire to actively contribute to the present and future of the scholarly landscape, to affect change and directly feed into open access (OA) developments. The value in founding SocPC was partly to ensure our perspectives were heard in much wider conversations; that, combining our voices and entering into broader dialogues across the sector, we could help to enrich the research landscape and continue to support our communities through our charitable missions.

This post considers how SocPC’s founding ambitions have borne demonstrable action since the group’s genesis.

SocPC in numbers

  • Over 70,000 articles published in 2018

  • Over 60 members signed since the group’s inception

  • Almost £600m spent on charitable activities in 2018*

  • 83% expenditure on charitable activities*

  • 13 pilot transformative agreements live for 2020

  • 182 institutions benefitting from unlimited OA publishing

  • 3 free webinars in collaboration with TSPOA

  • 2 policy consultations

  • 6 working groups established

  • 10 SocPC meetings for members

*Data per SocPC members' 2018 Annual Reports

67 members and counting (including two in the US)

Our list of member organizations has grown rapidly over the past 18 months. Individually and collectively supporting the wide dissemination of research outputs in the interests of the growth, use, and impact of knowledge, we’ve quickly become one of the most representative umbrella organizations in the UK’s scholarly community. Members’ specialist fields to date include chemistry, clinical sciences, computing, economics, engineering, geography, history, life sciences, mathematics, political science, psychiatry, sociology, and more.

Representing a diverse range of academic disciplines, our members are facing an equally diverse range of challenges in transitioning to fully OA publishing. Some of these challenges are shared by all; others are more specific to individual disciplinary areas. Roughly a third of our members are self-publishing, while the remaining two-thirds have journals published via external publisher-partners. With a truly global author base and a belief that authors should be able to publish with us regardless of their funding status or ability to pay, we’re all united by the common ambition to embrace OA in the interests of scholarship.

If you’re keen to explore challenges and develop sustainable solutions in collaboration with like-minded society publishers, find out more about joining us.

The launch of transformative pilots enabling unlimited OA publishing

The Association for Computing Machinery, the Biochemical Society and Portland Press, the European Respiratory Society, IWA Publishing, the Microbiology Society, The Company of Biologists: our members have been at the forefront of piloting transformative publishing models for a more sustainable OA future. As well as signing consortia-level agreements with Jisc, CAUL, MALMAD, and KEMÖ, for the UK, Australia, Israel, and Austria, respectively, these transformative pilots have also been made available for individual institutions in various instances. All of which contributes to a total of 182 institutions worldwide currently taking advantage of transformative deals, flipping associated published outputs to APC-free OA.

While varying slightly in their respective makeups, a commitment to unlimited, APC-free OA publishing for contributing authors and full online read access to related journal portfolios unites these initiatives as progressive test cases for the future. Institutions from across the globe have taken up these pilot offerings. Sign ups, either via consortia such as Jisc and CAUL or directly, include Monash University, the Universities of Melbourne and Auckland, the University of Tokyo, Institut Pasteur, Karolinska, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of California, University of British Columbia, as well as UK based institutions such as University College London, Imperial College, King’s College and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Dialogue across the sector

As much as SocPC was founded on the basis of shared values—to transition to OA publishing in a sustainable manner and to embrace the broader values of open scholarship in general—it was equally formed to give voice to our members. Combining the opinions of member organizations means we can contribute to much wider conversations across the sector. Since our inception, we’ve established and maintained productive dialogues with funders, including cOAlition S and UKRI, and have formed partnerships with other active organizations in the sector who bring together a variety of related stakeholders.

Over the past year (and a bit), we’ve written two consultation responses in relation to Plan S and have jointly hosted a series of free webinars on learned societies, funding pathways, and transitioning to OA in collaboration with TSPOA. Representatives from our member organizations featured on these webinars alongside other leading specialists from the sector; our members have equally presented at ALPSP networking events, the 2019 annual European ICOLC meeting, the Researcher to Reader Conference 2020, and have contributed an article to Learned Publishing on the principles and pilots for transitioning. We’ve also had direct input into UKRI’s policy review and have thus been able to promote the interests of our group and the many communities we serve.

The establishment of working groups

Over the past 18 months, the formation of working groups has allowed our members to explore and exchange ideas on a range of important issues. Led by the participation and activity of those who wish to join them, groups have been formed to consider transformative deals, best practices for commercially partnered societies, and alternative OA publishing models, among others, making for meaningful and constructive alliances. The sharing of feedback, data, and methods has been and will continue to be integral to developing our members’ next steps towards open scholarship.

2020 promises further collaboration, beginning with a working group formed to determine vital journal statistics. Counting members from across SocPC, the group’s goal is to define the critical pieces of information that all journals should provide in the interests of transparency, making recommendations for how the related information should be displayed and forming dialogues with commercial publishers regarding their willingness to adopt agreed practices for their society titles. Standardised approaches like this will help researchers more easily identify and navigate between journals’ essential information, making for more transparent comparisons.

This is just one example of how SocPC hopes to improve the efficiency of the scholarly communication ecosystem for the benefit of our communities, developing models for the future in partnership with researchers, funders, institutions, industry partners, and all other stakeholders.

Continued support for our communities

Along with SocPC’s collective contributions to the scholarly landscape, our members have of course continued to support their own disciplinary communities. Beyond the dissemination and sharing of research, publishing is a fundamental part of our members’ objectives in that it enables learned societies and membership charities to perform a range of community-focussed initiatives.

With over half a billion pounds spent collectively on charitable activities in 2018 alone, our members’ inestimable support for their communities has facilitated the running of conferences, events, and training courses, the awarding of grants and bursaries, the provision of career guidance and educational resources, the operation of public engagement programmes and policy networks, and so much more.

Looking ahead

United by our common ambition to embrace open access in the interests of global research, SocPC was formed to help navigate the shifting landscape of international scholarship and improve the means through which we share knowledge and contribute to broader societal progress. Combining our members’ objectives puts us at the forefront of open scholarship agendas, enabling us to engage in and more meaningfully contribute to dialogues surrounding aspects like open data, open peer review, and a variety of associated initiatives.

The past year (and a bit) has been as much about laying the foundations for our coalition. We’ve established our Council, enabling members to speak for themselves through our self-governing model. We’ve formed working groups and held 10 coalition-wide meetings, offering forums for interaction and engagement between members. Our foundation and development has been driven entirely by our members’ volunteer efforts, across disciplines, with member organizations contributing their own time and resources to exchange ideas, share insights, and help promote our joint causes. And at all times our group has cultivated a collaborative spirit as we look towards long-term cooperation.

Exploring these challenges and developing solutions together has already proved extremely productive and we look forward to seizing more opportunities, driving developments, and contributing to a healthy transition towards open scholarship in the years ahead.

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