Survey shows little support for AVS going Gold Open Access

Prepared by Peter Minchin (IAVS Vice President and Chair of the Publications Committee)

Peter Minchin

This Commentary is a part of the series asking the question: should Applied Vegetation Science, the journal owned by IAVS and published by Wiley, become Gold Open Access? For the context and link to other Commentaries, please visit Editorial.

The Journal of Vegetation Science (JVS) and Applied Vegetation Science (AVS) are two official journals of IAVS, which are published for us by John Wiley and Sons, Inc. (Wiley).  Both journals are currently published under a hybrid model, where libraries, institutions, and individuals pay annual subscription fees in order to have access to the published papers, and authors also have the option of paying an Article Processing Charge or Article Publication Charge (APC), so that their paper is published Open Access (OA), making it freely accessible to anyone in the world.  Our share of the profits from the publication of AVS and JVS provides most of the income for IAVS and allows us to fund the activities of our working groups, travel grants for our annual symposium, young scientist presentation awards, and many other initiatives that benefit our members. 

The current publishing agreement between IAVS and Wiley expires at the end of 2020, and discussions about a new agreement have been in progress for the past two years.  In December 2018, the Chief Editors of JVS and AVS and I met with representatives of Wiley to develop a strategic plan for the journals.  At that time, we agreed to explore the option of transitioning AVS and JVS to a Gold OA publication model.  Gold OA would mean that authors must pay an APC and that all papers would be freely accessible; subscriptions would be abolished.  In December 2019, Wiley presented IAVS with a detailed proposal for a new 5-year publishing agreement for the period 2021-2026.  The proposal included a recommendation to transition AVS to Gold OA in 2021. 

We informed Wiley that such a major change in the publication model would require the approval of IAVS Council.  When Council discussed the issue at its July 2020 meeting, it was decided to conduct a survey of IAVS members and past authors in JVS and AVS, to obtain a clearer picture of the attitudes of our members and authors to OA publishing and assess the likely impacts on both our members and our income of transitioning AVS (and later JVS) to OA.

The online survey was conducted in September 2020.  A link was sent to all current and past members of IAVS and to authors of papers published in AVS and JVS since January 2014.  A total of 399 people completed the survey.  Of these, 65% were current IAVS members and 10% were past members; 33% were authors of JVS papers, 19% were authors of AVS papers, and 20% had published in both journals.  The respondents were mainly people with current academic or research positions (67%), postdocs (15%) or graduate students (12%).  Residents of 58 countries participated, with the highest representation from the USA (13%), Germany (12%), Brazil (6%), Spain (6%), Czech Republic (6%), Italy (5%), Canada (5%), Australia (5%), and France (4%).  In summarizing the results, countries were divided into three groups based on GDP per capita (GDPPC): group 1 includes countries with GDPPC of US$25,000 or higher, group 2 are between $10,000 and $24,999, and group 3 are less than $10,000.  These are the same groups that we use for discounted membership, discounted APCs for our third journal, Vegetation Classification and Survey (VCS), and when weighting applications for travel awards.

Most respondents considered it unlikely that they would publish mostly in OA journals in future; 73% rated the likelihood as zero or low, while only 27% rated it as medium or high.  The percentages selecting zero or low were similar for IAVS members (74%), current academics or researchers (75%), JVS authors (71%), and AVS authors (73%) but substantially higher for group 2 countries (94%) and group 3 countries (82%), and somewhat lower for group 1 countries (69%) and for graduate students and postdocs (65%).  Overall, there is a lack of enthusiasm for OA publishing.

When asked about the specific proposal from Wiley that AVS go OA with an APC of ₤1,900 (with a 20% discount for IAVS members), only 27% responded that they could afford to pay such an APC.  Half of respondents (50%) said they would be unable to pay the proposed APC and would therefore not publish in AVS, while 24% were not sure if they could pay.  For AVS authors, 32% had some way of paying the proposed APC, with 41% being unable to pay and 27% not sure.  The situation was worst for group 2 countries (72% unable, 20% not sure) and group 3 countries (67% unable, 25% not sure).  Clearly, a system of discounts and waivers for those unable to pay would be required if we were to consider transitioning AVS to Gold OA.

We asked those who said that they cannot currently afford to pay the proposed APC to estimate the probability that they would have some source of funds to pay the APC in future.  The median probability was 0.23, and only 7% of respondents estimated the probability as greater than 0.6.  Most are pessimistic about the future availability of funding for an APC as high as ₤1,900.

Wiley’s proposal emphasized the transitional deals that they have negotiated with groups of institutions in some countries (e.g. DEAL, which covers over 700 institutions in Germany, and UNIT, which covers 33 institutions in Norway), under which the institutions agree to pay the APC for papers published by their scientists or academics in Wiley journals.  Only 13% of respondents reported that their institution is part of or is currently negotiating such a deal. 

When asked to nominate an APC that they would be prepared to pay to publish in AVS or JVS, the median choice was ₤250 for both journals.  Less than 2% of respondents were prepared to pay the APC proposed by Wiley (₤1,900) or higher.  Percentages and median choice were similar for IAVS members.  The median APC selected by AVS authors was ₤250 for both journals, while JVS authors nominated a median of ₤250 for AVS and ₤500 for JVS.  Most respondents from group 2 countries (66%) and 46% of those in group 3 countries were not prepared to pay any APC for either journal.  These results strongly suggest that the APC proposed by Wiley is too high and that it would prevent most of our members and past authors from publishing in our journals.

When asked about the likelihood that they will publish in AVS or JVS if they become Gold OA journals, more than 60% of respondents said they would be less likely to publish in both journals (Figure 1).  Only about 8% said they would be more likely to publish in either journal.  The percentages for IAVS members were similar.  For group 2 countries, 85% would be less likely to publish in our journals, and a mere 3% would be more likely.  These results show a lack of enthusiasm for transitioning either of our journals to OA and suggest that a majority of our members would cease to publish in AVS and JVS if they went OA.

Figure 1. The likelihood that respondents will publish in Applied Vegetation Science (AVS) or the Journal of Vegetation Science (JVS) if they become Gold OA journals.

We asked respondents when in the future IAVS should transition AVS and JVS to Gold OA.  Responses were similar for both journals (Figure 2), with about 25% saying “never” and only 6% choosing “as soon as possible”.  About 28% considered that the move to OA should only be made when more than 50% of our members could pay the APC and 41% think we should wait until more than 90% of our members can afford the APC.  The results were very similar for IAVS members.

Figure 2. When should IAVS transition its journals published by Wiley to Gold OA?

We received 178 responses to the open-ended question asking people to share their opinions or comments about the possibility of IAVS transitioning its Wiley journals to Gold OA.  The majority of the comments were either strongly against going OA or recommended that we should be very cautious.

I would like to express my thanks to all those who took the time to respond to the survey.  The results will inform our ongoing discussions with Wiley about the future of AVS and JVS.  IAVS members can be confident that a transition to Gold OA will only be supported when we are sure that it is in the best interests of our association and its members.  We recognize that one of the primary objectives of our association is to promote the publication of research results in vegetation science by scientists from all countries and we will not agree to any changes to our publication model that are in conflict with that objective.

Peter Minchin is IAVS Vice President and Chair of the Publications Committee.  He has been an IAVS member for 35 years.  As a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, USA, he teaches ecology, biostatistics, and conservation biology, and his research focuses on community ecology, conservation biology, and restoration ecology.