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  • Anita Judd

Plan S 2021: Shock or radical solution for scientific publishing?

Updated: May 6

** UPDATED 11.12.2020 **

Plan S 2021: A shock or a radical solution for scientific publishing?

What is Plan S?

‘S’ for Shock

In September 2018, cOAlition S was created by a group of national research funding organisations, in partnership with the European Commission and the European Research Council*.

From this collaboration, Plan S was launched – an initiative to publish all research in open access journals or platforms, whether public or private grants funded it.

* This year, the European Research Council (ERC) withdrew its support. Hybrid journals are required to commit to full open-access if they want to be eligible for the open-access publication option offered by Coalition S. The ERC cited this requirement as a concern for withdrawing their support.


Plan S Conception

Marc Schiltz, the President of Science Europe, and Robert-Jan Smits, previously the Open Access Envoy of the European Commission, conceived the idea of Plan S under the umbrella of the Research Funding Organisations (RFO).


All scholarly articles that result from research funded by members of cOAlition S must be openly available immediately upon publication without any embargo period.[1]

Although there will be a transition period, Plan S will take effect from January 2021 – but are we ready?

A shakeup in scientific publishing?

Despite the extra time to prepare, Plan S is going to be one of the most radical changes scientific publishing has seen for many years.

The first academic journal, Journal des sçavans, was published in 1665, providing a model for around 30,000 scientific journals. Since then, we have moved to online publishing alongside print journals and open access options.


Plan S is about to shake things up.

cOAlition S released ‘The Plan S Principles’ to help us understand the new requirements for making research – public or privately funded – immediately and freely available. [2]

Restriction or freedom?




There is a view that Plan S could restrict academic freedom.

But the plan provides a route for free circulation and sharing of knowledge through open access journals and platforms. This is good news for scientific progress – speeding up publication and wider circulation of important research developments. Published authors will enjoy heightened visibility: retaining their copyright, with their work published under an open licence.

The three routes for Plan S compliance

  • Open access publishing – publish in an open access journal or platform

  • Subscription journal and repository – publish in a subscription journal and make the original research available in a repository

  • Subscription journal in transition – publish in a subscription journal, but with open access, under a transformative arrangement

Open Access – it’s all in the colour


Without doubt, there have been new open access journals launched in the last two years, along with plans to transform subscription journals. But Plan S brings fresh opportunities for publishers who have new titles to promote.

Publishers often refer to a colour naming system for open access publishing; the main three being gold, green, and hybrid.[3]

  • New gold journals, where all articles are freely available online immediately, will mean earlier exposure for the journal through the rapid publication of the authors’ work.

  • Green and hybrid options will provide fast publication, freely available through different models.

Green open access publishing, also referred to as self-archiving, requires authors to archive a version of their subscription article in a repository or on a website controlled by them, or their funder.


A hybrid journal is a subscription journal which allows open access publishing.

Income from subscriptions will inevitably reduce as we move towards more open access publishing, but revenue will still come from publication fees.

Progress study for Open Access agreements – launched on 1 December 2020

On behalf of cOAlition S, the European Science Foundation and the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) commissioned a review study on the progress of transformative and other Open Access agreements. The review focuses on agreements between library consortia and smaller independent publishers and is expected to be completed by 31 March 2021.

Its three key objectives are: 1. To measure progress on Open Access (OA) agreements since the SPA-OPS project ended in early 2020. This includes agreements reached via groups such as EIFL in the UK, elsewhere in Europe and internationally. 2. To engage and encourage libraries, library consortia, learned society publishers, and other independent publishers to understand the factors which lead to success in concluding and implementing transformative OA agreements. 3. To develop a set of recommendations for funders, libraries, library consortia and publishers, which lead to more OA agreements with society publishers. In doing so, funding will increase across domains – in the scope of cOAlition S funders – and more broadly in general.


For more information please contact info@informationpower.co.uk or visit https://www.alpsp.org/news/coalition-s-transformative-oa-agreements-dec- 2020

Are we ready?


Open access journals have been available to authors since the late 1980s, but with Plan S, we now have more open access journals and platforms than ever before, available to researchers.

However, not all research and funders are covered under Plan S: the US federal agencies are sticking to their policy of making peer-reviewed papers – on work they have funded – freely available within 12 months of publication. The plan needs global buy-in to transform publishing fully.

Without a global buy-in, international collaboration could be compromised; researchers and funders could be based in countries not included in Plan S, which could deter collaboration with others restricted by the plan.

Perhaps Plan S principles should at least apply to the corresponding and senior authors?

This is something that will need resolving, and we should watch for further developments with cOAlition S before the January 2021 deadline.


Plan S is coming, and so, together, we will move with the changes of this new initiative and see what opportunities the new year brings for academic publishing and researchers.

At PA EDitorial we already support many open access journals. The level of service that we provide is consistent regardless of whether a journal is open access or published in the traditional format.

We ensure that each user and journal contributor receives the best service experience possible to ensure this process is stress-free.

If you would like more details on how we can support you, then please contact one of our team at info@PAEDitorial.co.uk.

PA Editorial, Open Access, and Plan S.

[1] See the full information here https://www.coalition-s.org/ [2] Read them in full here https://www.coalition-s.org/addendum-to-the-coalition-s-guidance-on-the- implementation-of-plan-s/principles-and-implementation/ [3] Read more about the different types of open access publishing https://scientific- publishing.webshop.elsevier.com/publication-process/difference-between-green- gold-open-access/

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