Helping science succeed
Helping science succeed

EU ditches old Plan S, backs new Plan S

In late 2018, EU policy leaders rocked the scholarly publishing world by launching Plan S (where the S stands for shock). The intent of this plan was to destroy commercial publishing in research—to shift the world from a system where research gets published by big commercial publishers, to a system where research flows more freely (literally as well) into the hands of the public.

The financing mechanism proposed to make this shift possible was “gold” open, where instead of relying on subscriptions, authors would pay publishers a set amount (an Article Publishing Charge, or APC) and their work would automatically become free to read. APCs had existed prior to Plan S, but this new policy turbocharged the APC world and big publishers got on board in a big way. Thousands of startup publishers also took notice. Have money? We’ll publish.

SCI’s Open Scholarship Initiative pushed back on this plan when it was first introduced. It didn’t make business sense, and the unintended consequences were evident, especially with regard to making research access worse for the Global South by requiring APCs for publishing. In effect, this plan risked trading paywalls for playwalls, and the crisis of not being able to afford access would be swapped for a new (and arguably worse) crisis of not being able to even publish research.

Compliance was low with this plan, but it continued to dominate all open access policy conversations. Other policies were built to align with Plan S, and even UNESCO’s open access policy, which OSI helped develop, was very Plan S-centric. In the meantime, APC prices began skyrocketing, millions more journal articles were published (not all quality), and concerns about the global equity rift became more pronounced.

In late 2023, Plan S collapsed. Compliance with its long and immensely specific requirements had been low, and organizers also conceded that the unintended consequences of encouraging more APCs could no longer be ignored.

Rather than throw in the towel, however, Plan S organizers simply changed horses. They would now no longer promote the APC-based gold open solution. Instead, they would focus on shifting the world to an as-yet undetermined but “responsible” structure that is more scholar-led.

In partnership with Science Europe, Plan S organizers have now rolled out the first new policy initiative under the new Plan S: try to support more “diamond” open, where publishing costs get paid by funders instead of authors. Everything else would remain the same—the same compliance requirements for open that existed under the old Plan S would exist under the new Plan S.

The action plan that summarizes these findings is at Diamond-OA-Action-Plan_March2022.pdf (; the 2021 joint report on which this recommendation is based is at The OA Diamond Journals Study – Science Europe. The five main recommendations of this plan center around improving technical support for diamond publishers (e.g., through better indexing and editorial training); improving compliance (e.g., DOI use, preservation standards, and licensing); improving capacity building for this segment (e.g., workshops); improving the effectiveness of diamond publishers (e.g., through partnerships and shared services); and improving the sustainability of this model (long-term funding strategy and investment).

The idealism of this effort is well received. It’s important to think about how we can move away from the APC model, which has worsened equity issues in scholarly communication. But is improving the diamond model really the most realistic way to replace APCs? Simply from a business perspective, this market segment isn’t robust enough to stand on its own without substantial intervention and support. For example, according to the Science Europe report:

  1. Only 8-9% of all journal articles come from diamond, and this amount has been shrinking, annually ceding ground to APC-funded work
  2. Financially, just over 40% of journals report breaking even; 25% operate at a loss
  3. Most diamond publishers rely highly on volunteers to carry out their work
  4. Roughly half of diamond publishers publish only one journal, and the vast majority of these produce only a few articles per year. That is, we’re talking about a whole lot of mom-and-pop businesses here, and finally
  5. If you subtract the big open access publishers in Latin America from this proposal, such as SciELO and Redalyc, the potential impact of a global diamond network isn’t nearly as significant. That is, a global diamond network will certainly help the mom and pop publishing shops of the world, but these account for just a few percent of the global total output of diamond open.

But let’s say we do decide that pivoting to diamond open is the answer. And more to the point, let’s say we decide that the EU’s diamond strategy is the right one. Is it workable? Maybe, with significant investments of time and money. It may be more practical to just build on the existing work being done by an organization like SciELO, which essentially invented the OA diamond support network in the 1990s, and has been hugely successful with building a stable of high quality open access publishing in Latin America since then (other organizations like CLACO, Redalyc and AmeliCA have also built significant open access publishing support frameworks in Latin America over the past decade). Why not just create SciELO spinoff networks (or clones) for other regions of the world (with region-by-region focus and management, since every region requires unique familiarity and expertise—a global focus is too broad)?

Also, if our interest is truly to support diamond journals, then why not think in terms of whatever works? Plan S’s compliance requirements proved to be unworkable for the vast majority of publishers. Instead of focusing on compliance, or even on one single financing mechanism, maybe it would be better to keep an open mind about whatever works—both in terms of compliance and financing—if we’re truly looking to design sustainable solutions to help improve open access publishing around the world.

There’s also the not-so-small matter of ideology that comes with yet another EU-led plan. It’s one thing to focus on improving durability, quality, and sustainability so diamond publishers can better serve their constituencies. It’s another to leverage this relationship to insist that the now-defunct Plan S’s requirements be adhered to as well. At present, only 4.3% of diamond publishers comply with all Plan S criteria. Many of these criteria are good and solid—using PIDs and DOIs, ensuring proper archiving, using common markup language, and so on. But most authors have legitimate concerns about other criteria like using CC-BY licensing (which is why most prefer something more like CC-BY-NC-ND). This single issue has bedeviled OA uptake for decades already.

Rather than putting ideology first, we would be better off focusing on what researchers actually want and need, and have the incentives and resources to accomplish. And what is this exactly? Here’s one perspective, from tables 3 and 7 of our 2023 global survey of researchers (which was tiny, but the results were consistent with other surveys). (We would, by the way, love help redoing this survey and getting it out to a bigger audience.) Understanding what researchers really want and need should be a no-brainer prerequisite to any policy effort, but we just haven’t taken this first step anywhere:


Table 3: Percent of researchers who say this communication priority is either high or a “must do”

Research communication priority %
Lower the costs to authors of publishing 84%
Narrow the equity gap between researchers in the Global North and Global South 82%
Lower the costs to institutions of publishing 82%
Improve the impact of research on developing better public policy 81%
Develop infrastructure solutions that make data repositories easier to maintain and access, and that possibly help level the playing field on access to computing resources 75%
Improve peer review systems 75%
Improve connections between research and the general public (for example, by making sure that all research publications include abstracts written in plain language) 74%
Improve connections between research (especially within each field) 72%
Reform the culture of communication in academia 71%
Improve the impact of research on advancing knowledge 71%
Improve the reusability of research (is the work properly licensed, is dataset complete and usable, etc.?) 71%
Improve the visibility of non-English work 67%
Improve safeguards (like gatekeeping) to ensure that published work isn’t fake or plagiarized (to ensure that bad work doesn’t pollute the knowledge stream) 63%
Improve the speed of publishing 59%
Develop turnkey systems that make it faster and easier to comply with publishing requirements (regarding data deposits, etc.) 55%
Reduce the influence of the Journal Impact Factor 55%
Improve the visibility of non-journal research work (industry white papers, government studies, etc.) 55%
Create new and better ways to officially record discovery (instead of relying on preprints or journal articles for this) 52%
Improve the indexing of research work 51%
Reduce the importance of publishing in promotion and tenure evaluations 50%
Fix what’s broken 42%
Create one-size-fits-all communication policies for the global research community 37%
Reinvent the wheel, even if this means some things end up being worse than before (or will take years to stabilize) 18%




Concern Always important Communi-
cations related?
Tier 1 concerns (66%+ of researchers say this is ALWAYS important)    
Stay up-to-date on all the latest research in my field 76% x
Get funding for my research work 66%  
Tier 2 concerns (33-65% of researchers say this is ALWAYS important)    
Infrastructure support from my institution (good facilities, etc.) 64%  
Find, hire and keep good staff 60%  
Design good research studies 60%  
Make an impact in my field 60%  
Find the right research papers to read 59% x
Publish in a journal 57% x
Collaborate with other researchers 56%  
Read research papers for free 54% x
Get proper credit and recognition for my work 52% x
Effectively communicate my findings to fellow researchers 50% x
Publish in a prestigious journal 48% x
Advance in my field 48%  
Make an impact on society 48%  
Figure out what to read—there’s so much information out there 47% x
Job security 47%  
Publish affordably 47% x
Freely and rapidly share my research work with other researchers around the world 41% x
Effectively communicate my findings to the general public 41% x
Effectively communicate my findings to policymakers 41% x
Tier 3 concerns (0-32% of researchers say this is ALWAYS important)    
IMMEDIATELY (without waiting for embargo periods) read what other researchers have published in a subscription journal 32% x
Publish in the right journals 32% x
Publish enough—the pressure to “publish or perish” 28% x
Make my data available in a format that others can see and use 28% x
See the data generated by other researchers 25% x
Protect my research from getting “scooped” before I can publish it 24% x
“Register” my discovery (publish quickly so the world will recognize I was the first to discover something) 24% x
Pay 24%  
Publish quickly 20% x
Reuse the data generated by other researchers 18% x
Protect my research from misuse 16% x
Regulation 16%  
Protect my research from theft 8% x
Copy and paste large chunks of text from other research papers or otherwise reuse these works (beyond what is already permitted by copyright under Fair Use and Fair Dealing) 6% x
Competition 4%  
Other 4%  


As these responses show, if we really want to help research succeed, then there are many areas where we can engage, rather than assuming the single best way to help researchers is by reinventing the entire world of scholarly publishing from scratch. A lot of the concerns we debate in this space are actually in the bottom tier of what researchers really want and need.

In conclusion, it’s possible to accomplish all the lofty goals we’ve set for ourselves in this scholarly communication reform, but only if we honestly follow the needs of researchers and also follow the evidence of what works and what doesn’t. When we let our ideology take the lead instead, we’re fighting the same fight, but we end up heading down one dead end after another, and in the process, we waste valuable time and money, fracture the solution space, exhaust the goodwill and belief in this space, and cause disruptions with unintended consequences.

I’m a carpenter. Our saying is to measure twice and cut once. This is good advice for carpenters—even better for those who are trying to change the world.

The bulk of this post has been copied from an email I sent to the Open Cafe and OSI listservs on Feb 23, 2024. This February 24 version is revised from the original version published on February 23, based on feedback on the Feb 23 listserv post.

Glenn Hampson

Glenn is Executive Director of the Science Communication Institute and Program Director for SCI’s global Open Scholarship Initiative. You can reach him at [email protected].