Open and Free at BioOne—Looking back and ahead
Since its inception, BioOne has deliberately supported open access (OA) and free content options as part of our mission to make organismal biology research more accessible. At the time of BioOne’s 2001 launch, OA was gaining momentum and early milestones were established with the 2002 Budapest Initiative and the 2003 Berlin Declaration. As we move into our third decade, a growing variety of OA business models are being tested by publishers and librarians for sustainability and viability. Whereas the vast majority of BioOne Complete titles are included in BioOne’s subscribed collection, we want to turn the spotlight on how OA and free content complement this offering, while reflecting on the evolution of OA at BioOne.
Open at the Beginning
BioOne has offered services for Gold OA titles from its first year of operation. This recognizes the desire by researchers and librarians that all content–regardless of business model–be discoverable, accessible, interoperable and reliably archived, as well as sport all the “bells and whistles” that facilitate productivity and analysis.
The initial collection contained Vol 1. No. 1 of the Journal of Insect Science (now owned by the Entomological Society of America), which continues to thrive. The second OA addition, The Arabidopsis Book (TAB), published by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), launched its new model organism dialogue as part of the 2002 BioOne collection. TAB was an experiment for both BioOne and the ASPB, and this novel publication evolved dramatically in format, from book-to-blog-to journal, over the 18 years in which it was published.
Because BioOne Complete subscription funds do not support the OA program, we needed to ensure that the fees paid by participating publishers would cover the true costs. At first, BioOne charged publishers OA fees assessed by the article. As the number of OA titles increased, articles varied in length from journal to journal and thus charging by the page became both sustainable and extensible across the collection. It is worth noting that these publishers have developed a variety of business models to support their own internal operations and platform fees for BioOne–demonstrating that one size does not fit all when it comes to OA.
The 2021 BioOne OA collection now offers 33 Gold OA journals from 25 publishers. Of these, 20 titles contribute current content that is presented to BioOne’s user base in precisely the same fashion as the rest of the corpus. This benefits both the publishers and the researchers.
Many Flavors of Free Access
In addition to providing a home for OA titles, BioOne has always enabled publishers of subscribed titles to designate individual articles as OA. This practice ensures that authors are able to comply with funder mandates. Further, each publisher sets its own self-archiving or “Green OA” policies. While Green OA means articles will typically be paywalled on BioOne, this publisher choice is a hallmark of the editorial independence that is so important to BioOne. Guaranteeing this kind of flexibility is not only critical within specialized research communities, we also want our publishers to be better positioned to attract authors looking for the most appropriate outlet.
Like all publishers and aggregators, BioOne aims to showcase the breadth of available content and to highlight articles of timely relevance such as our 2020 coronavirus-related collection, or our annual tribute to Earth Day. BioOne’s editors also have the option to designate individual articles as freely available for the same purpose.
Because libraries are understandably wary about paying for something that is already free, as a means to balance both needs, BioOne now limits the amount of content in subscribed journals that can be made freely available for promotional or funder-compliance purposes.
Elementa-ry Lessons in OA
In 2013, BioOne proudly gave birth to its first wholly owned publication, an experiment in OA publishing named Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. In addition to providing the organization with another product, Elementa served as a means to learn the basics of open access publishing. The project required us to develop a separate platform to accommodate the essential components of manuscript submission, review, and editorial communication, in addition to supporting the software needed to receive article processing charges (APCs). These functions were all new to BioOne’s existing infrastructure.
BioOne hired six highly respected editors-in-chief with various specialties to cover the broad spectrum of research involved in the study of the Anthropocene. Their collaboration was critical and quickly evolved into a singularly productive means of intellectual discourse, where the “special issue” afforded the journal a means to focus on all aspects of current and emerging topics.
Like any good parent, BioOne invested its monetary reserves, as well as emotional and physical energy to nurture this child. Moreover, it involved a village of hard-working and committed partners. Elementa was an idea ahead of itself, and consequently suffered from the lack of such necessities as the ability to quickly obtain an impact factor, a reliable means to invoice and collect APCs, and the all-important ability to scale at the critical time when funds could not cover the lack of income as we built volume and recognition. Although it was a sad day when we sent our baby to college in the expert care of the University of California Press, we are all profoundly grateful to those who participated, and very proud of our child’s continued progress.
The Open Future
Over the past twenty years the business of scholarly publishing has worked hard to keep up with the relentless pace of technology to best meet the needs of the community. Whereas the subscription model still suits many not-for-profit publishers, some publishers are looking for cost-effective ways to share their research without paywalls. At BioOne a handful of journals that were previously part of the subscribed collection have been able to adapt their business models and “flip” to OA. Unlike their fellow publications in molecular and chemical biology, however, organismal biology is not subject to the same level of OA funder mandates. Read another way, our community does not benefit from similar levels of research funding. For example, only 2% of articles in the active BioOne Complete collection receive funding from Coalition S member organizations, one of the leading advocates of open access.
Because BioOne’s publishers face an array of their own environmental concerns, we are acutely aware that there may be no common solution to OA that meets everyone’s needs. BioOne is nonetheless actively considering how to provide meaningful OA paths in ways that afford economies of scale for both publishers and subscribers. With your support, we will.