In win for open access, two major funders won’t cover publishing in hybrid journals

Plan S, the open-access (OA) initiative launched by the European Commission and Science Europe in September, has gained two major new members. The Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—two of the world’s largest private foundations that support research—announced today they are joining a consortium of 11 European funding agencies in requiring their funded research to be immediately free for all to read on publication.

The two new partners add a lot of funding muscle to the effort to require scientists to publish their papers in journals that make their content free to the public, instead of charging subscriptions. The existing Plan S coalition partners, represented by Science Europe, collectively spend about $8.7 billion on research. Wellcome, based in London, funds about $1.3 billion of biomedical research per year, whereas the Seattle, Washington–based Gates Foundation spends more than $1.2 billion on global health R&D.

The largest part of the policy change is that as of January 2020, Wellcome and Gates will no longer cover the cost of their grantees publishing in so-called hybrid OA journals, which have both subscription and free content. Most scientific journals now follow that hybrid business model, which allows authors to pay a fee if they want to make their articles OA. For the past decade, Wellcome has allowed its grantees to pay these fees, in part because it viewed them as a way to help publishers finance a switch in their business models to full OA. “We no longer believe it’s a transition,” says Robert Kiley, head of open research at Wellcome. “We’re looking to bring about a change where all research is open access.”