The Company of Biologists’ Open Access journey – a message from our Chairman, Professor Matthew Freeman
22 May 2020 (updated January 2024)
As Chairman of the Board of The Company of Biologists, I wanted to share with you the story of our Open Access (OA) journey and, most recently, the great success of our Read & Publish OA initiative.
We are a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting and inspiring the biological community worldwide. We do this by publishing high quality peer-reviewed journals, and the income we receive enables us to help biologists in other ways – for example by facilitating scientific meetings, giving travel grants and funding biological societies. The Board of Directors are experienced, senior scientists from a range of life science and clinical research backgrounds.
We have been committed to Open Access since 2004 as we believe OA publishing leads to broader dissemination and faster reuse, accelerating the sharing of quality information.
We have launched two Open Access journals – Disease Models & Mechanisms and Biology Open. Authors can also contribute OA articles to our three hybrid journals – Development, Journal of Cell Science and Journal of Experimental Biology – under a CC BY licence, and we deposit their articles into PMC.
However, as a small company, it has been a challenge to find a way to transition fully to OA whilst maintaining financial stability and sustaining quality – and thus being able to support biology and biologists in the longer term. This is because not every biologist has access to funds for APCs at a level that covers the costs of quality publishing. It is also true that there has been much discussion and debate about what the best mechanisms are to promote OA fairly.
Following a great deal of work in association with other not-for-profit publishers, libraries and funding organisations, we decided that Read & Publish (R&P) agreements offered a great way forward for all.
We launched our Read & Publish (R&P) Open Access initiative in November 2019. We were proud to be one of the first not-for-profit publishers to do so and we have been absolutely delighted by the response from librarians, library consortia and authors.
As at January 2024, over 750 institutions in 47 countries are participating in the initiative and we have agreements with many library consortia. OA publishing is already increasing as a result, and many more agreements with individual institutions and consortia are in the pipeline.
R&P agreements remove the barriers to reading and publishing articles. They enable biologists to share their work widely without having to pay article processing charges (APCs), and to access all our hybrid journals and their backfiles. They also support institutions and researchers working to comply with Plan S and funder mandates.
Our R&P agreements are cost-neutral and therefore represent excellent value for money for institutions. For the current subscription fee plus the average of the last three years’ APCs (if any), corresponding authors can publish an uncapped number of research articles in our hybrid journals. They also benefit from unlimited access to our hybrid journals and their archives dating back to 1853.
In response to feedback from librarians, we have offered the option of including our fully OA journals in R&P agreements since 2020.
By securing a baseline of income, R&P agreements will enable us to continue to support and inspire the biological community in the years to come – and this is made possible because librarians are taking steps to repurpose their subscription budgets to financially support sustainable OA publishing.
This gave us the confidence to be one of the first not-for-profit publishers to commit to the Transformative Journal approach. We are proud to be the publisher of the first journals to be afforded Transformative Journal status by Plan S and also that they all exceeded their OA growth targets in 2021.
And to finish on a personal note, from my perspective as a working scientist, the best news is that, because the University of Oxford now has an R&P agreement with The Company of Biologists, my group can publish in Development, Journal of Cell Science and Journal of Experimental Biology without paying any APCs.