Open Access and Learned Societies: An update

By | 24th October 2017

This post is co-authored with Rob Johnson, Research Consulting

The United Kingdom has been in the vanguard of attempts to drive the scientific and scholarly communities to adopt an Open Access model of publishing, where the output from academic research will be freely available to readers rather than requiring some form of payment. However, the Finch Committee, which did much to promote this policy, noted in 2012 that one consequence of this change might be to threaten a significant source of income to learned societies and to disrupt their contribution to the research ecosystem…Our findings remain under wraps until the full report’s release in December, but we gave a preview to representatives of almost 40 UK societies at the Royal Society of Biology on Wednesday 27 September. This provided the starting point for a lively discussion about the future of societies…UK societies are starting from a position of strength: existential fears about the impact of open access appear to have receded in the last few years. ‘Open access is not biggest issue by a long way,’ stressed one attendee, ‘income diversification and internationalisation are a long way ahead of this’. There was consensus that societies must begin by understanding what their members and communities want, and then ask:

  1. What is the society for?
  2. What should its strategy be?
  3. How do we achieve this?

For many societies, publishing will be a central part of their strategy, but it remains just one means of fulfilling their mission. As one of our attendees concluded: ‘Societies are well positioned to drive the future – but we need to figure out what it looks like.’

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