The Royal Society of Chemistry will make all its journals open access

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has committed to making all its journals open within the next five years. It is the first chemistry publisher to commit to a 100% open access model and hopes to fund the move in a way that will avoid individual authors having to pay Article Processing Charges (APC).

Traditionally, publishers of scientific journals have relied on journal subscription fees to cover the costs of their operations. But in recent years there has been growing pressure for scientific knowledge to be shared freely, regardless of readers’ ability to pay.

For example, the Plan S movement in Europe has campaigned for funders to ensure that the researchers they support publish their results in open access journals. This has led to the European Research Council and UKRI requiring grant recipients to publish their work in open access journals. Meanwhile in the US, all government-funded research will have to be published open access from 2026. These measures have seen a growing number of journals move towards open access models.

Open access journals generally require authors to pay a one-time APC to publish their articles. This covers costs associated with managing the peer review process and maintaining the scientific documentation, and allows anyone to read the journal’s content without having to pay a subscription.

However, in announcing its commitment to a fully open access model, the RSC notes that it hopes to negotiate new agreements at “institutional or funder level”, where institutions pay a flat rate so that their researchers can publish in RSC journals without paying individual APC. These deals would take into account regional differences so that institutions in poorer countries would not be expected to pay the same prices as those in richer countries.

The RSC publishes 44 journals in the chemical sciences, most of which still use a subscription model.

Addressing barriers

“Obviously, a transition to full open access is good in terms of making research as widely available as possible to everyone, without barriers to reading. My biggest concern with such transitions is always that if the transition is done as an APC-based approach, it moves just the barriers from reading to publication,” says computational biochemist Lynn Kamerlin, who works at Uppsala University in Sweden. “So actually one of the best things about the announcement in my opinion was the fact that the RSC is very aware of this challenge and is committed to exploring new and other open access models to ensure that this transition does not become a barrier to publication.’

“It is also worth noting that while the most affected are indeed researchers from those countries where funds to even conduct research are extremely limited, even in nominally wealthy countries access to research funds is highly variable, and APC can be a major barrier to spread.” she adds. “I fully support the RSC’s aim to ensure that the majority of the global author community is covered by deals at institutional or funder level, and I commend the RSC for taking this major step in moving to full open access, addressing with stock issues so high up on the agenda.’

Floris Rutjes, a synthetic organic chemist from Radboud University in the Netherlands who is president of the European Chemical Society, says he is “pleasantly surprised” to hear of the RSC’s new commitment to open access publishing, describing it as “a huge step forward” in conducting open science”.

“A few years ago I was involved in negotiations between the Dutch universities and the RSC for a new transformative agreement at the national level, which was quite complex with reading and publishing components for the various journals and lengthy negotiations,” says Rutjes. “This situation will be much easier after the switch to a full open access system. From the researcher’s point of view, I hope that there will still be arrangements between the RSC and the university libraries so that the APCs will be paid by the libraries and not by the researchers themselves who for present is often the case when publishing in open access journals.’

In a statement, RSC publishing director Emma Wilson said it was “important” to the organization that all authors retain the same ability to publish regardless of where they are based. “We are aiming for a future there [open access] publishing makes authors’ work available on a global scale, she said. “As we saw with the Covid research, enabling that level of openness and international collaboration can be a catalyst to accelerate innovation and discovery, creating a better and more sustainable future for all.”

“This is an exciting step for the RSC and our growing portfolio of highly respected journals,” added University of Strathclyde chemist Duncan Graham, who chairs the RSC’s publishing board. “The move to open access will mean that the RSC can ensure that everyone around the world has the same ability to read and build on all the important research published in RSC journals while continuing to uphold the high quality standards and reputation that our community relies on get on .’

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