Plan S: Who pays for publishing?

This blog post was orginally posted on the HardiBlog by NUI Galway Library on 10 March 2021.

Our guest blogger Niamh O’Brien recently finished her MLIS dissertation on Plan S. She has summarised some of her key findings below:


Plan S: Who pays for publishing?

With the cancellation of conferences and networking events that allow academic librarians across the country to congregate around lukewarm cups of coffee, it is difficult to get a holistic picture of how libraries across Ireland are preparing for the implementation of Plan S. While researching the topic for my MLIS thesis I interviewed librarians from ITs and Universities in July and August of 2020. 

While many of the issues surrounding the implementation of Plan S appear ever-changing there is one constant– the money issue. 

Lack of APC funding

The dominant barriers to implementing the plan, according to librarians, is a lack of funding and concerns around article processing charges (APCs). Outside of what is provided for in transformative agreements, libraries do not have the funding necessary to pay for APCs. 

 Take the Irish ScienceDirect agreement for example, where the publisher Elsevier has agreed to provide APCs based on 71% of the previous year’s outputs. The researchers who produce the remaining 29% of outputs will need to be paid for from funding grants, the researchers’ institution, or more likely – libraries.  To illustrate the potential expense of APCs, one librarian highlighted that APCs regularly reach the €5000 mark. According to one librarian, at the time of interviewing their institution’s allocation of APCs on a first-come-first-served basis (as per this agreement) has already left researchers without the financial support necessary to pursue open publishing. This interview participant also expressed concern regarding the assessment of each institution’s research outputs and felt that it will make it difficult for libraries, especially in smaller institutions, to expand their research outputs over  three years the agreement is in place. 

Role of Libraries

While researchers want, and are encouraged to engage in open practices, they don’t have the funding to do so. Librarians felt that their role in financing the implementation had not been thoroughly considered.  While Plan S is very funder centric, for the time being, libraries are expected to foot the bill for a lot of the costs innate to implementing the plan. Along with APCs, interview participants noted that the implementation of Plan S requires more researcher training and increased capacity of institutional repositories.

More Gold Open Access – no change?

The problems don’t end there though, even if libraries were granted unlimited funding, there are very valid concerns about the role of APCs in developing a robust open publishing infrastructure. Libraries will potentially spend a lot of money on APCs but affect no real change in the landscape of academic publishing. In a global context, while a Gold Open Access model would allow underfunded researchers to access information, they may be left unable to contribute to scientific communication due to the financial barrier imposed by APCs. This would exacerbate the lack of diverse perspectives in academia which is already dominated by well-funded researchers from western institutions. While this isn’t an immediate concern for libraries implementing Plan S, it’s important to consider the global impact of adopting a pay to play model in the long term.

On a practical level transformative agreements remain an instrumental part of Irish library’s ability to implement Plan S. It is important to note, however, the temporary nature of these agreements as cOAlition S only intend on supporting these types of agreements until the end of 2024. 

Be practical!

Overwhelmingly librarians expressed that the Rights Retention Strategy in tandem with transformative agreements is the most practical and implementable model for the immediate future.  While it’s impossible to say with any certainty what’s on the horizon for Plan S, librarians predicted that cOAlition S will eventually revert to their initial focus on the gold model of open access.

Outside the context of transformative agreements, there is a concern that if journals flip to a gold access model, there will be no fundamental change in the publishing ecosystem. If this is the result of the plan, it will have failed to address the core goals set out in the Berlin Declaration of Open Access which sought to use the internet as a means to increase open access and knowledge dissemination. 


IReL. (2020). Science Direct. Open Access. Retrieved from:

Max Planck. (2003, October 22). The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Retrieved from

cOAlition S. (2020). “Plan S Principles.” Retrieved from:

cOAlition S. (n.d.). Rights Retention Strategy. Retrieved from:

The author

Niamh O’Brien graduated from NUI Galway in 2019 with a BA in English and Law, since then she’s completed her MLIS Library & Information Studies at University College Dublin where she focused on Open Access and scholarly communication. Her final thesis was entitled “Is there a plan for Plan S?: An examination of Plan S in Third Level Institutional Libraries in Ireland.” She is the secretary of the Western Regional Section of the Library Association of Ireland and will present on her thesis topic at the New Voices session at the CILIP/LAI Conference later in 2021.

Follow Niamh on Twitter @niamhburo or connect on  LinkedIn