APC Vouchers and Discount Codes: Recommendations for Institutions and Publishers

Responses to a survey of UK universities on the use of vouchers and discount codes to pay APCs revealed the features of these payment options which assist users and those which hinder use. These recommendations will be useful to both institutions and publishers who wish to evaluate or improve these offerings.

Vouchers and Discount Codes recommendations for publishers and institutions

The recommendations are an output of our Jisc Good Practice Pathfinder project, any feedback, comments or issues please tell us!


Pathfinder update January 2016

Since our last update in September 2015 the GW4 pathfinder group have been busy planning and running an APC payment management workshop and investigating APC issues in report management, offsetting deals and the development of the APC market and prepayment agreements.

The workshop, APC Payment Management: In Practice and Good Practice, was a friendly meeting of publishers, institutional OA and Jisc staff which enabled users to view issues from both sides and thus provided valuable insights for attendees. The value of mutual learning across OA teams, librarians and publishers was evident; attendees found they gained useful information or ideas from the presentations and subsequent discussions. Potential areas for assistance, new initiatives and collaborative working were identified in licencing, verification, publisher reports, Jisc Monitor, process automation and metadata.

Other work included Finlay Jones, our Exeter colleague, publishing a review of implementing offsetting deals at the GW4 institutions comparing deals with the Jisc Principles for Offsetting and identifying practical issues with implementation. He identified and commented on models which increase administration and complexity and those which are simpler to implement.

The transfer of the APC data records of two of the GW4 Pathfinder institutions, Bristol and Exeter, between Access and Excel but in opposite directions gave an opportunity to understand the benefits and disadvantages of the two systems and the motivations for change.

Discussions in the literature on the effectiveness of the APC market and the influence of pre-payment agreements led to a survey and analysis of the issues surrounding pre-payment models. These demonstrate that characteristics of the dysfunctional journal subscription market can also be ascribed to the APC market and to pre-payment agreements suggesting action is needed to ensure a competitive APC market develops. The main influencers are universities and funding agencies; a range of mechanisms to effect change were suggested by authors but whether these actions will have the desired effect is uncertain.

In 2016 we will be working on improving our processes in collaboration with other institutional services, investigating voucher systems and summarising our work in a final report.


Open Access Good Practice Project: GW4 Offset Implementation Review

This review of current offsetting deals focusses on the practical issues of implementing the available deals and briefly compares the deals with the Jisc Principles for Offset Agreements.

Open Access Good Practice Project: GW4 Offset Implementation Review

This document has been updated in November 2015 to reflect an error in the data collection.
The review is an output of our Jisc Good Practice Pathfinder project, any feedback, comments or issues please tell us!

Finlay Jones
University of Exeter

Pathfinder update – September 2015

 The last few months have seen a number of outputs from the GW4 Pathfinder group based around models of payment, from off-setting, to the current state of play with APC intermediary services to a wish list for the Ultimate Prepayment Account.

 Our Exeter colleague, Finlay Jones, has been examining the situation around third party JiscAPClogo200intermediary services for APC payments.  We assumed this would be a growth area when we started this Pathfinder Project, hot on the heels of the Jisc APC project

As is often the case in the Open Access landscape, this has changed dramatically.  There has been a significant cooling round the idea of establishing intermediaries.  As Finlay notes in his blog post, ‘the focus on savings has thus shifted. Any savings that we as a community might make now come from lowering, or controlling, the total cost of publication, rather than directly from removing administrative burden as was thought a little over a year ago at the commencement of the project.

This ultimately changed the overall focus of our project, and we’ve since moved towards looking at off-setting, in tandem with material emerging from the Jisc.  We have a brief report in progress on the key issues with off-setting at the moment, and the main models available in the UK.

 Back to the everyday functions of processing APCs, and we’re largely dealing with invoice payments.  We released a FAQs for Publishers guide which gave a few of the common problems faced by institutions paying APCs.  Encouraging use of a generic email address, for example, has also been included in a more recent Jisc guide of the Top Ten Tips for Implementing Open Access, although more from the perspective of communications with researchers.  

Our University of Bristol colleagues have been putting together an ‘Ultimate Prepayment Account’ wish list, based on their experiences with the APC deals they’ve encountered to date.  Their key issues are around who can access and authorise prepay accounts,  how to monitor and report on spend, and a focus on the authors’ experience with the account.

 The next few months will see us hold a workshop on Good Practice for APC Payment Management (18th November at the EngineShed in Bristol). Join us there to discuss payment practices from institutional, publisher and third party perspectives.  We also plan to release some of the work we’ve undertaken around streamlining financial reporting and on the wider market effects of prepayment deals.


Report on the Jisc Monitor Review Workshop 26th March 2015

Review the Monitor Local and UK Aggregation Prototypes
The Monitor developers discussed the aims of their work, what Monitor is designed to do, the global and local models, and limitations of the current design. Prototypes of the data model, workflow, data fields and screen presentations were shown and feedback requested; was the right data included and what might be missing? The developers were keen to receive ideas for inclusion, questioned for clarity and understanding and accepted many of the numerous suggestions.
The prototypes are designed to fill current gaps in the OA landscape, additional work will be necessary to convert to a service. Alternative services or solutions may fill the gaps and in that case Monitor will cease further development and become redundant. If developed, a future system may be a local web or hosted service (the developers felt the latter was most likely) with an API to interface with other systems for import and export of data.
Details of their work published on Jisc Monitor blog See their outputs for details of the system specification and wireframes (screen presentations).
Monitor Local
Four work areas: publication, costs, compliance and tasks (monitoring progress, driving work). This workshop reviewed the costs requirements but other areas were discussed briefly.
Compliance checking is designed to be flexible as change is expected and it is possible to use the compliance element standalone (w/o other three elements) and interface to other systems.
The tasks display user interface assists in managing daily work by indicating ‘What needs doing?’ An indicator displays how complete individual tasks are and a task drop down takes users to different screens.
Monitoring of pre-pay accounts is not possible using Monitor. The Monitor Local data model maps to RIOXX elements.
Monitor Global
UK Aggregation – data could be fed from Monitor local or from proprietary apps or spreadsheets.
 Leverage UK negotiation
 Reduce institutional reporting requirements
 Outing bad practice
OA compliance automation was demonstrated using a spreadsheet download (data included PMCID, PMID and DOI and title) to interrogate services e.g. EPMC, DOAJ, CORE, Sherpa and text mining of publishers websites. Potential reports from Global might include expenditure by publisher, expenditure in OA/Hybrid journals and by institution. Linking and comparison with KB+ to provide comparison of subscription spend and APC payments is recognised but some way in the future.
Monitor are demonstrating at two UKSG workshops (31/03/2015 and 01/04/2015) and welcome feedback in the next six – seven weeks.

Using Functional Cost Analysis to Evaluate the APC Payments Process

We are really pleased to release a draft for comment of our report on analysis of the administrative costs of processing APC payments in the four universities of the GW4 alliance: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

Functional Cost Analysis (FCA) methodology was used to investigate labour costs per APC payment and identify resource intensive functions with a view to later improvement.

The document is available here.GW4 FCA Report.

In a nutshell, after mapping the workflows at each institution and developing a functional family tree, the time and effort were recorded for each function and sub-function, giving us an idea of what was the most resource intensive.  These were:

  1. Paying the APC
  2. Reporting
  3. Meeting funder requirements.

Additional points of information gleaned from the analysis included:

  • Three of the four institutions had remarkably similar patterns around the implementation of APC payments.
  • Payment by invoice tends to be the most resource intensive method and has the highest number of activities in the process.
  • Adding suppliers to finance systems can add significant times to invoice payments.
  • We can infer costs in the order of £50+ per simple APC for these comparable institutions, although this doesn’t account for problem investigation or incomplete data (the ‘Counting the Costs of Open Access’ report estimated £81 for directly attributable costs to research organisations.
  • Other groups doing analysis around the APC payment process may find the Functional Family Tree useful as a starting point for breaking down the activities.

We did find Functional Cost Analysis a struggle, simply due to the dispersed nature of our group.  FCA has its roots in engineering and manufacturing and is designed to identify where to target further investigation and improvement in a process.  Next steps will be approached from a LEAN methodology, and may include work around:

  • Use of pre-pay and credit card payments to lower payment costs
  • Evaluate required frequency of some tasks (for example checking and reporting)
  • Automate manual tasks e.g. compilation of reports
  • Training lower grade staff to perform some of the tasks

An obvious but important finding evidenced by the report is that the larger the RCUK grant, the smaller the administrative costs and time for each APC payment.  There are clear economies of scale.