Why we have set publisher requirements

Wellcome has introduced a set of publisher requirements for open access (OA) publications. Robert Kiley, our Head of Digital Services, explains why we've taken this step.

Photo of Robert Kiley

Credit: Wellcome Images

Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at Wellcome

In 2005, when Facebook had fewer than 5 million active users and Twitter had yet to launch, Wellcome become the first funder to require that research articles arising from its funding be made open access. Since then, most research funders have implemented similar policies.

To meet funders' requirements, publishers have established new open access journals and developed alternative business models to allow existing subscription journals to publish open access articles. 

And, as a result of ongoing advocacy, funding and support from all those involved in the research ecosystem – researchers, publishers, institutions and funders – open access has become mainstream. A recent analysis of Wellcome-attributed research articles shows that, on average, around 75% of our research is freely available within six months of publication.

But this headline compliance figure doesn’t tell the whole story. Further analysis has shown that we don't always get what we have paid for.

We checked that articles for which an article processing charge (APC) has been paid are:

  • available from the Europe PMC repository
  • deposited as the final published version
  • made available under the Creative Commons attribution (CC-BY) licence.

An analysis of the 2014-15 Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), which includes Wellcome funding, revealed that 30% of Wellcome and COAF member articles for which an APC was paid didn't comply with our open access policies.

The relationships in the publication process aren’t straightforward, and we know there has been confusion with the process – for instance with which type of licence a researcher should choose for an article to be fully open access.

To try to address this issue we're now setting out requirements stating what we expect from publishers when an APC is levied for a peer-reviewed journal article. Publishers that cannot commit to providing these services will not be eligible for funding from us to cover APCs for Wellcome-funded research.

The requirements

You can read the full set of requirements but, in essence, they focus on three key services – depositing, licensing and invoicing.

It's worth stressing that most of our core requirements – that the peer-reviewed article must be deposited in PMC, made freely available at the time of publication and licensed to the world under the Creative Commons attribution licence (CC-BY) – have been in place for many years.

In setting out our expectations of publishers in a more detailed way, we are also taking the opportunity to:

  • introduce a small number of new requirements
  • make previously implicit requirements explicit.

New requirements

For the first time we're spelling out a number of requirements relating to the payment of APCs for peer-reviewed journal articles.

Specifically, as an absolute minimum invoices must include the article title. We also strongly encourage publishers to provide additional information such as:

  • an article digital object identifier (DOI)
  • authors of the paper
  • the funders which supported the article
  • the licence under which the paper will be made available.

These changes have been introduced to help institutions better manage APC payments – an invoice that only contains an internal manuscript ID will no longer be accepted  – and to minimise the number of licence corrections which are requested after publication.

We are also specifying that publishers must have a publicly available refund policy. To be clear, we aren't defining what this policy should say, just requiring that such a policy should exist. This is so that authors, institutions and funders understand on what terms an APC payment may be refunded.

Implicit requirements - now made explicit

The change which has perhaps generated most discussion in the publishing community is our requirement to make PMC aware of post-publication material changes to published articles. In this context, material changes includes any corrections (including changes to the way the article has been licensed), retractions, or expression of concern – known in publishing as CREs.

We – along with the 26 other research funders – continue to support the development of Europe PMC and have designated it, along with PMC, as the repository where our published research outputs can be accessed. Because of this, it is absolutely critical that articles posted in PMC and Europe PMC contain any updates that occur post-publication. It would seriously undermine the value of the repository if a researcher acted on information provided there which had been subject to a correction or a retraction and we had not provided them with this additional information.

Although the requirement to supply CREs is now explicit, it's worth saying that all publishers who deposit content in PMC have been providing this service for many years.

We also now require that articles published via the APC route are made freely available on the publisher's site, and that licence information posted to PMC must be in a machine-readable form, compliant with the PMC Tagging Guidelines.

Again, publishers who are already depositing content in PMC are typically providing these services.

Community support

Although we've developed these requirements to help ensure that we receive the services we require, we have been mindful of defining the requirements in such a way that publishers can readily comply with them. 

Preliminary drafts of our requirements were shared with publishers who publish a significant volume of Wellcome-funded research. We made some changes based on their feedback. For example, we minimised the invoicing requirements when it became apparent that for many publishers the publishing production systems and invoicing systems aren't fully compatible.

Some of the biggest publishers used by Wellcome authors – including Wiley, Springer Nature, OUP and PLOS, who between them publish around 50% of Wellcome-attributed research – have already confirmed that they will be able to comply with our new requirements.

We will maintain a list of publishers who comply with our requirements and make this publicly available through the Sherpa FACT service.

We're also pleased that a number of our funding partners in COAF – including Cancer Research UK, Parkinson's UK and the British Heart Foundation – will also apply the same requirements for outcomes of research they have funded, as will the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Sector bodies and research associations Jisc, SCONUL, UKCoRR and RLUK are also supportive and will help to promote our requirements amongst the research community.

Actions and timeline

Publishers who wish to provide open access publishing services based on APCs for Wellcome grantholders must commit to providing the services we have set out in our requirements.

Specifically, we are asking publishers to email us at openaccess@wellcome.org confirming that they can meet the requirements. We also encourage publishers to make this information clear on their own websites and inform us of the URL where the statement is posted. This information will then be made available on our website, and included in the SHERPA FACT service.

The key dates regarding implementation of our publisher requirements are:

  • 6 September 2016: publisher requirements published
  • 6 September to 15 December 2016: publishers requested to indicate if they can provide the defined services
  • 6 January 2017: Wellcome publishes a full list of publishers who can comply with our requirements
  • 1 April 2017: requirements come into effect for all Wellcome-attributed articles submitted for publication from this date.


We fully recognise that relationships in the publication process are not straightforward: Wellcome has a grant-funding relationship with a researcher, who then establishes a relationship with a publisher; the APC payment is made by the institution, which is then reimbursed by Wellcome. 

In setting out our requirements when we fund an APC, we are making clear what services we are paying publishers to deliver in return.

Our open access policy and requirements are designed to maximise the availability and reuse of publications resulting from our funding and to foster a richer research culture. We look forward to working with publishers and our grantholders in this endeavour.