Popular preprint servers face closure because of money troubles
Repositories like INA-Rxiv and IndiaRxiv boost regional science, but finding cash to run them is proving difficult.
14 February 2020
The rise of preprint repositories has helped scientists worldwide to share results and get feedback quickly. But several platforms that serve researchers in emerging economies are struggling to raise money to stay afloat.
One, which hosts research from Indonesia, has decided to close because of this funding shortfall.
INA-Rxiv, which was set up in 2017, was one of the first repositories to host studies from a particular region. Previous platforms served specific disciplines: for example, arXiv, the original preprint repository, hosts physical-sciences research, and bioRxiv is a popular repository for biology studies.
Other region or language-specific repositories followed, including ArabiXiv, which hosts Arabic-language research; AfricArxiv and IndiaRxiv. Managers of these repositories say they increase exposure for research from the regions, and facilitate collaborations.
INA-Rxiv, ArabiXiv, AfricArxiv and IndiaRxiv are run by volunteers around the world, but the servers are hosted online by the non-profit Center for Open Science (COS), based in Charlottesville, Virginia. The centre’s platform hosts 26 repositories, including more than a dozen that are discipline-specific.
In December 2018, the COS informed repository managers that from 2020, it would be introducing fees, charged to repository managers, to cover maintenance costs.
The charges, which were finalized last December, start at about US$1,000 a year, and increase as repositories’ annual submissions grow.
The costs can be significant, particularly for repositories run by volunteers in emerging economies. Dasapta Erwin Irawan, a hydrogeologist at the Bandung Institute of Technology who helped set up INA-Rxiv, says his repository received more than 6,000 submissions between July 2018 and June 2019, so the fees will come to about $25,000 per year, which he cannot afford.
After unsuccessfully trying to raise money from the Indonesian government, he has decided to wind down the service and close it, although he has not yet set an end date.
INA-Rxiv is one of the most popular archives on the COS’s platform; it has drawn more than 16,500 submissions, including preprints and conference papers. Until INA-Rxiv closes, Irawan says, he will limit the number of submissions he accepts, to reduce costs.
Juneman Abraham, a social psychologist at Bina Nusantara University in Jakarta, says he will lose an important source of information on the latest Indonesian research when the repository closes.
Brian Nosek, executive director of the COS, says the centre decided to introduce fees so that it could sustain its hosting service in the long term, which will cost about US$230,000 in 2020. Previously, it had relied on grants from private foundations, but they are no longer enough.
Now the operating costs will be covered by a mix of grants and user contributions, he says.
About half of the repositories have committed to paying the fees so far; some are managed by organizations that have access to grants, whereas others have partnered with libraries for funding, says Nosek. The centre is committed to helping repositories, including INA-Rxiv, find funding, he says.
But Nosek acknowledges that repositories run in emerging economies are most likely to struggle to raise funds.
The centre will be flexible about when groups pay this year’s fees, but if no money is received, the services will be frozen so that they are no longer able to accept new submissions, he says.
Unaffordable for many
The fate of the three other regional archives remains uncertain. Sridhar Gutam, founder of Open Access India, an informal advocacy group that launched IndiaRxiv last August, will try to raise funding, but says the fees are an added burden.
The group is still trying to convince Indian scientists that preprint servers can provide benefits such as increasing the visibility of their research.
IndiaRxiv might have to terminate the service or transfer it to another platform if its fundraising efforts fail, says Gutam, a plant scientist at the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research in Bengaluru.
Closing ArabiXiv to submissions will be the last resort, says creator Khaled Moustafa, who is based in Paris. ArabiXiv accepts manuscripts in Arabic, and has some 400 uploads.
But so far, Moustafa’s appeals for money from universities, libraries and scientific institutions in the Arabic-speaking region have been unsuccessful.
The team that runs AfricArxiv is launching a fundraising campaign next month. It will be asking institutional libraries, governments and foundations for money. But funds are tight in Africa, say Jo Havemann and Osman Aldirdiri, who manage coordination and strategy for AfricArxiv.
The repository has decided to diversify its service as a result of the fee. It is creating two more platforms: one on the free data repository Zenodo, and the other on the open research-publishing network ScienceOpen, which has agreed to host AfricArxiv for free in 2020.
At least one discipline-specific repository, MarXiv for marine-conservation science, has had to stop submissions starting this year in part because of COS’s fees, according to its website. It plans to relaunch elsewhere as MarXiv 2.0.
Another, EarthArXiv, will leave COS's platform because of the fees. In a letter posted on the site on 21 January, the repository’s advisory council said it would move to another platform that offered long-term financial security.
The council described the COS’s new business model as especially damaging to groups serving under-represented and financially challenged communities.
Nosek argues, however, that success in fundraising benefits the entire preprint community. “This transition has been very productive for accelerating conversations with university consortia for support across all the services,” he says.
Irawan plans to use the closure of INA-Rxiv as an opportunity to develop an Indonesian platform to host repositories, similar to the one run by the COS. He’s had some promising discussions with Indonesia’s national scientific repository, RIN, which currently accepts datasets.