An interview with Delia Mihaila of MDPI

In 2022, MDPI is supporting DOAJ at the Sustaining Level, a contribution made at a level that recognises the need to properly support open access infrastructure. We last caught up with MDPI in 2018 and a lot has changed. We sent Delia some questions about what’s moving in the MDPI world.

Hello Delia, can you tell us a bit about yourself, what you do at MDPI, how you came to be there and what you did beforehand? What is your relationship to open access?

I have been the Chief Executive Officer of MDPI since 2019. My overall responsibility is to represent the company, drive the internal and external strategy, policy and decision-making process, and ensure the sustainable growth of the company. I joined MDPI in 2013 and served in various positions within the company, including Publishing Development Manager and Publishing Director. I previously held the CEO position within MDPI from 2015 to 2016.

Before joining MDPI, I worked as a Journal Publishing Manager for John Wiley & Sons in the UK. I was responsible for the strategic development and performance of a large portfolio of journals within the health sciences division.

Before obtaining my Master’s degree in International Publishing at Oxford Brookes Unversity in the UK, I worked as a Business Development Manager for a medical publisher in Romania. I acquired project management experience by being involved in several PHARE European projects.

My genuine interest and belief in the open access publishing model began in 2011, while I was still working with subscription journals. An initiative on OA was internally presented within Wiley, which drew my attention and raised my interest in exploring and learning more about this model. Since then and during my time with MDPI, I have experienced first-hand the many benefits of open science. I would encourage other publishers to embrace this model, not only because of the numerous benefits for researchers and other stakeholders but also because it has proven to be a sustainable and effective model for publishers committed to reducing access barriers in the scientific community.

What are MDPI’s views on the future of open access publishing?

We believe the open access model is irreversible and will eventually become the predominant model in scientific publishing. The subscription model had been in steady decline for many years, even before the acceleration of the transition to OA started. Given the obvious benefits for all academic publishing stakeholders (researchers, practitioners, societies, funders, research institutions, companies/industries, governments, and society at large), we don’t believe that authors are willing to continue to publish in journals that have limited or even blocked readership access. That being said, we certainly don’t consider the OA model perfect and there’s plenty to improve about it. At MDPI, we continuously strive to improve the service provided to all of our authors, readers, and the scientific community and work towards reducing access barriers within publishing. We also work closely with many societies and research institutes to help them adopt the open access model for their journals in the most sustainable way.

What do you think the scholarly community can do better, or do more of, to support the advancement of open access?

We believe there needs to be more collaboration across all levels to find flexible options in publishing that allow more people to be involved in open access. This could include, for example, working with others on open infrastructure or finding new ways of collaborating with libraries, academic groups or other publishers. Most importantly, scholars can support open access by choosing to publish their research in OA journals and advocating at the institutional level for the importance of open science from the scholar’s perspective. At MDPI, we pride ourselves on always remaining agile and dynamic to better serve the ever-changing needs of the scholarly community.

Tell us a bit about MDPI’s recent growth. What is the organisation’s strategy?

We’re very pleased that every year authors consistently and increasingly want to publish with MDPI, which has led to our steady growth over the past 26 years. Of course, we still like to stay on our toes to ensure that we remain one of the top OA publishing choices. One way that we maintain this is through our unique content curation practice, in which we offer specialized article collections that focus on topics which are highly relevant to the communities with whom we work, which authors and readers regularly tell us are one of the major advantages of MDPI. Research published within collections (or Special Issues as we call them) is more discoverable, and it engages the community more actively in the journal by allowing researchers to quickly find and share topics that they are most interested in. MDPI’s Special Issues model makes sense in today’s large-scale electronic publishing environment and has remained a very popular method of topic collection that has now been adopted widely by other publishers as well.

What do you think are the most important changes to the open access landscape since we last spoke?

Plan S is certainly playing a key role in the open access landscape. This has been instrumental in creating a coordinated approach among funders and has given the movement real momentum by emphasising research awards and incentives. Plan S has already begun to transform the scientific world. But its success depends on the continued efforts of all publishers and countries joining in.
At present, Plan S has led many big publishers to move towards the use of “transformation agreements (TA)” to help them with the transition. Unfortunately, there have been concerns in recent years that traditional publishers are using TAs to simply change how their subscriptions are funded rather than as a catalyst to reduce barriers by transforming from subscription to fully open access. As a gold open access publisher, we have already seen some of the negative consequences of these transformative deals. In my opinion, researchers should have full freedom to publish in whichever journal best suits their research and expected standard of service, rather than journals their institutions require them to choose because of the deals they have in place. However, we have also been experiencing positive engagement from libraries willing to ensure a fair and equitable collaboration with all publishers. Therefore, I feel optimistic about the future.

It is now 20 years since the first BOAI statement was published. Still we’re talking about how open access will become the default for scholarly publishing and that it’s just a matter of time. What do you think of the speed of adoption of OA as the default publishing model and about the predominance of APCs?

While open access publishing significantly reduces the barriers to access by researchers, authors, and the general public, we certainly recognize that this publishing model doesn’t completely eliminate all barriers. Some libraries, funders or institutions who support OA might still find APCs to be financially challenging for a variety of reasons. At MDPI, we strive to be very flexible with our APCs to ensure that the ideals behind OA can become a reality for all authors. We continue to find alternative solutions to ensure that the costs associated with publishing articles don’t become barriers to publication. Additionally, our journals routinely offer APC waivers on a case-by-case basis, and we partner with almost 600 organizations and institutions around the world through our IOAP membership to be able to offer additional discounts for affiliated researchers.

How is your organization changing or adapting for a future where open access may become the default? Will it have any kind of impact on MDPI and the services it provides?

Since our founding 26 years ago, MDPI has always been a fully open access publisher. Therefore, as pioneers in OA, we wholeheartedly believe in a future in which this publishing model becomes the default. Our role in this future would be to support the scientific community to adapt and embrace OA to bring the concept of sustainable publishing and open science to the global market. Consequently, we will continue to keep ourselves well informed about the needs of the scientific community. Moreover, we intend to maintain our focus on authors by exploring innovative ways to provide them with the best possible service and experience. The only impact this change would have on MDPI is that we would see increased competition. However, we consider this to be a positive effect that is stimulating for the market and that will have a positive impact on scholars, as we will all strive to offer them a better service.

We also plan to increase our active engagement with institutions to offer flexible OA models and provide them with support, such as through membership options like our IOAP, which makes it easier for authors to publish with us via various centralized payment models. We welcome the shift of the scientific world to open science, and it will always remain MDPI’s primary vision for the future of publishing.

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