Springer Nature is committed to being a part of the open-access movement

Institutions, research funding bodies and publishers must all work together to change the system in the interest of advancing research, says Steven Inchcoombe

May 18, 2018
Unlocked open door

As part of our recent IPO process, there was a regulatory requirement for Springer Nature to prepare a “prospectus”: a lengthy legal reference document intended for “qualified investors”.

In the past week, some content from this 400-plus-page document has been taken out of context to make inaccurate and unfair comments about us, our plans and our business; and we want to set the record straight.

We have been accused of “paying lip service” to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). This is not true and is particularly upsetting for our colleagues who are proud to stand firmly behind DORA and who have been implementing the large-scale changes needed to fulfil our obligations. This has seen us stop using journal impact factors in isolation in our marketing (note: a prospectus is a legal document aimed at potential investors, not a marketing tool for authors or librarians). In fact, for more than 10 years, long before DORA, Nature editorials have expressed concerns about the overuse of impact factors and have set out the case for a greater variety of more suitable metrics for different purposes. We continue to see this need, and we will continue to offer our librarians, authors, readers, editors and partners other choices, especially those at article level.

We have been accused of “exploiting” impact factor to market our journals. We are not. At Springer Nature, we have increased the use of other journal-level and article-level metrics including article usage and altmetrics. This is clearly stated in the prospectus, which references the importance of other metrics such as views/downloads or mentions in social media. The fact, however, remains that authors do choose which journals to publish in partly based on their impact factors, which is why we had a duty to explain this. Indeed, their long history of being independently calculated and published means that they are an important reference point in a prospectus, which is a verifiable, fact-based document aimed at investors. In our author survey last year (completed by more than 70,000 authors from all disciplines and regions), a journal’s impact factor is one the top-four criteria when choosing where to submit their draft articles, alongside a journal’s reputation, relevance and quality of peer review, in that order.

Finally, it has been claimed that our only motivation for higher impact factors is to drive higher article-processing charges. This is also not true. Part of our commitment to developing the largest and most comprehensive range of open-access journals in the publishing industry includes a desire to have a range of community-based OA journals, sound science OA journals and selective OA journals. For example, we flipped Nature Communications many years ago to become fully OA to ensure that such a choice existed for authors, and it is now the highest-cited OA journal in the world, demonstrating its appeal to authors and readers alike.

Of course, this also comes at a cost. By definition, the more selective a journal is, the fewer articles it publishes on average compared with the number of submissions it evaluates, requiring greater editorial involvement. For example, Nature Communications now employs 87 in-house editors. The resulting article-processing charge, therefore, has to be higher because, given the way a gold OA journal is funded, an APC can only be charged for each published article; the investment that goes into evaluating all submitted articles, therefore, has to be recouped via a higher APC. So while it is right to say that more selective journals generally have higher impact factors and higher APCs (which is what we said in the prospectus), it is not right to say that we push up impact factors in order to charge higher APCs.

I am very proud of what we do at Springer Nature and of how we do it. The company remains committed to gold open access and the need for a wider and richer set of metrics across our subscription and OA models, and across our journals and books, so that our authors can measure the “impact” of their research, researchers as content consumers are able to evaluate the standing of our journals, their articles and our books, and librarians can make informed purchasing decisions.

Last year, Springer Nature published more articles than ever before and more OA articles than any other publisher by far, and all were used and cited more than ever before. Via BioMed Central and other imprints, we have been driving and shaping OA take‑up from the very beginning of the open science movement. We believe in this because it offers better and faster ways for overall research and discovery to progress, not because it’s easy or cheap for us. We need others (institutions, research funding bodies and the like) to work with us if we are to change the overall system – and we call on them to cooperate with us for the benefit of all researchers.

Steven Inchcoombe is the chief publishing officer at Springer Nature.

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