Nature Communications goes fully open access

The decision to make the prestigious journal Nature Communications fully open access amounts to a “flag in the ground” on the issue

September 25, 2014

That was the comment by Sam Burridge, managing director for open research at the journal’s publisher, Nature Publishing Group, ahead of the announcement of the decision on 23 September.

The journal will be the first so-called top-end journal to go fully open access – although the Wellcome Trust-backed eLife, which also aspires to attract the best quality papers, was launched in 2012 as a fully open access journal. Nature Communications has the third highest impact factor among multidisciplinary journals, behind only Science and Nature itself.

Nature Communications was launched in 2010 as a “hybrid” journal, which allows authors to choose to pay to make their papers open access. However, Ms Burridge said she had been struck by a study carried out earlier this year indicating that articles in the journal that were made open access were downloaded twice as often as often as papers that were not.

She also felt that the prestige of the Nature brand would allow it to overcome the perception among some researchers than open access journals are of lower quality than subscription journals.

Nature Publishing Group already has a fully open access journal, Scientific Reports, but it does not bear the Nature brand and, like other “megajournals”, selects papers on the basis of scientific rigour rather than significance.

Ms Burridge said Nature Communications would continue to be highly selective, publishing only around 18 per cent of papers submitted to it, when it makes the switch from 20 October. Its article fee will also remain unchanged at £3,150 or $5,200. A range of licences will be offered, including the permissive CC BY which is required by Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust.

Nature’s rival publishing stable, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the Science journals, has recently been criticised by open access advocates for launching a new open access journal called Science Advances that will charge an additional $1,000 (£612) on top of the basic fee of $3,000 for a CC BY licence.

Ms Burridge said the launch of eLife and an increasing number of hybrid open access options among the “big players” had helped convince her it was the time right to convert the first existing flagship journal to a fully open access model.   

“Our job is to accelerate discovery, not rest on our laurels because something is working. I wanted to put a flag in the ground which said we are committed to open access,” she said.

But there were still no plans to make Nature itself open access since its even higher level of selectivity – publishing only 5 to 7 per cent of submissions – meant she still did not currently see how it could be sustainably funded by affordable article fees.

“I also think the [visibility] problem isn’t there. The visibility of Nature articles is very high because it is Nature,” she added.

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