Springer Nature may pull Plan S backing over ‘unfair’ rules

World’s second-biggest publisher says proposals to accelerate switch to open access would not be sustainable for many titles

December 17, 2019
Source: Alamy

The world’s second-largest academic publisher has warned that it may pull its journals out of the Plan S project over new proposals to accelerate the switch to open access.

In an open letter published on 17 December, Springer Nature says new criteria for journals wishing to comply with Plan S, the push by some of the world’s biggest research funders to ensure articles are freely available, are “neither fair, reasonable or sustainable” and may “put the goal of full and immediate open access at risk”.

In a statement, Springer Nature said that “unless changes are made [it] would be unable to commit to its journals participating” in Plan S.

An underlying principle of Plan S is that researchers funded by participating agencies – which includes 17 European national research agencies, plus the European Union – will be able to publish only in open-access titles from January 2021. Academics will also be able to publish in journals that are not fully open access during a three-year transition period, provided their publishers have signed what are called “transformative agreements” committing to switch fully to open access.

Under the latest proposals, individual journals could also be designated as “transformative”, provided that they increased the share of open access content by at least 8 percentage points a year, and committed to going fully open access either before the end of 2024, or when at least half of content has become open access.

In Springer Nature’s letter, however, its chief publishing officer, Steven Inchcoombe, warns that the “thresholds proposed by [Plan S] could have unintended consequences” and “many journals may have to rule themselves out [of becoming transformative journals], resulting in a slowdown of the very transition we both want to see”.

Asking journals to commit to the 8 percentage point conversion rate would require, in effect, the two largest US funders and the largest Japanese funder to switch to open access in a single year, with similar changes needed to occur every year thereafter, Mr Inchcoombe explains.

Federal funders in the US have so far refused to consider signing up to Plan S, while the plan has also yet to gain traction in Japan.

Instead, Springer Nature, which controls about 3,000 journals, suggests year-on-year growth of open access should continue at its current pace, with progress to be reviewed in 2024.

A journal should be flipped to open access only when 90 per cent of its content is free to read, it adds.

Concerns have also been raised that Plan S’ criterion requiring transformative journals to waive publication fees for researchers from low- and middle-income countries may undermine the sustainability of those journals seeking to become open access.

The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, known as STM, says that the “specified targets will be difficult to achieve and support without a significant number of new funders and institutions willing to financially support the transition” to open access, given that just 6 per cent of all journal articles are connected to funding by Plan S backers.

“Setting a blanket ‘tipping point’ does not recognise the differences in funding which exist across research communities,” said the STM in its consultation response.

“Some journals would be able to transition to full OA when they reach a 50 per cent penetration rate, however others would not prove sustainable with the remaining 50 per cent made up of many unfunded authors,” it added.

The plans are open to consultation until 6 January next year, with a final version expected in March.


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Reader's comments (1)

Aww... diddums. Are the nasty old funding bodies treating poor little publishers unfairly? Is ickle-wickle Springer Nature going to have less than 23% profit margins to play with? Mean old Plan S. BAD Plan S. This response from the big publishers is of course entirely to be expected. The only thing putting "the goal of full and immediate open access at risk” is the continued refusal of the biggest publishers to dismantle their taxpayer-funded oligopoly. We know it, they know it. Its three decades since the internet rendered the scholarly journal obsolete and yet here we still are. Researchers need to quit hand-wringing and get behind Plan S. We finally have a chance to end this nonsense.