Springer Nature has proposed a model to accelerate the shift towards open access publishing, in a move that could see research papers from prestigious Nature titles made freely available.
The UK-based firm had previously promoted hybrid journals as a key part of the transition to open access, and warned that European funders’ demand for the results of publicly funded research to be made freely available at the point of publication could put its flagship Nature out of business. It has also questioned some researchers’ enthusiasm for publishing in non-paywalled outlets.
But Steven Inchcoombe, Springer Nature’s chief publishing officer, said its alternative models “clearly didn’t fly” with the architects of the Plan S initiative, the European-led open access mandate that is set to come into force in January, and so it had gone “back to the drawing board”.
The move comes ahead of the publication of updated guidelines for Plan S, due at the end of this month. The scheme’s leaders have indicated that there is unlikely to be a softening of the bar on open access embargoes for funded research, or of their attitude to hybrid journals, which make some content freely available in return for an article processing charge but reserve some content for subscribing readers. Funded research will be able to appear only in hybrid journals during a three-year transition period, and if they were part of a “transformative agreement” under which they were moving towards full open access.
Under Springer Nature’s new proposal, publishers could term themselves “transformative publishers”, under which they would commit to increasing the average level of open access take-up across their titles “at least at the rate of research funding bodies, institutions and consortia”, and would promote open access to researchers by releasing aggregated article metrics showing how they, for example, get more readers and citations than closed access papers.
At the end of a transition period, all of the publishers’ papers – in titles that were formerly hybrid or subscription – would be available open access, even titles such as Nature. Mr Inchcoombe said that, in the case of Nature, this would probably mean researchers being allowed to place their papers in open access depositories, with the journal’s editorial content continuing to be sold via subscriptions.
The transition would be managed through “read and publish” deals with university consortia, similar to Springer Nature’s agreement with the UK which was extended last month – and which currently excludes Nature titles. These charge a set fee for reading all of a publisher’s content, and publishing papers with them.
“We respect academics,” Mr Inchcoombe told Times Higher Education, “but it’s become increasingly clear…that unless we can move from being a passive enabler for academics and researchers to make their choices, to become a driver enabler, the transition is going to happen at a snail’s pace.
“We are not claiming this is some kind of silver bullet, but we do believe that transformative deals are a much more effective way forward.”
Mr Inchcoombe said that Springer Nature had shared its ideas with Plan S and some of the funders that support it.
The announcement was met with some scepticism, however. Jon Tennant, a researcher at the Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and Education, rejected the notion that the company was acting as a leader on open access.
“Springer Nature are the definition of bandwagon jumpers,” he said. “They have been dragged kicking and screaming into the open access space.”
Mr Inchcoombe said that “someone had to go first”, and that he hoped the move would encourage rival publishers to follow suit. “Our job is not to be the most popular in the room,” he said. “But I would hope people consider this model with an open mind – we can’t do it by ourselves.”