UK rejects ‘inexplicable’ price hike for Nature journals

Universities seeking significant savings after Elsevier victory

May 24, 2022
Shocked lady looking at her notepad to illustrate UK rejects ‘inexplicable’ price hike for Nature journals
Source: Getty

UK universities face another stand-off with a major academic publisher after rejecting a proposal that would have seen them pay nearly £1 million extra annually to read and publish in Nature journals.

With the UK sector keen to make “significant savings” as several big publisher deals expire this year, the content group acting on behalf of Universities UK (UUK) has rejected a read-and-publish proposal for 35 Nature-branded journals “due to cost”, according to an internal email seen by Times Higher Education.

The proposal would require subscribers to pay Springer Nature an extra £940,000 on top of 2022 subscription fees – a 19 per cent increase – while still requiring a separate agreement for Nature Review and Palgrave-branded titles.

The decision by UUK’s content negotiation strategy group to “unanimously” reject the publisher’s proposal comes as negotiations with two other large publishers – Wiley and Taylor & Francis – continue, with all three existing deals set to be renegotiated by late December.

The strategy follows lengthy talks with Elsevier, the world’s biggest academic publisher, which eventually concluded in a three-year open access deal announced in March that will allow both unlimited open access publishing and access to paywalled journals for what was described by Jisc, which led negotiations on behalf of UUK, as a “significant reduction on current institutional spend”.

Phil Sykes, director of libraries, museums and galleries at the University of Liverpool, who has been involved in previous national-level negotiating rounds with international publishers, said he was surprised to see Springer Nature “picking a fight with universities in this way”.

“It is inexplicable,” said Mr Sykes, a former chair of Research Libraries UK, who reflected that Springer Nature “must have seen the outcome of the Elsevier negotiations”. “In what possible universe would universities who have achieved a 15 per cent price decrease, and a full read-and-publish deal, with the biggest science publisher in the world, suddenly decide that they are content with a 19 per cent increase from Springer?” said Mr Sykes.

Given recent efforts by universities to mitigate the loss of access to journals run by big publishers, chiefly via inter-university loans, the “underlying threat that used to enable publishers to exploit universities has simply gone”, he added.

“Springer need to wake up to the new realities to avoid not only a disastrous outcome for them in the UK, but a precedent that will be deeply damaging to their global business,” said Mr Sykes.

The current impasse follows the decision by Jisc to exclude the marquee title Nature, as well as Nature research journals and Palgrave titles, from its list of “transformative journals” compliant with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) requirements, in effect barring UK-based researchers from using research council funds to pay for their article processing charges. In the case of Nature, that is £8,290 (€9,500) per paper.

However, Springer Nature has insisted that a time-limited “compliant route” is available in which researchers can deposit an author-accepted manuscript or version of record that would allow UKRI funds to be used.

This solution will run until the end of December, when it is hoped that a new Springer Nature deal may have been agreed.

The publisher said that discussions with Jisc “continue to be cooperative” and that both sides were “working together towards an agreement”.

Jisc said it was seeking a deal for the Nature and Palgrave titles “that meets the sector’s requirements”. “Whilst the latest proposal was rejected, we continue to work with Springer Nature to achieve an acceptable outcome to the negotiations,” it said.

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