UK stands by hybrid journals in ‘read and publish’ Springer deal

Three-year agreement, valued at £9.6 million, excludes Springer Nature’s prestigious Nature-branded titles

April 26, 2019
Hybrid fruit

UK universities have extended their “read and publish” deal with Springer Nature, continuing to rely on hybrid journals despite growing opposition to the model.

The three-year agreement struck by Jisc Collections, announced on 26 April, will allow UK researchers to make their articles freely available in Springer-branded hybrid periodicals and will also grant them access to subscription articles.

Jisc said that the cost of the deal, which covers 2,150 titles, was £9.6 million, an inflationary increase on the original agreement struck in 2016.

Significantly, however, access to the publisher’s most prestigious titles – Nature and its associated journals – is not included in the deal for now. Jisc said that Springer Nature would allow access to Nature­-branded academic journals by 2020, but that this would not include Nature itself.

The agreement was announced after rival publisher Elsevier struck its first read-and-publish deal with Norwegian universities after a steady stream of cancellations of contracts based around traditional subscription models.

However, the Springer Nature deal continues to rely on hybrid journals, despite criticism of the model – under which titles offer a mix of subscription-only and open access papers – from the leaders of Plan S, the European-led open access initiative. Signatories, including UK Research and Innovation, the umbrella group for the UK’s research funding councils, have committed to require publication of research that they have supported on open access platforms.

Plan S leaders have criticised hybrid journals as being expensive and a poor way of achieving a swift transition to full open access, but have allowed a three-year transition period during which publication in them will still be allowed, provided that titles have made a commitment to switch to full open access.

Jisc said that the deal “meets the aims of Plan S”.

“Given that we are still waiting on further clarification on how other Coalition S signatories including UKRI will apply the implementation guidance, we have done as much as we can to negotiate an agreement that meets the information available now and that meets our requirements for transformative agreements,” Caren Milloy, deputy director of Jisc Collections, told Times Higher Education.

In an interview with THE earlier this year, Steven Inchcoombe, chief publishing officer at Springer Nature, called Plan S’ proposed deadline for the phasing-out of hybrid journals a “big concern”, stressing the high cost of flipping hybrid journals to full open access.

But Ms Milloy said that the publisher’s investment in infrastructure, workflows and research support “signals a clear commitment by Springer Nature to transition to full open access”.

David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England and co-chair of the implementation task force for Plan S, said that he welcomed the renewed deal.

“I’m delighted to see that Springer Nature and Jisc are working together to align to Plan S, and it reinforces my view that publishers want to offer options at a reasonable price that deliver full and immediate open access,” he said.

Jisc said that about 74 per cent of UK researchers publishing in eligible Springer journals currently chose to publish open access, but that this was expected to approach 100 per cent by 2020.

Ms Milloy added: “Clearly, we would want to see Nature, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Cell Biology etc, as part of this agreement, but it needs to be at an acceptable price level, and this is a challenge with [these] titles.”

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