University of California in open access deal with Springer Nature

Landmark US agreement is hailed as ‘significant milestone’ in shift to open access publishing in North America

June 16, 2020

The University of California has agreed the largest transformative open access publishing agreement in US history after signing a four-year deal with Springer Nature.

Under the landmark read-and-publish deal unveiled on 16 June, all research published by University of California (UC) scholars in more than 2,700 of Springer Nature’s journals will be open access.

From 2021, all UC corresponding authors will be able to publish their articles open access as the default option in its 2,200 hybrid journals and 500 fully open access titles thanks to financial support from the university’s libraries.

To fund the switch to open access, the university will pay the first $1,000 (£798) of the Springer Nature article processing charge (APC), with authors asked to use money from research funding bodies to cover the remaining costs. Those authors unable to access funding for this purpose will, in turn, see the charges covered by the university in full. In 2019, the average APC for a hybrid title was $3,208 (£2,560).

For 2021 and 2022, hybrid journal list prices will be at 2019 levels, increasing by 2 per cent in 2023. For 2021, Springer Nature will offer a 15 per cent discount on the 2020 list price APCs it uses for fully open access titles and has vowed that annual APC rises will not exceed 3.5 per cent per journal title.

The full financial cost of Springer Nature’s first open access deal in North America is not yet available but will be released later.

The prestigious Nature journals are not included in the first phase of the deal, but the world’s second largest publisher has committed to developing a transformative path for these titles, which will be ready by the beginning of 2022.

Welcoming the agreement, UC president Janet Napolitano said that the Covid-19 crisis had made it “abundantly clear why researchers need immediate, unfettered access to each other’s work to spur new discoveries and make timely advancements in health care”.

Frank Vrancken Peeters, chief executive of Springer Nature, called the agreement a “significant milestone in the global transition to gold open access”.

“It demonstrates that gold open access is possible even when funding is complex and puts the US firmly on the path to open access,” he added, saying the deal showed the shift to open access “can be compatible with protecting library budgets while supporting research output growth”.

The deal is highly significant because pundits had questioned whether the high publication volumes of top US universities made it uneconomical to start paying APCs instead of subscription charges. In 2019, UC published some 1,400 articles in Springer Nature’s hybrid and fully open access journals, with the university system accounting for 10 per cent of all US research output last year.

The deal will also put pressure on Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher, to agree a similar open access deal with California for its 2,500 journals, having seen its previous deal lapse in January 2019 – with UC staff unable to access the portfolio since July 2019.

The mixed model of APC funding – drawing on author funds and institutional support – is believed to have been a sticking point in negotiations but its adoption by Springer Nature may make it harder for Elsevier to oppose this.

“This is the same model that we proposed to Elsevier,” Jeff MacKie-Mason, university librarian, economics professor at UC Berkeley and co-chair of UC’s publisher negotiation team, told Times Higher Education. He added that California had “already successfully implemented this model with three other publishers: Cambridge University Press, JMIR Publications and PLOS”.

“Now that publishers of all sizes and types − for-profit as well as non-profit societies − have adopted this model, we hope that Elsevier is listening,” said Professor MacKie-Mason.

“Springer Nature has shown real leadership in embracing the move toward open access,” added Ivy Anderson, associate executive director of the California Digital Library, who co-chairs UC’s publisher negotiation team.

“We are delighted at the prospect of working together to advance the free exchange of ideas and knowledge that will better the world,” she said.

Springer Nature signed its first transformative agreement in 2014 with the Netherlands and now has 11 national agreements in place including the world’s largest by article volume with Projekt DEAL in Germany.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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