The publisher of Nature has agreed its first deal to allow some researchers to publish in the journal, and in 33 other Nature-branded titles, under open-access (OA) terms.
Research published in Nature and its sister journals is behind a paywall, although the journals have sometimes chosen to make articles OA. But in April, publisher Springer Nature announced that it would offer open-accessing publishing routes for its most selective journals that would comply with Plan S, a European-led initiative to open up the scientific literature. (Nature is editorially independent of its publisher.)
The Germany Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL) in Munich has now negotiated the first such arrangement, which will start from 2021. The deal, announced on 20 October, is being offered to around 120 German institutions that currently subscribe to Nature-branded titles. The first to sign up is the Max Planck Society, a major association of German research institutes, says Ralf Schimmer, head of information at the MPDL. Only papers with corresponding authors from participating institutes will be made open access; past trends suggest that’s around 400 papers in 2021 for all the German institutions eligible for the deal, or about 3.5% of articles in the Nature-branded journals.
According to the terms of the four-year deal, institutions that sign up will pay a lump sum covering the reading and open-access publishing of articles in the 34 journals, as well as access to articles in a further 21 Nature Reviews titles. The sum is calculated on the basis of a price of €9,500 (US$11,200) per article. This is much higher than the per-article OA fees charged by other selective journals, which are below US$6,000.
Schimmer calls the offer “very attractive”. But he acknowledges that the per-article price is unprecedented. He thinks it’s “not a problem” because universities generally don’t publish many articles in these titles, compared with the amount they publish in less-selective journals, which get more of their OA publishing budget. At the same time, “we will see a lot of negative commentary about this price point”, he says.
Some other open-access advocates criticized the deal. “Agreements that arrange for paying exorbitant amounts for publishing OA in prestigious journals do nothing to improve the accessibility and equitability of the scholarly publishing system, and merely show everything can be had if you just throw enough money at it,” Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer, two librarians and scholarly communication researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, wrote in an e-mail.
Springer Nature said in a press release that its cost per published article was higher than that for less-selective journals because of the work put in by its in-house staff and the journals’ high rejection rate. (German institutions paid around €2,750 per article for an OA publish-and-read deal with Springer Nature’s other journals, announced in January, for instance.) Only 8% of submissions to Nature and Nature-branded journals are published, and 60% of editors’ time is spent on assessing manuscripts they don’t publish, Springer Nature said; it added that investment in journalism and other content beyond primary research contributed to the cost.
The publisher also said that the agreement was “unlikely to be suitable for all funders and consortia”, and that it was “developing further OA options” for authors around the world for papers submitted from January 2021; information on that would be announced later in the year, it said. In June, Springer Nature signed a large OA deal with the University of California (UC) system, which didn’t cover its Nature family of journals. But the publisher did promise to explore OA publishing in those journals, for UC corresponding authors, to begin in 2022.
The MPDL agreement is “a good step, but we see a need for further progress”, says Jeff MacKie-Mason, an economist and university librarian at UC Berkeley who is co-chair of the UC publishers’ negotiations team. “We understand the production model for Nature is more expensive, but the scholarly publishing industry needs to change the way it selects and publishes the most prestigious articles, to be sustainable for authors and their institutions.”
Ever since some research funders have begun to insist that papers be made OA as soon as they appear in journals, publishers of highly selective journals, such as Nature, Science and Cell, have been trying to work out how to shift away from charging subscribers and towards OA publishing models. The MPDL deal, says Schimmer, is constructed on the basis that Springer Nature would maintain the income it might otherwise have expected from subscriptions in the next four years, including to new titles it’s launching. If multiple institutions sign up, some would pay more than others, depending on how many articles they publish in the journals. The Max Planck Society, for instance, which is likely to publish more articles than other German institutions, would see the highest cost increase of around 20% each year in the price of its Springer Nature deal, he says.
The €9,500 publishing fee is high, says Robert Kiley, the coordinator of cOAlition S, the group of funders backing Plan S. He notes that cOAlition S has developed a transparency framework that will help funded researchers to determine whether publishing fees are in line with the services provided. Still, “it is good to see the Nature-branded journals develop publishing options which allows research articles to be made available to all at the time of publication”, says Kiley, who is also head of open research at the biomedical-research funder Wellcome in London.
The publisher of Science-branded journals, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has said that it is exploring a different OA model. Its approach allows authors to post an accepted version of their article in an online repository at the same time as their paper is published. The publisher has allowed this since 2013, but not in a way that complies with Plan S, which demands that manuscripts be shared under an open licence that would allow anyone else to redistribute or adapt the work.