A faster path to an open future

Springer Nature Group
By: Steven Inchcoombe, Wed May 8 2019
Steven Inchcoombe

Author: Steven Inchcoombe

Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature

At Springer Nature we want to find the fastest and most effective route to immediate open access (OA) for all primary research. This blog describes a potential significant way to progress it and we are asking other interested stakeholders to read, consider and comment on this LinkedIn post so all can see if this would receive widespread support.

A Faster Path To An Open Future

In February, along with many others, we responded to the consultation request from cOAlition S on its implementation guidance.  In our submission, we expressed continued strong support for hybrid journals, given they currently publish most of the world’s research and their proven ability to enable growth in OA take-up, particularly as part of transformative read and publish deals where we have seen 73-90% success rates. In light of the evidence we presented, we asked Plan S to think again. Similarly, we explained why Plan S’s proposed zero embargo green OA, immediately utilising a CC BY license, would not be a sustainable alternative.

Although we await the conclusions of cOAlition S’s consultation, we understand that their views haven’t changed and that Plan S will require hybrid journals to commit to flip to OA within a specified period. No one, no research funding body, no cOAlition S member, and certainly no publisher, can control the rate at which other research funding bodies and institutions will commit to OA transition. Indeed, at this point in time over 90% of funders are not part of Plan S and some of the largest of these have said that they will not require or commit to fund OA transition. As such, this leaves us with a supply and demand problem. Publishers cannot be expected to supply a rapid increase in the OA pipeline by flipping their journals to 100% OA without matching demand from authors and funders.

So we went back to the drawing board to reconsider what commitments and changes we and other publishers could make to progress the goal of full and immediate OA for all primary research while addressing the frustrations felt by some funders, policy makers and institutions.

Transformative Publishers stimulate demand and fuel supply

What did we conclude? That as publishers, while we cannot force change upon researchers, institutions, and research funding bodies, we can move from being an enabler to being a driver of the OA transition. We can stimulate demand by advocating, promoting, educating, and making the technical changes needed to measure and showcase the benefits of OA, and ensure our pricing and fees leave no doubt about which articles are funded in which ways during the transition. We can work together to establish a set of standards that all agree to and that compliance is measured against to embed trust and confidence in all stakeholders – researchers, institutions and funding bodies. To make it easy to recognise compliance with this standard, those meeting the criteria could be called a Transformative Publisher. The full proposed requirements of this standard can be found in the attached document.

Essentially, a Transformative Publisher would commit to continuously increase the average level of OA take-up across its whole fully owned journal portfolio, at least at the rate of research funding bodies, institutions and consortia.

It would be able to do this, firstly, via ‘transformative’ read and publish deals which are already proven to accelerate the transition to OA by significantly increasing OA take-up. Transformative Publishers would commit to offer them where institutions, consortia or research funding bodies wish to use them and to scale them when in place. Since their negotiating process and system needs have limited their use, we need to find ways to eliminate these constraints.

In the four European countries where Springer Nature’s transformative deals are most mature, well over 70% of authors published by us from those countries are now publishing OA.  In one country this is over 90%.  So the benefits are definitely worth it but why isn’t this yet 100%? Because despite the funding being there, some authors still opt out of OA even when publishing in journals where that option is available.

Which is why secondly, and fundamental to how this approach would succeed, Transformative Publishers would increase demand from individual researchers by measuring and promoting the benefits of OA directly. As we know that OA articles are cited more, downloaded more and have greater impact, it will turn publishers’ passive approach to offering OA into an active one where the benefits of OA are promoted to the authors at every step of their journey.  

To do this, Transformative Publishers would create and provide aggregated metadata that distinguishes OA articles from subscription articles so that article metrics (usage, citations and online attention) can be calculated and compared within a journal. This would be an important step in our transition from a journal to an article level system and it would need the help and buy-in of organisations like Crossref, Clarivate, Scopus, Altmetrics and COUNTER. Resulting comparisons of article metrics within a journal, demonstrating OA benefits that could directly or indirectly affect academic selection committee decisions, would make the benefits of choosing OA transparent to researchers and so help OA selection by journal authors and ultimately drive transformation of the journal.

These data could also be used by institutional librarians to assess value for money for any non-OA content and eliminate doubt about any double payments. Similarly, Transformative Publishers could go further and provide - to the degree possible under the law –transparency around the rationale for APC pricing bands and the value/cost that these reflect.

Transformative Publishers would then need to adapt all the hybrid and subscription journals which they own so that they comply with all the above. Those that comply could be called Transformative Journals during the transition, at the end of which they would be 100% OA for primary research. Importantly we think even highly selective journals like Nature could make this commitment.  It could therefore put all journals on the road to OA, as opposed to the current situation where some can’t even get started.

We continue to believe, as evidenced by our actions over many years, that all published primary research should be open to all as soon as possible so all researchers around the world can easily and immediately read, use and build on all research, to accelerate future discoveries. Funded OA publishing is the best way to achieve this.

We have shared the idea of Transformative Publishers and Transformative Journals with the leadership of cOAlition S and some of cOAlition S’s members but we would like to hear any views that others are able to share from the wider community - researchers, institutional librarians, research institutions and publishers - on this idea. Please see this Linkedin post to share your views.

View our proposal here

Transformative Publishing Infographic

Steven Inchcoombe

Author: Steven Inchcoombe

Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature

Steven Inchcoombe is Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature. His responsibilities cover all Springer Nature’s research publishing and editorial activities. Previously Steven was CEO at Nature Publishing Group and President of Scientific American. Prior to that Steven was Publisher at the Financial Times, led ft.com and spent 10 years in a variety of roles at financial database business IDC ultimately responsible for the company’s strategy. Steven was awarded a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, where he read Physics and later qualified as a chartered accountant with PWC.