Continuing the open access transition in 2021 and beyond

Research Publishing
By: Steven Inchcoombe, Thu Apr 8 2021

At Springer Nature we are strong advocates for open science and, as part of this, big supporters of gold open access (OA).  Creating a more efficient research system starts with ensuring that the final version of all primary research is immediately and openly accessible from the moment of publication to be used, re-used, cited, shared and built upon. Gold OA is the most efficient way of delivering this, providing authors with increased citations and downloads and giving researchers immediate access to the version of the article they overwhelmingly want to use

However, for those of us committed to accelerating the transition to immediate gold OA, 2021 has come with a new challenge - the introduction by cOAlition S of its Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) and its  determination that zero-embargo green OA be used as an alternative to gold OA.  As we have made clear from the outset in our Plan S submission and contributions to blogs and letters, seeking to assert a prior CC BY licence on the accepted manuscript (AM) version of an article risks undermining the transition to immediate open access to the version of record, a goal we had thought cOAlition S shared with us.  This RRS/zero-embargo green OA approach forces publishers into defending subscription income since this is the only income available to pay for their per article costs. Further, this RRS/zero-embargo green OA approach has introduced significant confusion for authors with the priority it gives zero embargo green OA even if a journal provides a compliant immediate OA option for the version of record.

In order to minimise this confusion, at Springer Nature we will be taking the following approach to make things as simple as possible, to avoid our authors being placed in a difficult position, and to deliver on our commitment to a sustainable OA path that ensures the integrity of the system.

  • We will continue to promote gold OA at every opportunity as the best route to OA   
  • With a gold OA option now available on all our research journals this is the option Plan S authors will need to take to be sure they are compliant with their grant requirements. 
  • To support this, we will continue to do all we can to operate, extend and add to the large number of Transformative Agreements we already have in place to ensure OA APC funding is available in as many countries, for as many journals, and for as many authors as possible.
  • For any remaining authors that are subject to these Plan S requirements we will continue to work with cOAlition S members to help authors access the funds they need to ensure their compliance. 
  • If, despite the above, any author who is required to publish immediate OA by their funder does not have the funds available for the APC on their chosen journal then our free OA funding advice service is still available to help them. And if this doesn’t succeed then further support may also be possible at our own cost but we will discuss this individually with relevant authors on a case by case basis.
  • As we only ever assess manuscripts on their editorial merit, manuscripts which contain RRS language will not be rejected on that ground and we will not remove that text before publication if it is included in a section that is a normal part of the published article.  
  • However if authors still wish to publish via the subscription route (or are directed to do so by their funders) despite the availability of a funded gold OA option, they will be required to sign our licences which allow the AM to be shared only after an embargo period. 

Our approach here, therefore, like our approach to the OA transition as a whole, is focused on finding a solution for all our authors. Most authors support the OA transition, value the final published version of record, and want to do the right thing with respect to their grant requirements while retaining the choice of where they can submit their research. However navigating a path that ticks all these boxes is not being made any easier by a default requirement from Plan S that constrains how they submit and where they publish - and for those that can't find the funds for gold OA, it essentially puts them in a position where they are asked to make conflicting commitments. Sustainable OA through funded unrestricted access to the version of record is the solution and route to the benefits of Open Science and so we will help them and the OA transition by facilitating this for authors put in this situation. 

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 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.