From scholarly society journals to highly selective journals: finding sustainable models to transition to open access

Research Publishing
By: Ruth Wilson, Tue Oct 26 2021

The below will be presented in full as part of the Berlin 15th Annual OA conference.

Ruth Wilson

Author: Ruth Wilson

Publishing Director, Nature Journals

Earlier this year, authors for the first time, were able to publish Gold Open Access (OA) when submitting to Nature and the 32 primary research journals. As such they became the first highly selective journals to offer authors an immediate OA publishing option in this way. Ruth Wilson discusses the motivation for the portfolios OA transition and outlines the challenges that are faced by moving highly selective titles to OA.

Motivations for OA

At Springer Nature we have been committed to driving the transition to OA for over 20 years. Using our experience, therefore, we have worked hard to come up with a range of sustainable options to enable all authors, regardless of discipline, funding or location, to publish OA with us. We were recently able to extend this to our highly selective journal Nature.  

The drive for OA comes for a multitude of directions. With our Nature journals, we need to respond to our customers' needs (be they authors, institutions, librarians or funders) many of whom are embracing gold OA.  However, alongside that is our firm company commitment to OA and open science – a firm belief that being OA will accelerate the scientific process and help solve real world problems.  The recent pandemic has further cemented this view.   

The Nature Journals have long supported open science through a whole host of initiatives: Encouraging the deposition of protocols; requiring data availability statements; peer review of code; support of preprints; and standard reproducibility checks for more robust experimental design.  Because the version of record (VoR) article is at the central hub of these outputs linking them together it needs to be the VOR article that is OA, which is why we are firmly behind gold OA.  

As global publications we also need to provide options for all authors. Different disciplines are embracing OA at different rates and different parts of the world are moving funds from subscription spend to support for OA at different speeds. So we need multiple ways to enable OA and also mixed models - OA and subscription – to ensure that we can support all on a sustainable path to OA, with access to and publication in their journal of choice. 

Challenges for highly selective titles

Nature journals have two aspects that make them unusual - low acceptance rate and its in-house editors. Nature and the Nature research journals publish far fewer articles compared with the number of submissions they evaluate, requiring greater editorial involvement and associated costs (editors spend the majority of the time they invest in assessing manuscripts on content that is not published and with only 8% of submissions published the cost per article is driven as much by what is not published as by what is). We are absolutely rigorous in our quality of the papers that are accepted - everything we do is about publishing the best quality science and supporting it through a rigorous high quality publishing process. 

To achieve the level of curation and editorial rigour we have a large number of expert staff working on primary research content every day.  Over 280 highly qualified specialist staff work on the creation of Nature and the Nature-branded research journals’ exceptional primary content every day. Our biggest in-house team (over 190) are our dedicated in-house editors, all PhD trained and previously active researchers, who personally guide and support authors through the peer review and revision process, working with them to ensure their final manuscript is the best it can possibly be. After acceptance, we continue to work with our authors to ensure their best work has the greatest reach and impact possible so it can be read, understood and built upon. Editorial teams spend around 60% of their time assessing and peer reviewing manuscripts and of that time around 60% is spent in deciding what not to publish. 

On average, primary articles in Nature and the Nature research journals are cited twelve times more and downloaded around 34 times more than articles in mid-tier journals with more modest publication charges. It is this very selectivity that is so valued by our readers/communities, supporting them in identifying significant research, thus saving time for millions of researchers. So the essence of the Nature Journals (selectivity and expert in-house staff) are the very same that make the move to OA challenging.

The question we have therefore always posed for ourselves, were not do we want to move to OA - but rather how can we do it with the challenges I have set out and staying true to our mission and values - to continue to publish the best science, maintain editorial rigour and be sustainable long term.  

Move to OA

Our solution offers three routes to give as much choice to authors and in recognition of differing circumstances. In January 2021 Nature and the nature portfolio moved from a pure subscription model to offering OA for primary research.  

Not only that but the Nature Journals are Transformative Journals (TJ) meaning that, while authors will continue to have a choice of publishing via either the subscription or the immediate (gold) open access route, they are committed to transitioning to full open access for primary research content and are signed up to the accompanying metrics set out by Plan S. As such, no author should be prevented from publishing in these journals due to an inability to pay the APC.

Springer Nature has a long track record developing transformative agreements and that expertise and experience has now been applied to the Nature Journals, the first of which is in place with MPDL and several others are in negotiation.  TA’ enabling subscription spend to be repurposed for OA.

Our aim is always to ensure that Nature and the Nature research journals operate at a sustainable level, so that they can continue to serve the research community for decades to come. Although the APC for Nature, meets the requirement to be able to support a sustainable and effective route to OA whilst also enabling us to continue to offer the high quality, selectively, editorial support and author services as well as academic rigour and reproducibility that the Nature- portfolio is known for, we are aware that it is a sum. As such we are also currently experimenting with a new model as a pilot - Guided Open access where the costs of publishing in a participating RJ will be lower.  Here we are experimenting with how to spread costs through the publication process depending on the services provided and have a split publishing fee with an editorial assessment change and a top up APC.   

 It’s very early days for Nature OA but we are seeing encouraging take up in all three streams.  

 Ruth will also be talking at R2R this year and at UKSG 2022 on Nature and its transition to OA, so catch more on its update and developments later this year and early next.

Ruth Wilson

Author: Ruth Wilson

Publishing Director, Nature Journals

Ruth Wilson is Publishing Director of the Nature Research Journals. She is responsible for the business development of the journals, working closely with editorial, marketing and sales departments. Ruth has had a varied career at Springer Nature (and prior to that Nature Publishing Group) over the last 18 years working in publishing, project management, editorial and web development roles . Prior to moving into publishing she was a postdoc at Cornell University where she used laser spectroscopy and imaging techniques to study the UV photo-dissociation of ozone.