Meeting the OA2020 challenge in 2020

Research Publishing
By: Steven Inchcoombe, Thu Oct 22 2020
Steven Inchcoombe

Author: Steven Inchcoombe

Chief Publishing Officer and Solutions Officer, Springer Nature

In 2015 at the 12th Berlin Conference, the research community was set a challenge; to accelerate the transition of scholarly communication to universal open access by transforming today’s scholarly journals, currently locked behind paywalls, to open publication models.  This initiative from researchers, libraries, institutions and organisations became known as the OA2020 initiative.  

This week is Open Access Week 2020 and the theme of the week is ‘open with purpose’.  As a purpose-led publisher committed to open research, it seemed an opportune time to reflect on what progress we have made at Springer Nature this year to help the community meet that challenge.  

Our commitment to gold OA remains undiminished. We went into 2020 as the largest overall publisher of OA articles, the largest publisher of OA primary research in 2019 and the publisher with the highest number of country level  transformative read and publish agreements. Since then we have:

Significantly expanded our transformative agreements 

2020 saw us agree our first TA within Asia with Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India and the largest TA to date in North America with the University of California.  Having a great partner with CDL and a shared vision this milestone agreement provides an excellent model for others in the US to hopefully follow.  

Building on our relationship with MPDL, which started with the original Springer Compact agreement back in 2015 and extended with our groundbreaking German national agreement with Projekt DEAL, we were delighted to be able to celebrate another milestone moment with them this year.  Our agreement to facilitate OA publishing in our Nature journals marks the first transformative agreement for a portfolio of highly selective journals of any publisher.  This is an announcement of which we are particularly proud with it being the first step for the Nature portfolio in its path to gold OA.  

We have invested time and effort into understanding how to accelerate the transition and our experience of these agreements have led us to understand the absolutely crucial role they play  Building on data released as part of OA Week in 2017, new data released by us in August showed how Springer Nature’s existing TAs see author take up reaching over 90%.  By supporting countries in making the research they have funded immediately and openly accessible to all, TAs really are the fastest pathway to OA. 

Commitment to transitioning all journals to OA  

In 2019 we introduced the concept of Transformative Journals.  We did this as we felt that such journals, which proactively promoted the benefits of OA to increase uptake while supporting any author who wishes to publish in the journal regardless of their funding situation, were needed as a necessary complement to Transformative Agreements in the transition to OA.

We very much welcomed the adoption of this concept by cOAlition S and in April formally committed to transition all our owned journals to transformative journals.  This involved agreeing to meet the challenging criteria set by cOAlition S to enable authors funded by Plan S members to continue to have the full choice of journals in which to publish when their new requirements come into effect in January 2021.  This ensures that smaller publishers for whom national deals are challenging and countries and funders for whom transformative deals are challenging are not disenfranchised, and that highly selective journals for which routes for inclusion in national agreements are still being explored and journals that contain other types of content as well as primary research, are able to join the transitionto OA. 

Reaching a milestone in OA book publishing 

As the largest academic book publisher we felt that OA books was an area too often overlooked in OA discussions so eight years ago we set about finding a solution for this, launching a dedicated OA book programme in 2012. Six years later, in 2018, the OA books programme comprised 500 OA books with over 30 million chapter downloads. Only two years later, the total OA book output has now doubled, and the number of chapters downloaded nearly tripled. Publishing our 1000th OA book in 2020 was a very proud moment for us. Open access increases the visibility, readership, and impact of scholarly books, and we are delighted to be at the forefront in helping more authors benefit from this, given the important role books play in scholarly communication. 

Advancing our OA portfolio 

May saw us reach an important moment in OA journal publishing with BMC, our fully OA imprint, celebrating its 20th Anniversary.  As biomedcentral it was the first commercial open access (OA) publisher and since then has pioneered a sustainable approach to OA and developed robust open policies for open research that have guided industry standards for OA. It developed a sustainable business model for OA, through the introduction of the ‘OA charge’, now commonly known as an article processing charge (APC), an approach that enabled OA to be seen as a scalable option for the first time, was the first publisher to promote a fair and transparent approach to peer review with the introduction of open peer review practices, and developed robust policies on data sharing, reuse and text mining which have since influenced wider industry guidelines.  Over its 20 years it has published over 300,000 papers and we are incredibly proud that  BMC is part of the Springer Nature family as it continues to create and evolve new ways to support authors and enable high quality scientific research to be available to everyone. 

We have also launched entirely new fully OA journals, most notably our new Discover series of journals.  The Discover series introduces a new streamlined OA publishing experience, extending Springer Nature’s commitment to OA by supporting quick access to high quality research to aid the advancement of scientific discovery.  Five titles are already live and we hope to increase this to 14 or 15 by the end of the year.  The full portfolio will eventually consist of up to 40 titles covering topics from across the full range of applied science, physical, life, medical and social science disciplines.

But why does this matter?  Why are we investing so much of our time, energy, focus and investment on making the transition to open access a reality? Particularly in a year which will undoubtedly be defined by COVID-19 and attention is understandably being channelled into dealing with its ramifications.

In this blog a year ago, I shared why I believe ‘Being open matters’.  The global pandemic we have been experiencing for the majority of this year, and are likely to be feeling the effects of for some time to come, only makes the case for ‘open’ stronger.  

COVID-19 has demonstrated that the research community and research publishers have the ability to react to a crisis, and quickly. We have seen an increase in the publication of preprints, expedited peer review and clinical trials, an increase in collaboration and data sharing, as well as funders allowing the diversion of funds to COVID-19 research. All of this together has demonstrated the incredibly responsive nature of our sector, under immense pressure, at a time when the use, re-use, access to and engagement with research has, and continues to be critical. 

A spotlight has been placed on the value and importance of immediate access to research, data sharing and curation and good data management for boosting the reproducibility and reliability of research.  If we agree that openness of communication is valuable in a crisis, it should surely be valuable in normal times as well.  We need to make sure that this momentum to share results early online and to make work open access is not lost as we move back to the ‘new normal’ – whatever that may look like for the wider research community.

Steven Inchcoombe

Author: Steven Inchcoombe

Chief Publishing Officer and Solutions Officer, Springer Nature

Steven Inchcoombe read Physics at Merton College, Oxford and qualified as a chartered accountant with PwC. From 1990 to 2000, Steven was at Interactive Data Corporation, where he ultimately became responsible for strategy, M&A and the EMEA region, and during this period the business became listed on NASDAQ. He then moved on to Board positions with the Financial Times Group, including UK Publisher of the Financial Times and Managing Director of

Steven joined the Macmillan Board in 2006. From 2007 to 2013, he led the Nature Publishing Group (NPG), and in 2013 became CEO of Macmillan’s Science and Scholarly division, comprising NPG, Scientific American and Palgrave Macmillan. Following the creation of Springer Nature in May 2015 he was appointed Managing Director of its Nature Research Group and most recently promoted to Chief Publishing Officer for Springer Nature in March 2016.