Laying the foundations for open access: from ambitious beginnings to the publishing mainstream

Springer Nature Group
By: Meredith LeMasurier, Wed May 13 2020

When BMC was founded 20 years ago, a lot was different. The open access (OA) movement, then known as ‘ free online scholarship’  was still in its infancy, the digital movement towards both the production of and engagement with content was just beginning to transform the way we work, and like many other systems and processes, research and peer review was adapting to changes brought on by online technologies.   BMC entered the scene as the first commercial OA publisher, finding new ways to harness the emerging technologies to provide ways to support researchers and the wider scholarly community.

BMC’s journey as a publisher has in some ways mirrored that of the development of the OA movement as a whole - from fledgling idea to influential publishing approach. Starting out as BioMed Central in 2000 as the new kid on the block, BMC challenged the view of the OA model as a fringe element in publishing, from the start looking for new ways to ensure its scalability and sustainability.  

Carrie Webster, former Head of Marketing and Digital Sales BMC now Vice President, Open Access, Springer Nature

“In its infancy, OA was questioned as a viable model for research.  OA was not something that was seen as scalable or sustainable in a world of subscription publishing. But BMC changed that, and with the introduction of the OA charge,  for the first time made OA a viable and suitable business model for the publishing sector. “

Since then BMC has continued to take a progressive, innovative and community led approach to drive forwards OA and open research, be this across the development of OA policy - such as Jan Velterop’s  (an early director of BMC), involvement in the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002 as one of the 16 original signatories - through engagement with peer review models - the introduction of robust open data and text mining policies which have since guided  industry standards within OA publishing - or being the first publisher to introduce a Research Integrity Group to support and ensure the publication of rigorous, peer reviewed high quality content and build trust in OA as a model supporting the publication of good science.

Carrie Webster, continues..

“The same innovation that founded BMC, continues to drive its strategy today. BMC, now as part of the Springer Nature family,  has been a key driver in making Springer Nature the world’s most comprehensive Open Access publisher.  For over 20 years, since BMC first pioneered an OA publishing model, openness and innovation has been at the heart of our business. As early movers, there has always been a clear commitment and drive towards OA, recognising  its impact on the way research communicate and collaborate and the influential and important impact of open research techniques on the advancement of science and research. This collective vision continues to drive our OA ethos and the ways in which we are seeking to play an important role in the development of open research and advancing discovery today.”

Like many trailblazers, BMC hasn't always got it right. A key part to BMC’s success has been putting the author and researcher at the centre of our business. It is through this that we have seen not only growth but changes that we have had to adapt to nimbly, as we have strived to ensure we offer a tailored, community responsive and sustainable business approach that has ensured a positive experience with the journals.

Maria Hodges, Managing Editor, BMC Series

“Over the  years, we have gained a great deal of experience in the implementation and development of peer review. Openness is one of our hallmarks, and the promotion of a fair, efficient and transparent approach to the peer review process, inline with community expectations, has been inherent in our process from the start. We have always supported innovation in peer review; we introduced open peer review in 1999 and have continued to experiment with different peer review models over the past two decades, including double-blind peer review, results-free peer review and portable peer review. It started to become clear from feedback from our community, however,  that some were finding the requirement to sign peer review reports as an impediment to participating in the peer review process. Evidence  suggested that in particular early career researchers felt reluctant to engage with the review process. Open peer review wasn’t working and was limiting the diversity of the reviewer pool. We recognised this challenge and subsequently have adapted to the increasing desire amongst the research community for transparency whilst also creating a constructive environment where reviewers feel supported and valued and able to provide honest and constructive feedback. During our 20th year, we will therefore be transitioning all BMC journals to transparent peer review .”

BMC has never been a publisher to stand still  - it has, since foundation, pushed boundaries, re-imagined them, looked for sustainable approaches  and consistently put the community first to shape the business around their needs in the continuing drive for open research. Through this approach we have, to date, enabled researchers to publish more than 316,000 OA articles, across 316 journals, accumulating more than 5 million citations and over 1.2 billion downloads. Moving into the 20th year, this ethos still underpins our focus. We are incredibly proud of BMC’s legacy, where we are today is because of the community that has supported and driven us, and what we have been able to achieve driving forward debates around OA collectively as a part of Springer Nature.  As we move forwards we do so with the same drive towards sustainable OA as the movement grows in momentum. We continue to explore new ways in which to meet and address the needs of the research community and work with our authors, editors, reviewers and readers to drive scientific discovery and open science.

Read more from BMC here and see more about BMC's 20th anniversary here.

Meredith LM

Author: Meredith LeMasurier

VP Editorial, Nature Research and BMC Community Journals

Meredith has editorial responsibility for the BMC Flagship and BMC Series journals. Before assuming this role in 2019, she was Executive Editor for the Nature Research Journals in the Life Sciences. 

Meredith started her editorial career at Cell Press in 2007 after completing her doctoral training at Brandeis University and postdoctoral research at Oregon Health and Science University. She moved to Springer Nature in 2014 as the Chief Editor of Nature Neuroscience.