Why we are ‘going for Gold’

Research Publishing
By: Steven Inchcoombe, Wed Oct 27 2021
Steven Inchcoombe

Author: Steven Inchcoombe

Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature

Publishers, institutions and researchers have been working together for many years to make the transition to open access (OA) a reality and to ensure that we collectively create a more efficient research system to support the immediate accessibility of critical research.

As I have shared previously, we see full (Gold) OA as the best, most complete and most sustainable route to achieving this goal of having all primary research immediately available. 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. Full (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.  This is why, over the past twenty years, we have put transitioning to full OA for all of the primary research we publish at the heart of our business and continue by adapting our business, and being strong advocates for open science.

From our BMC imprint, the first commercial OA publisher, and our pioneering Springer Compact agreements which paved the way for today’s Transformative Agreements (TAs), to introducing the concept of Transformative Journals (TJs) and providing all authors with the ability to publish OA in Nature and our other highly selective titles, we are committed to making the final version of record (VOR) of all primary research open to all. 

Beyond our active involvement in OA policies and sustainable routes to achieving its goals, we continue to be an active voice in the discussions and debates around the wider movement – committed to helping publishers, authors, funders and others better understand the drivers and benefits of OA publishing by gathering data and sharing research.  This OA week, we have extended that commitment by launching the third in our series of white papersGoing for gold: exploring the reach and impact of Gold open access articles in hybrid journals - which adds to the growing body of evidence that shows that Gold open access (OA) is best for authors and researchers. 

The main findings are:

  • Gold OA articles achieve greater impact compared to subscription articles with earlier versions available e.g. via Green OA routes. On average, the latter type only achieves 1.07 times higher citations than non-OA articles, compared with 1.64 times higher achieved by Gold OA articles; 
  • Gold OA articles achieve far greater attention and awareness with nearly five times higher Altmetric Attention Scores compared to non-OA articles, while subscription articles with earlier versions available e.g. via Green OA routes only have two times higher Altmetric scores than non-OA articles in hybrid journals;
  • Gold OA articles continue to be used more with results showing that they are downloaded over six times more than non-OA articles and
  •  Variations by discipline are seen but Gold OA exceeds the reach and impact of both non-OA articles and subscription articles with earlier versions available.

This evidence, alongside our previous white papers, continue to support a very clear conclusion that having the final VOR  article immediately available from the moment of publication to be discovered, shared, used and reused, not only provides greater benefit for authors with demonstrable higher reach, attention and impact, it is overwhelmingly the version researchers want to use. By acting as an integrated hub for all of the elements necessary for open science including data and code, immediate access to the VOR article benefits science and the scientific process.  

Further, these findings from our latest research continue to confirm the ‘OA effect’ which sees OA articles in hybrid journals achieving greater impact, usage and reach than comparative subscription articles. However, by looking especially at subscription articles where an alternative non-VOR version (such as a Green OA accepted manuscript) exists in an OA repository, it also shows that there is no corresponding ‘Green OA effect’. The existence of a ‘green’ version is not sufficient to match the benefits of Gold OA if the VOR is behind a paywall. 

This matters because we are currently at a crossroads. I wrote earlier this year about the impact and importance of the new UKRI strategy on the global OA transition, in particular the importance of prioritising Gold OA. The published policy, while acknowledging the important role TAs have in driving the transition to OA, places an unnecessary restriction on author choice in its refusal to, unlike Plan S, recognise TJs as a valid route for compliance - one which provides authors whose institution and / or funder is not part of a transformative agreement to still enjoy the benefits of Gold OA without restricting their choice of publishing venue. 

Policies, such as Plan S’s Rights Retention Strategy, that seek to place Green OA on a par with full (gold) OA are therefore misleading authors. Not only is Green OA not a sustainable option for a transition to fully OA, with its continued reliance on library subscription payments, it is less desirable to researchers, offering less utility and reliability. And now we can also see that the existence of a Green version just doesn’t deliver the advantages in terms of reach and impact of research outputs that an article achieves when published Gold OA. It’s critical that we continue to invest in a Gold OA future, and continue to invest in enabling authors to select Gold OA in the journals of their choice. 

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.