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New moves in push to Open Access to scholarly journals

Two important steps were taken last week in the drive to support the conversion of the majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription only to Open Access.

The Max Planck Society published an Expression of Interest already adopted by 30 signatories, inviting all parties involved in scholarly publishing to collaborate on a “swift and efficient transition for the benefit of scholarship and society at large”.

The list of first signatories published on 21 March include, among others, the Austrian Science Fund, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, and the Spanish National Research Council, as well as the European University Association, the representative organisation of more than 800 universities and 36 national rectors’ conferences in 47 European countries.

Signatories from Germany include the German Research Foundation, the German Rectors’ Conference, the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Association and the Max Planck Society.

A day later, on 22 March, Springer Nature announced that it will extend its year-long nature.com content sharing trial to enable its research articles to be freely shared with all researchers and the wider public via its authors, subscribers and global media.

Authors and subscribers will be able to share content from more than 2,700 journals and 300,000 new articles each year with researchers across widely accessible platforms.

The Max Planck Society said the transition to Open Access will be pursued by “converting resources currently spent on journal subscriptions into funds to support sustainable Open Access business models”. At the same time, the signatories to the Expression of Interest agree “to continue to support new and improved forms of Open Access publishing”.

A dedicated website was launched by the Max Planck Digital Library in order to facilitate collaboration and exchange between all parties involved in scholarly publishing, including universities, research institutions, funders, libraries and publishers.

Martin Stratmann, president of the Max Planck Society, said: “In the digital age, immediate access to journal articles is crucial for scientific progress. It is time to make Open Access the standard model of publishing. Only if we all join forces and coordinate our activities across organisations, disciplines and countries, we will manage to reach this important goal.”

The Expression of Interest is the result of the 12th Berlin Open Access Conference, hosted by the Max Planck Society in December, which brought together delegates from international research and scholarly organisations. Other institutions from around the world are expected to announce their official endorsement of the Expression of Interest in the course of the next few months.

’Challenging the status quo’

According to Springer Nature, its own announcement is “challenging the status quo in the scientific publishing world” by giving access to researchers and the wider public to the full text of articles from the original, trusted definitive source via a single link; giving one million or more scientists the opportunity to share knowledge legally, easily and with their mark up; and allowing the media to share full peer-reviewed research papers with readers.

Springer Nature will provide authors with free, shareable links to view-only versions of their peer-reviewed research papers, starting with authors of Nature and the Nature research journals. This initiative will then be extended to authors of all other Springer Nature-owned primary research journals, and ultimately to all authors of Springer Nature-published primary research journals.

These links can be posted anywhere, including via social channels and on other highly-used sites, institutional repositories and authors’ own websites as well as scholarly collaborative networks, which many researchers are using to collaborate and to share both publicly and privately.

These sharing services are expected to be operational by the end of May for all Springer Nature-owned primary research titles, with sharing services for additional portfolio titles to follow once agreed with their owners.

Steven Inchcoombe, managing director, Nature Research Group, Springer Nature, said: “We are very pleased to be able to offer our authors and the wider researcher community a sharing solution that we think is easier, more dynamic and of greater value to them than static PDF downloads.

“As a publisher of large parts of the scientific record we take very seriously our responsibilities to our authors to protect their rights and to researchers to maximise their access to and use of the content we publish."

’Right balance’

“We think this initiative strikes the right balance, given researchers’ legitimate needs to share content as part of their collaborations and discussions and the increasing need of wider society to appreciate the results of recent research.”

He said Springer Nature was the first publisher to facilitate ‘on-platform’ sharing in December 2014 via nature.com.

“We trialled this successfully for over a year generating an average of over 200 extra uses of each of the 6,000 research papers included in the trial. Now we are the first publisher to offer multi-site content sharing across more than 300,000 new research papers per annum, which we believe will result in wider sharing.

“We hope other publishers will join us in addressing this critical need of researchers and wider society.”

The range of media partners enabled to use this sharing facility will also be extended. These media partners already represent over 100 other sites, many aimed at the public, including the BBC, The Economist, Wired and The New York Times, as well as many leading science bloggers.

The tools that enable the content sharing initiative are provided by ReadCube, whose functionality enables sharers to make available final published versions of research papers in the streaming 'Enhanced PDF' format.

In addition to the full text of the articles, the 'Enhanced PDF' provides hyperlinked in-line citations and figures, annotation capabilities, one-click access to supplemental content and figures and advanced article metrics.

Pursue transformation

Signatories to the Expression of Interest agreed to pursue the transformation into Open Access by converting resources currently spent on journal subscriptions into funds to support sustainable Open Access business models. They intend to “re-organise the underlying cash flows, to establish transparency with regard to costs and potential savings, and to adopt mechanisms to avoid undue publication barriers”.

Lidia Borrell Damian, director of the Research and Innovation Unit of the European University Association, or EUA, told University World News that the EUA is supporting the Expression of Interest because the Max Planck Society is making an effort to create a framework in which every collective organisation that is a stakeholder can develop Open Access in its own way.

She said since universities are to a large extent funded by public funds the outcome must be Open Access, but it doesn’t mean it should be free of charge, because there has to be a contribution towards paying the cost. “It is a pragmatic approach – giving a fair return to investment of public funds, not free of charge but cheap. It means that once the cost is covered the paper should be freely accessible.”

She said the current system was unsustainable because publishers are increasing their charges year after year while university budgets are getting tighter and tighter.

“At some point universities are confronted with very tough decisions internally because they simply cannot cope with this ever increasing cost.”

She said the price has to come down since, from the public perspective, the journals should be accessible “because we want the knowledge to be accessible to as many people as possible”.

Otherwise there is a problem that universities that want to raise their profile and research capability, because of the “huge costs of access to publications” find it very difficult to “creep up to the level of more powerful institutions”, she argued.

“Some universities can’t afford to give their researchers the information they truly need,” she said.

Damian also described the Springer Nature announcement as a “step in the right direction”.

“Springer is one of the most sympathetic publishers towards Open Access. They are of the most prominent publishers willing to transform. We hope that more will come,” she said.

The EUA last month published its own roadmap on Open Access to research publications.

Related Links
Christmas is over for journal publishers
’Nature’ journals now free, as open access gains steam
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