Springer Nature points out problems with cOAlition S transformative journals plan

Springer Nature points out problems with cOAlition S transformative journals plan

In an open letter sent today (Tuesday 17th December) to research funder consortium cOAlition S, Springer Nature has urged the coalition to make amendments to its proposed framework on transformative journals, currently out for consultation. The publisher warned of "unintended consequences" to the current plan that could put the transition to Open Access (OA) at risk, saying that unless changes are made, Springer Nature "would be unable to commit to its journals participating".

cOAlition S launched its consultation on transformative journals—journals that offset subscription income from payments for publishing services and commit to a transition to full OA within an agreed timeframe—in November. Under the proposals, cOAlition S would require transformative journals to commit to an annual increase of OA content of 8% a year, to flip journals to fully OA once they reach 50% of OA content, and to offer a range of waivers and discounts to authors "to avoid undue publication barriers".

But Springer Nature said it had significant concerns about requiring publishers to grow OA content at what was a faster rate than the growth of funders willing to fund it, while the waiver requirements cOAlition S is asking for would undermine the sustainability of the journals involved. 

Instead, the publisher proposed that cOAlition S asks for "year-on-year growth of OA content at the same rate as the increase in global research supported by funders and institutions committed to funding Gold OA", with journals to be flipped to Open Access only at the point that OA content reaches 90%. 

Steven Inchcoombe, Springer Nature's chief publishing officer, said: “Springer Nature remains committed to moving more quickly towards OA and is proud to be the publisher of almost a quarter of all fully OA articles ever published. We first floated the idea of transformative journals in May as we believed that, by harnessing the investment, track record, editorial expertise, and the trust the research communities have in these long-standing journals, the transition to OA could be significantly accelerated and enable many of these journals, including highly selective ones such as Nature, to get on the path to OA.

“We are concerned, however, that the thresholds proposed by cOAlition S could have unintended consequences. Authors of research funded by cOAlition S members are likely to see their journal choice severely restricted, organisations committed to OA could see a doubling of the content they need to fund, and ultimately many journals may have to rule themselves out, resulting in a slowdown of the very transition we both want to see.”

The publisher vowed to continue promoting to authors, funders and institutions the benefits of publishing OA and to expand transformative deals "as rapidly as institutions/consortia/funders allow."

Inchcoombe added: “We remain firmly committed to the concept of transformative journals but are urging cOAlition S to think again as they could, if implemented in a realistic and sustainable way, generate a seismic shift in the transition to OA that could put at risk the entire project.  We care deeply about ensuring the research system works for the benefit of all, so we have to find a solution together to overcome these issues. Should cOAlition S adopt an alternative framework which could achieve large-scale adoption, Springer Nature would commit to putting all its owned journals publishing primary research—hybrid journals (a portfolio of 1,900 titles including some society-owned ones), Nature, and all 31 Nature Research Journals—on the path to full OA.”

The cOAlition S consultation remains open until Monday 6th January 2020, with a final version of the framework planned for end of March 2020.