Springer Nature is delivering open access. Will you join us? Don't!

Springer Nature sais thank you But, yes, of course, since we must. Who’s to be credited? Springer Nature or the public paying for it? Too much, and largely ignorant of doing so.

I found an interesting mail while doing the weekly cleaning of my junk folder. Springer Nature pointing out its success as an open access publisher.
More than 70% of Springer Nature authors from four European countries now publish via gold open access.
An open research milestone
The last two decades have seen a seismic shift in scholarly communications – from the inception of open access to the development of open tools and techniques.
Springer Nature is home to industry leaders in open access including Nature Research, BMC and Springer. Our ultimate aim is to advance discovery, so we are very pleased to announce a milestone in advancing discovery through open research:
More than 70% of Springer Nature journal content currently being published by authors from four European countries is published via gold open access.
Learn how this was achieved  

We’re calling for the research community, from funders to institutions, authors and editors, to join us in making the transition to open research.
Will you join us?
I did already, thank you, sort of (Bomfleur, Grimm & McLoughlin 2015; Grímsson et al. 2015). But not because we appreciated SpriNat’s (Springer Nature) tireless efforts for open access. We did, because we had to, and – back then – were ignorant of better and cheaper alternatives (Simeone et al. 2016; Bomfleur, Grimm & McLoughlin 2017; Grímsson, Grimm & Zetter 2017; Grímsson et al. 2017)

Public research (and money), private profit paradise

When you follow the link, you can see that the four countries are the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, and – leading with 90% of corresponding authors publishing open access – Sweden. In all these countries, research funded by the countries’ research agencies, must be made publicly available. Public money, public access. Not (Springer) Nature’s call, but state-funded quick bucks for a probably high-profit company (at least a very large one, part of the oligopoly in science publishing). Or in their words:

This achievement has been made possible through a unique environment in these markets, with support from governments and institutions that back open access, funders who fund article processing charges (APCs), authors who are willing to publish via open access, and a publisher providing authors with a range of publishing options, making open access a reality.

Unique environment”  Really? Give me a break.

Article processing charges (APCs)”, too high, see e.g. this 2014 post and this 2013 article in Nature (before Macmillan/NPG was fused with Springer), for further reading see this 2012 article, and link page. See also this 2014 post on what UK research libraries paid for access to published science and the obscurity around APCs, and this post reflecting about cross-effects of Gold Open Access (the model now preferred by publishers) with Green OA guessing it could be as cheap as 200–500$ for ‘post-Green OA no-fault Gold OA’ (the dreams of five years ago, the big publishers make sure that they won’t come true).
For a traditional Springer print journal as in the case of Grímsson et al. 2015, a study published in the low-impact but long-going Plant Systematics and Evolution (founded 1858 as Österreichische Botanische Zeitschrift), the price for ‘Gold Open Access’ – SpriNat calls it ‘Open Choice’ (lovely) – goes up to 3000 €, independent of the reach (impact, number of subscriptions) of the journal. 

The FWF, the Austrian Science Fund, is one of the “institutions that [fully] back open access” by supporting open access publication of FWF-funded research with up to 2500 € per paper (so far, a new, likely even more intelligence-hostile government dawns and already the last has been cutting down FWF funding). So, while publishing in PeerJ and BMC can be cost-neutral for the Austrian researcher, publishing in a traditional (Austrian) Springer journal means a net-loss of research money. Springer – by the way – also charges for colour figures, and requires the online and print version to be identical (both coloured or not). But the FWF’s engagement, paying extra for Open Access, is quite unique. The VR, the Swedish Research Council, that funded Bomfleur’s research, also requires all funded research to be publicly accessible (“... authors who are willing ...”), but the money needs to come from your general research pot (or your institution). 2500 € mean e.g. minus 35 samples that can be sequenced using high-data-output next-generation-sequencing, one field expedition less to collect material, or the consumables for half a year of lab work of a palaeobotanist. A standard VR project comes with 3–4 million SEK for four years, the host institutes take 40% or more of it as ‘overhead’. Assuming one worker (e.g. a Ph.D. student) and needing no money to do the actual research, you can finance about four-five SpriNat papers a year. To get a VR grant that would be critical number.

And the service they provide for the good money … well see e.g. my last post. A comparison: PeerJ – a journal fully dedicated to self-sufficient open access and open data – provided a better service than e.g. Springer’s best-running open access series BioMedCentral (BMC), which is partially funded via institutional “memberships” (e.g. we published for free in 2008 as employees of the University of Tübingen; no idea what they pay for the privelidge). PeerJ’s APC is now c. 1000$ per paper (they started with a bit less than 500$ couple of years ago) vs. more than 2000$ SpriNat (still) charges for a BMC publication. And PeerJ allows uploading any data relevant to the study (max. of 50 MB). BMC only accepted certain data types (texts, PDFs, images, videos; no zips/archives). PeerJ encourages peer review transparency, not a focus of SpriNat (still looking for supporters to #FightTheFog). Submitting took ages with SpriNat’s poorly programmed submission client (back in 2014/2015), and is much more convenient with PeerJ, particularly in case of ridiculously large papers such as our 2017 paper. Not to mention the proofing process, which was (and is) more professional and pleasant, too. So much for “... a publisher providing authors…” SpriNat provides ... well that could have been something for this entirely unrelated topic.

Springer Nature’s journey to the Seven Cities of Gold

As Steven Inchoombe, Chief Publishing Officer of SpriNat is quoted on the linked page:

Springer Nature is on a journey, from traditional publishing methods to open access, open research, and beyond. But we can’t succeed alone. We’re calling for the research community, from funders to institutions, authors and editors to join us in making that happen.

From my experience with Springer Nature and one of its main competitors in high-profitable science publishing, RELX’s Elsevier, he actually meant:

“We’re hoping the public hand is happy with being robbed. Open access allows keeping our costs on a record-low, particularly since we delegate all the actual publishing work to cheap-labour, poorly qualified Indian (sub?)companies, while all editorial work (including proof-reading) is done by the scientists themselves for free. And the most beautiful thing is, as long as a Nature paper means more or fresh research money for the scientist, they have to pay whatever we want, because their funders force them to.”

The perfect business model. No wonder, one of the owners wants to slaughter the cash-cow on the booming stock market next year.

Postscriptum When I handed in my report for my last project as a professional scientist, a mobility grant funded by the FWF, I was asked to comment on the open access policy of the FWF. I said that I support the idea, but pointed out that find it strange being forced using Austrian money to support private for-profit publishing companies. Why not simply provide an open access publishing and data platform for all FWF research? Something like PeerJ. That would be cheaper and probably more proficient regarding free access to data (something SpriNat or Elsevier Gold Open Access neither requires nor really provides). But, high-fly researchers need papers in high-fly journals with restricted access. And free access to all published data, who could want such abnormity?

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