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Springer Nature to reject Plan S if current plans stand

Image: Alan Levine [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Publisher cites ‘significant concerns’ on proposed timeline and fee waivers for open-access initiative

The academic publisher Springer Nature has said that it will not be able to commit its journals to become compliant with the radical open-access initiative Plan S unless the proposed requirements for doing so are revised.

Proposals for how hybrid journals, which publish a mix of open-access and subscription content, could be considered compliant with Plan S were put forward for consultation in November by the Coalition S group of funders signed up to the initiative. Plan S is intended to make all research supported by Coalition S openly available immediately in approved journals by the end of 2024.

Responding to the proposals on 17 December, Springer Nature said it is supportive of “the vast majority of the criteria” for Plan S, but that it has “significant concerns” about some aspects.

“Unless changes are made to the conditions being proposed the publisher believes it would be unable to commit to its journals participating,” the company said in a press release.

In particular, Springer Nature criticised a proposal that the proportion of papers published with open access in hybrid journals should rise by eight percentage points per year between January 2021, when Plan S takes effect, and the end of 2024. This is the latest point at which all hybrid journals would have to become fully open access in order for Coalition S to permit supported researchers to continue publishing in them.

“The timelines proposed and the rates of open-access transition are unworkable and could be counterproductive,” Steven Inchcoombe, chief publishing officer at Springer Nature, wrote in an open letter to Coalition S.

He proposed that hybrid journals should have to increase their proportion of open-access articles only at the same rate that funders committed to supporting immediate open access increase their share of all published research. Hybrid journals should have to become fully open access only once the proportion of research they publish with open access reaches 90 per cent, he said.

The company also opposes proposals from Coalition S that hybrid journals transitioning to fully open-access journals should have to offer to waive open-access publication fees for authors who are unable to afford them. At present Springer Nature offers waivers only for its fully open-access journals.

“The proposal to require publishers to offer waivers for publishing in a transformative journal is not workable as it would result in much more research being published for free, undermining the sustainability of those journals,” Inchcoombe said.

He insisted that Springer Nature’s managers “genuinely want to find a sustainable route to open access”. But he warned that under the Coalition S proposals, affected researchers “are likely to see their journal choice severely restricted, organisations committed to open access 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”.

But Coalition S representatives hit back the same day, saying in a reply letter that the proposals from Springer Nature amounted to “a tactic to stall progress”.

They pointed out that Springer Nature itself had flipped its journal Nature Communications from a hybrid to a fully open-access model when only about half of the journal’s papers were published with open access. In addition, they flagged that there are pure open-access publishers who are already making that model work. 

“This proposal is nothing more than an attempt to perpetuate the hybrid model, which less and less funders are willing to support,” the Coalition S representatives said.

This article was updated on 17 December with the comments from Coalition S.