Open access publishing grows at the University of California

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In another victory for the open access movement, the University of California system and Springer Nature have signed an agreement that will allow researchers from the UC system to do their work in Nature titles available for free.

The idea that published research should be free to read has gained momentum over the past two decades. Many scholars claim that this trend is helping to democratize access to the latest scholarships, both for researchers and for interested parties outside of academia. But figuring out how to pay for that access remains a challenge, as the latest UC system negotiations demonstrate.

The agreement, which begins August 1 and runs through 2024, is an extension of an agreement the two signed in 2020. Since then, UC system authors have tripled their number of open access articles in journals run by Springer Nature, one of the umbrella corporations that controls much of the academic publishing world. The new agreement extends the open access provision to the prestigious Nature titles, a goal both parties set out in their original agreement. It is also the first agreement to include free access for Nature magazines in the United States.

Along with a second open access agreement that the UC system announced on Wednesday, with the IEEE technical professional organization, and the system’s 13 other open access agreements, the Nature means that approximately half of the articles published by UC authors will be covered by open access agreements.

The funding model is the same as under the current agreement between Springer and UC: libraries in the university system will automatically pay $1,000 for the publishing journal’s article processing fee, and authors will use their research funds to cover the rest of the costs, which vary by publication. Other financial terms of the agreement were not immediately disclosed.

An Item Processing Charge, or APC, is the typical mechanism by which “open access to gold”, in which items are made permanently and freely available to the public, is achieved. But the system sees the fees as prohibitive. The flagship Nature newspaper, for example, now charges $11,390 per article, while other Nature securities fees can be over $5,000.

Under all of its other agreements with publishers, including other Springer publications, the system is able to pay more than its usual $1,000 to cover the costs of authors who cannot make it through research funding. . It follows a principle that Jeffrey K. MacKie-Mason, academic librarian and director of digital scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley, called “no author left behind.”

But the system was not able to achieve this same goal for the Nature publications, which is “frustrating,” said MacKie-Mason, also a Berkeley economics professor and co-head of the team that negotiates system deals with publishers. “That’s really our goal, to find a way to reduce costs enough that one of the best research institutes in the world can afford to publish so that everyone can afford to read,” he said. declared.

Due to the additional cost of posting with Nature, MacKie-Mason said, “we don’t want to oversell” the deal. He said it was a “modest enhancement” that makes the publication open access in Nature possible for authors in the system and provides a small funding pot from the university system. A positive element, he said, is that the type of research that is published in Nature is often quite well funded – enough to cover the costs of processing the articles.

But the problem of high cost is not unique to Nature properties, MacKie-Mason and the other head of the negotiation team, Ellen Finnie, said. “High-prestige, high-rejection journals” in general have “presented a particular problem that hasn’t really been addressed,” said Finnie, director of shared collections at the California Digital Library, the office at system-wide that supports all 10 UC campuses with electronic resources, including online journal access.

And while those charges present challenges for one of the nation’s largest university systems, they’re likely to be even more of a barrier for smaller institutions with fewer resources. This is a concern of which the leaders of Springer Nature are aware.

“White Glove Service”

Item handling fees for Nature the reviews are similar to those of other top-tier journals, said Carolyn J. Honor, chief business officer of Springer Nature. And there is a reason for this higher price: the publication in Nature, she said, is a “white glove service” for authors, including not only services like editing and typesetting, but also “the pressure testing of the integrity of science and the validation scientific models. This becomes especially important in situations like the Covid-19 pandemic, where public health authorities and governments have made decisions informed by what they read in journals like Nature.

“The whole idea of ​​open access is that you incrementally build on information that comes into the community,” Honor said. “You can’t afford to have any fault that this information is incorrect and is one of the foundations on which other people base their work.”

For this reason, said Maria Lopes, Springer Nature’s vice president for research sales in the Americas, “the integrity of our APC is really important. It’s something you don’t negotiate. »

“There were times when, I have to be honest, I didn’t think we were moving forward, and I’m sure they felt the same way,” Lopes added. “But that makes the fact that we were able to reach an agreement even more important for us.”

The whole idea of ​​open access is that you incrementally build on the information that comes into the community.

By signing the deal with Springer, the UC system avoided a high-profile dispute of the kind it had with Elsevier, another publishing giant. In 2019, the system canceled its subscription package with Elsevier, pushing for a cheaper contract under which the publisher would simplify the open access publishing process. The rupture of the university system with Elsevier follows long negotiations; at one point, officials at the University of California, Los Angeles asked faculty members not to review Elsevier journal articles until contract negotiations were “clearly moving in a productive direction.” Elsevier’s contract offer for the system proved to be too expensive.

But Elsevier returned to the negotiating table in 2020 and the parties agreed, in March 2021, to a four-year agreement ensuring that all articles whose lead authors were from the UC system would be open access.

Springer Nature officials said they hope to sign more open-access agreements with US institutions in the coming months.

In a statement emailed to The Chronicle, the executive director of the Association of Research Libraries congratulated UC on the deal. “The UC system, along with many of our member institutions and various consortia, are leading within their institutions to expand access to knowledge,” wrote Mary Lee Kennedy. The fact that the agreement covers the entire university system, she wrote, “will be of significant benefit to the research community as a whole.”

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