Amongst those named by Kingsley was Springer — the world’s second-largest journal publisher — which changed its self-archiving policy earlier this year.
While Springer had previously insisted that where a funder required papers to be deposited in a central repository like PubMed Central this could only be done after a 12-month embargo, it allowed authors to post their papers in institutional repositories immediately. Under the new policy, however, the 12-month embargo has been extended to cover papers posted in institutional repositories as well. (Although authors can still post copies of their accepted manuscripts on their personal web sites without embargo).
Kingsley concluded that the change was likely a response to the new UK OA policy introduced by Research Councils UK (RCUK) on April 1st. Elsewhere, OA advocate Stevan Harnad has described the change as “Springer Silliness”, and a Springer author has expressed “confusion” over what the policy actually means.
In the hope of clarifying matters I sent a list of questions to Springer. I publish the answers to those questions below exactly as they were provided by Springer, which answered them on condition that I published them “in full, uninterrupted, and unedited (including hyperlinks) as a cohesive whole”.
I would simply note that in answering my question on whether it had any evidence that self-archiving has had a negative impact on it, Springer cites a survey undertaken by The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP). I would invite interested parties to read an interview I did with the Chief Executive of ALPSP Audrey McCulloch about the survey last year.
Answers by Eric Merkel-Sobotta (Corporate Communications, Springer) to questions on self-archiving from Richard Poynder
25 June 2013
Q: As I understand it, Springer recently changed its Green OA policy. Can you confirm that this is so, and say when the change was made?
A: Yes, it is true that Springer modified its self-archiving policy earlier this year. The changes were made in order to make the policy as simple and consistent as possible, while also ensuring the sustainability of both green and gold open access models.
As a result of the changes, the same embargo rules now apply, whether the deposit is voluntary or mandatory, and whether the article is deposited in a funder repository or an institutionally managed repository.
We believe that this is unambiguous and simpler than policies which apply different rules according to who manages the repository, or those policies which allow self-archiving only if it is not required (!).
As you know, there is widespread, if not universal, acceptance that systematic and widespread author manuscript deposit (“green” open access) of subscription-based journal articles in repositories requires an embargo period in order to ensure the sustainability of the journals.
Q: Some OA advocates would question that assumption. Certainly they would say that there is no evidence that embargoes have had a negative impact on publishers to date. Does Springer have any evidence that it has been negatively affected by self-archiving? If so, can you say something about that evidence?
A: It is clearly not feasible to say at precisely what point immediate free access to articles via repositories would cause widespread disruption of the subscription model, but have a look at the ALPSP “one question survey”:
and the comment related to it on Scholarly Kitchen:
However, a model in which the costs of publishing are paid by subscribing institutions who pay voluntarily despite the fact that the material they are subscribing to is all freely available does not seem, from first principles, to be desirable or stable.
That is why Springer, which has been committed to open access in deeds, not just words, for almost 10 years, is focused on offering two models which we believe to be stable and sustainable: embargoed green open access, and immediate gold open access.
Q: Can you confirm that the policy change was primarily a response to the new RCUK OA policy? If not, why was the change made?
A: No, it was not. We modified the policy to make it simple and consistent for our authors, for funders and for our employees, as all forms of open access continue to grow.
Q: How was news of the change conveyed to the research community? Did Springer put out a press release for instance?
A: Our policies on archiving are communicated very clearly to authors during the journal publishing/production process. We do not primarily communicate to our authors via the media.
Q: Can you specify exactly how the policy has changed?
A: Springer previously required a 12-month embargo period for deposit in funder repositories and only allowed this if the funder required deposit, but did not specify an embargo period for deposit in institutional repositories.
In order to ensure that green open access deposit remains sustainable on a large scale, we are standardizing the embargo period for all repository archiving to 12 months.
To be clear: this means that Springer authors can deposit into a funder repository after a 12-month embargo period even if the funder does not require the author to do so.
Authors will still be entitled to make their accepted manuscript available via their personal website without any embargo.
Q: You may know that OA advocate Stevan Harnad argues that the change Springer has made is “inconsequential”. As he put it, “There is no difference between the authors' ‘own websites’ and their own institution's ‘repository’.” I assume you would not agree? So how does Springer distinguish between an institutional repository and an author’s personal website? It is clearly important that authors can understand this difference.
A: Commenting on one sentence taken out of context is not helpful. However, we believe the difference between author’s personal website and an institutional repository is widely understood. www.eprints.org describes institutional repositories, e.g. hosted by Eprint, as "a collection of digital documents [… which] share the same metadata, making their contents interoperable with one another." Author websites on the other hand serve various purposes and are not specifically created for document collection.
Q: You said that the change was intended to provide full support for both Gold and Green. How does extending an embargo from 0 to 12 months provide support for Green OA? It surely serves to weaken it?
A: We have eliminated from our policy the distinction between institutional repositories and others, such as subject and funder repositories, and created one simple rule that applies across the board -- authors may deposit in any repository they like, and regardless of whether they are required by a mandate or not, as long as the embargo period is observed.
This supports green OA by making it sustainable, and therefore making it possible for Springer as a publisher to actively encourage and facilitate it. It also helps to clarify the respective benefits of the Green and Gold models, each of which is likely to have a place going forward.
Q: I wonder if perhaps SHERPA/RoMEO has misunderstood Springer’s current policy, or has yet to note the change. Taylor & Francis is listed as a Yellow publisher. It is not clear to me that Springer’s policy is significantly different — both publishers appear to have a 12 month embargo. Do you believe the two policies are sufficiently different to warrant the different classification they have been given?
A: Springer’s revised repository archiving policy continues to be classified as “green” as confirmed by SHERPA/RoMEO. We allow self-archiving of the author’s version to the author’s personal website without embargo.
And just to remind everyone: we were the first “traditional” publisher to offer an open access option for the majority of its 2,000 subscription-based journal portfolio – the hybrid OA model, Springer Open Choice – in 2004. Since then, we have refined and extended this publication model.
In 2008, Springer acquired BioMed Central, making Springer the world’s largest open access publisher.
In 2010 Springer launched SpringerOpen, a new OA portfolio that includes journals covering all areas of science and in January 2012, the SpringerOpen journal portfolio was joined by SpringerPlus, an interdisciplinary open access journal publishing research in all disciplines. Currently, we publish more than 350 OA journals, and last year, we expanded our open access program to SpringerOpen books as an addition to its established open access journal portfolio.
Q: Indeed, but this all relates to Gold OA, not Green OA. I suspect that OA advocates will conclude that the link here is that — in light of the RCUK policy — Springer has decided that if it extends its embargo it will be able to persuade researchers to pay to publish in BioMed Central or SpringerOpen, rather than self-archive papers published in Springer’s subscription journals. In other words, they are likely to suspect that Springer has changed its OA policy in the way it has in order to increase its revenues, rather than protect existing revenues. Would those that conclude this have a point? Why? Why not?
A: We modified our policy because, with open access (both green and gold) becoming a more and more substantial part of scientific publishing, it was vital to ensure that our policies in this area were consistent and fully sustainable. For a publisher, sustainability certainly includes maintaining the revenue stream which supports the many activities that add value during the publication process.
Q: As you note, Springer pioneered Hybrid OA in 2004, when it launched Open Choice. OA advocates are very sceptical about Hybrid OA, not just because it is generally more expensive than pure Gold OA, but because it allows publishers to “double dip” (i.e. earn revenue from article-processing charges in addition to the money it makes from subscriptions for the same journals). What is Springer doing to prevent double-dipping?
A: In 2004, when Springer introduced Open Choice for the majority of its subscription journals, it committed to adjusting subscription prices once the share of paid Open Choice articles reached a significant threshold. Three years later, as the number of authors taking up the open access option increased, these adjustments began. During the preparation of the 2011 price list, the annual analysis of the data showed that the first journals had reached shares of paid Open Choice articles of 8% and more. Subsequently, as announced to the research and library community, their subscription prices were adjusted by that share. This practice has continued ever since.
Q: Finally, can you say how the change to Springer’s policy will improve Open Access? Since it will surely mean that more papers remain behind paywalls will it not slow down rather than accelerate OA?
A: That sounds a bit dramatic. The change in policy will not improve or damage open access.
The result of our modification provides a simple and consistent policy for our authors, for funders and for our employees that have daily contact with researchers. We feel that a certain straight-forwardness and ease of understanding was warranted, and this is the benefit for authors and funders.
Open access is healthy and here to stay, and anyone that thinks it is a delicate little flower in danger of being squashed, or is the target of a destructive anti-OA cabal, is simply being unnecessarily alarmist.