Society & Partner Zone Issue 4, Open Access

Derk Haank, Springer's CEO, on Open Access

What is Springer’s policy on open access – can you define it in one sentence?

Yes, our policy is very simple: as long as the cost of the value-added services provided by publishers is recognized and covered, Springer is happy to provide the research community with an open access publishing option.

Why has the open access debate been so emotional?

You make it sound like “emotional” is a bad thing! Both the advocates and antagonists of open access feel passionately about publishing – each in their own way, and that is a good thing. One of the problems seems to be that there isn’t a single and acceptable definition of open access, and “open access” means different things to different people, i.e. author-pays models, such as Springer Open Choice, self-archiving or institutional repositories. The other problem is indeed the fact that the pro- and anti-OA parties have spent most of their time focussing on their differences, rather than what they have in common, or what might constructively be done.

Where does Springer stand in the debate?

In a pretty unique position, if I do say so myself. As you know, we have offered Springer Open Choice as a publishing option since mid-2004. No other “traditional” STM publisher has made such a sweeping move since. Our attitude at the time was “well, we don’t think this is the future, but part of scientific community does, so let’s see if it gets support”.

I believe you said “put your money where your mouth is” to OA advocates in the research community.

Something like that.

And have they? Is Springer Open Choice a success?

In terms of shaking things up a bit, definitely. It showed that Springer had a certain openness, a certain willingness to experiment – something that I believe should be central to a company that essentially publishes experiments.

This year, we expect a few thousand articles under the program, which is still modest, compared to the 125,000 we receive annually, but it is still impressive and certainly more than an average market share for the publishing industry.

Also, I think that the Creative Commons licenses for Open Choice articles, which Jan Velterop introduced, are a very important step.

But did authors embrace the option?

Initially, authors were slow to take up the offer. After a year or so, we could have said “okay, we tried it, but nobody wants it, so open access is dead”, but we didn’t. We hired Jan Velterop to spread the word, not only externally, but also internally, and we also entered into a number of pilot projects combining the traditional subscription model with Open Choice: with UKB (the consortium of Dutch university libraries), the University of Göttingen in Germany and also the Max Planck Society (MPG).

And, by the way, the fact that Jan Velterop has left Springer to pursue other interests in no way reflects our commitment to Open Choice. Wim van der Stelt will continue Jan’s work for Open Choice.

But MPG isn’t just a consortium, it’s an important funding body, and they seemed to be very unhappy with Springer at the end of last year. We know that now all is well and that an agreement is signed, but was the situation as serious as the media portrayed it?

Well, let’s just say that this was not the first example of a customer using the media to put pressure on a supplier during a negotiation, and it won’t be the last. There was never any doubt in our minds that we would come to a mutually acceptable deal, and the agreement we have is one that we are very satisfied with.

So, no big crisis?

No, simply a commercial negotiation with a successful conclusion for all concerned. MPG was trying to get the best deal for MPG and Springer was trying to get the best deal for Springer. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Other funding bodies, such as the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Wellcome Trust or the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), mandate that the research they fund must be freely available to the public at some point. What is Springer’s reaction to that?

Well, in September of 2007, the NIH debate was so aggressive and emotional, we issued a statement that said, essentially: Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, we need to think about how the “food” gets paid for.

Also, we did not want to leave authors in the difficult and unfair position of wanting to publish in a Springer journal but not being able to because their funding body forces them to deposit their work in a repository, and doesn’t provide funds to pay for Open Choice.

Recently, in April 2007, we adapted our standard Copyright Transfer Statement which is used for all proprietary Springer journals, to allow, if required, for the author-version of an article to be deposited in a funder’s repository, provided it is not made publicly available until after 12 months of the official publication.

But aren’t some funding bodies mandating less than 12 months?

Yes they are, but we have put down a marker and said “if you want the articles you fund to be freely available to the public after 6 months, you must choose Springer Open Choice, making the article available immediately”. We must be consistent. Unfunded mandates are not a sustainable route to open access. The question of funding the system of stratified certification and other value we add must be addressed properly.

We adapted our CTS to help our authors, but there is no format that will conform to every single funding body’s policies.

Why is Springer not more vocal in the debate about open access?

Because open access is not a theoretical debate anymore – it is part of publishing reality and one of several options available. We are, at the end of the day, a business that must supply its market with not only the products it wants, but also in the format that it wants, and we are, so far, the only company that does this across all of its journals.

In the next months, the first of our pilot projects will have been running for a year, and we will be able to analyze whether support among authors has grown, remained stable, or declined. And this information will allow us to develop our offering further.

Personally, I do not believe that open access will ever totally replace the subscription model, but I am more than happy to be proved wrong. I do believe, however, that STM publishers will continue to play a vital role as partners to the research community, as long as we make every effort to give the scientific community what it wants, rather than simply telling it what we are willing to provide.