Springer - Driving academic publishing since 1842
On 10 May 1842 (his 25th birthday), Julius Springer founded his bookstore and publishing house in Berlin, laying the foundation for today’s company.
After 175 dynamic years the name Springer stands for a globally active publisher dedicated to the advancement of science, putting its authors and editors at the heart of the company’s publishing activities.
The Springer story (1842-2017)
From politics to science – the first and second Springer generation (1842-1906)
When Julius Springer founded a bookstore and publishing house in Berlin on May 10, 1842, the world was in a phase of unprecedented change, primarily due to industrialization. Rapid, scientific innovations and the birth of a new international community were the result.
Initially, the “Julius Springer Publishing House” chiefly published political caricatures and treatises reflecting the spirit of Germany’s Vormärz period, but it also increasingly specialized in literature from the natural sciences and engineering. Springer’s publishing activities promoted the rise of these disciplines, paving the way for the modern knowledge-based society.
The focus of the publishing house’s portfolio began shifting even further to engineering and technical disciplines. Springer’s authors at this time included prominent names like Werner von Siemens and Rudolf Diesel. In the 1880s, Springer took over several scientific journals that quickly became staples in the professional world, e.g. VDI (in 1882).
In 1904, the publishing house began to expand its publications in the field of medicine. Further, Springer soon gained international prominence with regard to the natural sciences, e.g. by publishing a translation of Marie Curie’s “Research on Radioactive Substances.”
In 1881, the Springer family chose the renowned knight chess piece as signet, which is still used today. The famous Berlin-based architect Martin Gropius provided the first sketch of the logo, which represents Julius Springer’s and his sons’ passion for chess.
Becoming Germany´s leading scientific publisher (1906-1945)
In this period, publishers increasingly became engines of scientific advancement. Many Springer authors and editors were highly respected experts, including Nobel prizewinners like Paul Ehrlich, Emil Fischer and Ferdinand Graf Zeppelin. In 1913, Springer was the second largest German publisher, with a total of 379 titles.
The publishing portfolio was constantly expanded and, after 1910, medical texts became the most important sector. In this period, Springer began publishing the Handbuch der Neurologie, Handbuch der Inneren Medizin, and the Allgemeine Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie, edited by Alois Alzheimer. In 1913, Springer launched Die Naturwissenschaften (today: The Science of Nature), an interdisciplinary periodical expressly inspired by the British journal Nature. In the field of engineering, Springer released Heinrich Dubbels’ Taschenbuch für den Maschinenbau in 1914, a publication that is still considered a standard work to this day. In addition, the acquisition of other publishers further expanded the portfolio.
Despite the outbreak of the First World War, Springer’s publishing activities continued without any major disruptions. However, the presence of the war was reflected in the publications: for example, in 1916 Springer released Ferdinand Sauerbruch’s study Die willkürlich bewegbare künstliche Hand.
Springer would continue to grow during the Weimar Republic, rapidly becoming one of the most important German publishing houses. At this time, Springer had already established its reputation as the leading mathematics publisher due to its acquisition of the leading mathematics journal: Mathematische Annalen, edited by David Hilbert, Albert Einstein, Otto Blumenthal and Felix Klein. Springer also successfully improved its standing in the field of physics, publishing Max Born’s Die Relativitätstheorie Einsteins und ihre physikalischen Grundlagen and the Handbuch der Physik, which featured papers by Max Born, James Franck, Otto Hahn and Erwin Schrödinger. Both works were published in 1920.
For Springer, and for Germany’s scientific community, the years between the National Socialists’ seizure of power in 1933 and the end of the Second World War represented a tremendous blow.
More than 50 Jewish journal editors were forced to give up their positions at Springer. And the Springer family itself had to transfer its publishing business to their trusted friend Tönjes Lange (photo: Julius Springer Jr. (left) and Tönjes Lange (right)) to avoid appropriation by the government. Ernst Springer would die in the concentration camp Theresienstadt. In 1944, Fritz Springer, then aged 94, took his own life to escape deportation.
Reconstruction and globalization (1945-1992)
Following the end of the war, the company founder’s grandchildren began re-erecting the publishing business, quickly building on past successes. Though the first company headquarters were at Reichpietschufer 20 in western Berlin, in 1958 the company moved to its current location, Heidelberger Platz. A second office, for medical and natural sciences publishing, opened in Heidelberg in the autumn of 1946. By 1960 the company’s production volume had once again reached its peak level from 1932.
This period also marked the start of Springer’s increasingly international focus. The center of the scientific world was no longer to be found in Germany or Europe, but in the USA, and English had become the undisputed lingua franca of science.
In 1964, Springer launched its first subsidiary outside the German-speaking countries in New York City. Between 1970 and 1990, further offices followed: in London (1973), Tokyo (1983), Paris (1985), Hong Kong (1986), Barcelona and Budapest (both in 1990). Above all, Asia would prove to be a vital future market. In response, Springer began translating and publishing Chinese works into English in 1978. India soon became another important market.
Springer also continued to grow in the German-speaking countries, e.g. by acquiring other publishers like J.F. Lehmann and Birkhäuser. 1988 would mark the first time Springer employed more than 1,000 members of staff at its German offices in Berlin and Heidelberg.
Growth without limits? (1992-1996)
In the 1990s, the publishing sector was in the throes of a fundamental change due to the rapid advance of digitalization, which consumed considerable resources. Many publishers suffered massively reduced revenues, forcing some established houses to close their doors. Springer quickly responded to the changed market requirements, allowing it to record continued growth. This was largely due to advances in digitalization and the emerging field of electronic publications.
In 1996, Springer co-founded the subsidiary “Scientific Publishing Services (SPS)” in Madras (today: Chennai), which soon positioned itself as a service provider, also for other publishers, focusing on production and copy-editing. Above all, Springer streamlined and outsourced production. Though this meant bidding farewell to cherished traditions like handwritten mathematical formulae, researchers too soon came to recognize the advantages of digital publishing.
Despite these technical advances, growth rates stagnated at a comparatively low level. Moreover, new problems emerged in Springer’s core business: a crisis in Asia crippled profits. Springer – just like its competitors – was forced to raise its journal subscription prices because production, shipping and marketing costs were on the rise, and establishing a digital infrastructure entailed massive investments. Many libraries were outraged by the price hikes, threatening to cancel their subscriptions. All signs pointed to confrontation and a mounting crisis; new models were desperately needed.
The digitalization breakthrough (1996-1999)
In the early 1990s, plans were formed for publicly sponsored electronic information services, which could have potentially posed a serious threat to the publishing sector.
In the summer of 1996, Springer, which had implemented a consecutive digitalization strategy in 1990, unveiled the online platform LINK (later SpringerLink), which allowed users to read and purchase scientific publications online. Springer planned to ultimately offer its entire journal portfolio on its own digital server. In fact, over the next several years LINK would become one of the most-frequented online libraries for Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) content.
With the advent of LINK, the dissemination of scientific and academic publications became faster and easier than ever before. From 1999, publishing content “Online First” – and releasing the print version only some time later – became standard practice for many journals. By 2002, LINK was home to 500 journals and 1,300 eBooks, making Springer the global market leader in this field.
Digitalization brought with it major changes in all departments – from production and editorial to marketing and sales. In addition, libraries – Springer’s primary customers – required more attention than ever, since they now needed interfaces to optimally access Springer’s digital content.
Transition and restructuring (1999-2007)
In 1998, Bertelsmann acquired Springer to found the BertelsmannSpringer publishing group in 1999. BertelsmannSpringer now included respected publishers like Gabler, Teubner and Vieweg. The fusion entailed very few personnel changes.
In spring 2003, Bertelsmann sold BertelsmannSpringer to the British private-equity firms Cinven and Candover. A fusion with Netherlands-based Kluwer Academic Publishers (KAP) followed soon after, producing the world’s second-largest academic publishing house, Springer Science+Business Media.
For Springer, these changes meant a phase of reorientation, extensive restructuring and modernization; the outsourcing of production to India was intensified. The new Springer logo, introduced in 2004, presented the classic knight chess piece in a more modern design, together with the motto “the language of science.” New objectives included increasing the number of publications and further expanding Springer’s electronic publishing activities.
In 2006, the Springer publishing group consisted of 70 individual publishing houses and over 5,000 employees in 19 countries, issuing 1,450 journals and approx. 5,000 book titles per year.
Digitalization 2.0 – from Open Access to the Springer Book Archives (2007-2010)
Springer had already paved the way for further growth during the digital revolution in the 1990s. In the new millennium, its online portfolio expanded rapidly. As a result, by 2005 Springer’s revenues from electronic publications already matched those from printed works.
Despite the countless debates prior to its introduction, the scope of Open Access, which provides free access to academic publications on the Internet, remained negligible in the twentieth century.
In 2004, Springer successfully introduced the promising publishing model, “Open Choice”. With Open Choice, as the name implies, authors are free to choose whether to publish in the traditional or Open Access model. At this time there were not many other international role models following a similar path, so Springer’s efforts can be seen as pioneering. In 2008, Springer acquired Biomed Central (BMC) and created the new SpringerOpen portfolio, positioning itself as the leading Open Access publisher.
Once the majority of its journals had been made available online on the SpringerLink platform, books soon followed. In 2006, the Springer eBook collections, initially consisting of 10,000 book titles, were launched. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, six New Orleans-based libraries were the first to receive all eBook packages provided free of charge as part of a donation by Springer.
In 2010, the company initiated yet another project that set new international standards. Under the label “Springer Book Archives,” all Springer publications dating back to its founding in 1842 were digitally scanned and made available online. Thousands of publications – including many of immense historical value – that had previously been hidden away in archives or exclusive library collections, were made readily accessible to readers around the globe.
Content for a knowledge-based society – editorial for the 21st century (2011-2016)
Traditionally, editorial departments at Springer have been divided by subject area – even Julius Springer’s sons and grandchildren used this policy. The heads of the different editorial departments identify themselves as publishers in the original sense. They maintain contact with authors and editors, often forming close and trusting relationships in the process. Publishing is a very person-oriented business, and editors are constantly searching for young and promising researchers, new discoveries and branches of research.
In the 21st century, electronic publishing, Open Access, rapidly growing numbers of publications and the outsourcing of production processes have created new priorities. It is ever more important to convince editors and authors of these exciting developments. The gradual and ongoing transition from print to electronic publishing continues to meet resistance - from partners and customers, but also from within Springer.
Print-on-Demand workflows and the sale of electronic publications in packages are essential new innovations. But despite all these changes, the printed book still plays an important role in gaining revenue, and particularly in those sectors where the aesthetics of a book are important, printed works still have a future.
Ensuring the quality of Springer´s publications through peer review remains one of the core responsibilities. Reviewers and trusted experts carefully assess potential publications, and quality control remains in the hands of the scientific community.
Springer’s further activities include the forward-thinking promotion of new authors and fields of research, and accessing new research locations, such as China.
The road to Springer Nature – background and vision through 2017
Although the history of Springer has at times been turbulent, the company has maintained a remarkable degree of continuity – even in the face of external watersheds like the financial crisis. Surprisingly, changing hands and investor turnover has had little effect on Springer’s publishing activities, strategies or corporate culture.
Springer refined its focus, becoming the market leader for educational and professional media in the areas business, natural sciences, engineering and social sciences.
In January 2015, the announced fusion of Springer Science+Business Media and the majority of Macmillan Science and Education (including the Nature Publishing Group) shook the publishing sector. The merger produced Springer Nature, with the publishing group Georg von Holtzbrinck holding 53 percent of the market shares.
Springer Nature is a new entity with unique strategic potential, combining two scientific publishers that each have more than 150-years of publishing tradition and outstanding international reputations. In the year of the merger, the newly formed company was home to 13,000 employees in more than 50 countries and generated revenues of 1.5 billion euros.
Watch our Springer anniversary video
Free access to Springer's history
Springer-Verlag History of a Scientific Publishing House
Part 1 Foundation 1842–1945 Maturation Adversity
Authors: Heinz Sarkowski
Springer-Verlag History of a Scientific Publishing House
Part 2 Rebuilding 1945–1992 Opening Frontiers Securing the Future
Author: Heinz Götze