Opinion piece: Max Planck Society and Springer strike a deal

by Bernd-Christoph Kämper, Stuttgart University Library.

From today’s announcement:

The Max Planck Society and Springer have reached an agreement which allows the scientists working at the 78 Max Planck Institutes and research facilities across Germany access to all content on SpringerLink, and which also includes Open Choice(TM), Springer’s open access scheme, for all researchers affiliated with a Max Planck Institute publishing in Springer’s journals. Springer’s Open Choice(TM) program offers full and immediate open access for articles that are accepted for publication after a process of rigorous peer-review….

The new agreement is based on combining the subscription model with open access, and is set up as a 2-year experiment to investigate whether this construct is a more sustainable business model for scholarly publication.

“During the period of the agreement, Springer and the Max Planck Society will evaluate the effects of open access on both authors and users…,” said Peter Hendriks, Springer’s President of STM Publishing.

On today’s German Inetbib mailing list, I commented on the Max-Planck agreement (partly in answer to a question by Mathias Schindler from the Wikimedia Foundation, what the “deal” was, why MPG “paid” for Open access) as follows:

If MPG authors’ publications in Springer Journals are now published by default according to the Open Choice model, it means “Open access” for all (Springer) Publications from the MPG author community, without any embargo. This ensures optimal impact for the publications of MPG authors and simultaneously Open Access to it for the rest of the world. (MPG institutions themselves would have access to this material anyway as part of the institution wide consortial deal that covers all of Springer via own subscriptions, “cross access” and “additional access”.)

Apart from that, I guess that the model is – just as in the case of Göttingen and the Netherland UKB consortium – a hybrid model, in which the publication costs according to Springer’s open choice model are partly or in total covered by existing subscriptions. Peter Suber calls that a form of “flipping journals”, cf. also our speculations on the nature of these deals in Klaus Graf’s community blog Archivalia, ?p=26885#comments

I think the “pull” of such agreements cannot be overestimated. I am sure that more agreements and “pilot projects” of this sort will follow, also with other publishers, and not only by the Max Planck Society.

While the hybrid model, as long as it is based on single author payments (or payments by author’s home institutions) has established itself as a stillborn child, and libraries, given the very slow increase in submissions and publications from these programs, are not going to expect appreciable reductions in subscription prices resulting from this soon (even if the publisher is willing to take into account such contributions in his pricing), the recent variant of hybrid models in which publication costs are covered in part or in total by existing subscriptions, will become an alternative that is going to get as attractive for publishers as it is for the libraries who purchase and make available this content on behalf of their scientists.

In my opinion, hybrid models of this sort are going to accelerate the conversion process of existing journals, although (or because) they will have a stabilising effect and lower the risk of a conversion. For the big publishers, there will be no way around, if they want to survive in the growing competition with genuine open access publishers consolidating their business or entering newly into the market, and do not want to lose market share.

And negotiators for consortia will in future – when existing (multi-year) contracts expire or whenever they negotiate new deals – realize for themselves, that securing open access publication rights for their own clientel, the scientists at their member institutions, constitutes an important component of a contract, an ingredient that will be looked upon as indispensable in the future and which has to become part of the bargaining process. This will give more flexibility and latitude for innovative solutions in difficult negotiations between publishers and libraries (like the situation at Max Planck where it was clearly felt that the organisation was paying too much in relation to the price per use and citation compared with other publisher portfolios).

Each of such successfully closed deals helps not only your own clientel but improves the infrastructure for scientific information for all. If libraries are going to clearly tie any future investment of the resources entrusted to them by their parent organistions to the condition that they are at the same time getting optimal publication letouts for their scientist, then they will have better chances and standing to raise the necessary funds for these new flavour of “big deals”.

Finally, the hybrid approach will have the consequence that the load that has to be borne for supporting the scholarly publication process will continue to be more equally distributed than in a scenario where each institution would have to pay in proportion to its own research output (with corresponding high costs for such productive research organisations as the Max Planck Society); at the same time, the purchasing and negotiating power of organisations like Max Planck or other big consortia will certainly ensure that no “double payment” occurs, for subscriptions and open access.

We are going to see exciting times. And we can only congratulate the Max Planck Society to its decision to go this route. It will be path-breaking and point the way ahead.

P.S.: As a supporter of SCOAP3, I see a big potential in other conversion scenarios of “flipping journals” as well. (The Max Planck Society, by the way, is also an avid supporter of SCOAP3). I think, various sorts of hybrid models will surge. If we look not at a journal level, but at the article level, such models are a big step forward.

In a way, both the “green road” to open access (self archiving of articles published in peer reviewed scholarly journals which needs and increasingly receives support by OA mandates from institutions and funding organisations in order to be effective) and such hybrid models rely on the relative stability provided by the present system of library subscriptions to journals. On its own, this system has rightly come under pressure not only because of spiralling journal costs (a phenomenon that has seen some moderation in recent years, as subscriptions title by title to print journals are increasingly being replaced by e-only subject collection or other package deals) but even more so as it fails to provide universal access to the growing body of scientific research. Complemented by institutionally supported self-archiving and hybrid models, the subscription model may survive for some time as long as it helps to pave the transition to the necessary OA environment that scholarly research needs to flourish. At the same time, new pure OA journals along the “golden road” will also find their market, as has been proved by the likes of Biomed Central or Hindawi – OA mandates when supported by funding organisations, are impartial in this respect and help to support both routes to open access.

Bernd-Christoph Kämper, from Stuttgart University Library, a regular contributor to Archivalia, is involved in coordinating a couple of library consortia on a regional, state and supranational level (in German speaking countries), among them the GASCO Nature and Science Consortia of the German, Austrian, and Swiss Consortia Organisation (GASCO). He is also involved in SCOAP3 and was one of the authors of the Report of the SCOAP3 Working Party issued in April 2007. Together with Göttingen State and University Library, for whom he acted as an advisor and negotiator, he recently succeeded in helping to establish a German National Site License for the entire Nature archive 1869 to 2007, financed by the German Research Foundation as a part of its National Site Licensing program, a deal which opens up access to all publicly funded research and higher education institutions in Germany as well as to any permanent individual resident of Germany who registers for getting access for non-commercial purposes.

Update. See also Peter Suber’s and Jan Velterop’s comments (Open Access News, Monday, February 04, 2008)

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