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The key to open access success: a publisher’s insight from one million open access articles


  • Publishers should address disparities in open access publishing across different academic disciplines and regions.
  • Gold open access is the preferred choice for publishing research.

With the recent publication of its one millionth fully open access (OA) article, Springer Nature’s Chief Publishing Officer, Steven Inchcoombe, used a Guest Post for The Scholarly Kitchen to look back at over a decade and a half of OA publishing at Springer Nature. Inchcoombe summarised the progress made in the transition towards universal OA and provided some suggestions on how publishers can facilitate the move to sustainable OA publishing .

What does OA publishing look like now?

In 2020, one-third of articles published in Springer Nature journals were OA. However, this was largely driven by the academic disciplines of Medicine and the Life Sciences. Primarily due to lower funding levels, the humanities and social sciences have found it more difficult to meet the requirements of Plan S. That said, these disciplines have succeeded in doubling their OA share between 2015–2020.

Regional disparity in OA publishing is also apparent. While Europe and Asia were strong contributors to OA content in 2021, North America contributed substantially fewer OA articles, which may reflect the lower uptake of Gold OA by US funders.

Inchcoombe highlighted the value that authors derive from making their research OA, noting an average of 2,600 downloads for each of the one million articles in the last 5 years.

In the last 5 years, these one million OA articles were downloaded 2.6 billion times – an average of 2,600 downloads per article.

Where next for OA?

Notwithstanding the progress made since the first OA article was published back in 2005, Inchcoombe suggested three steps that could ease the transition to OA:

  1. The industry as a whole needs to accelerate the adoption of OA. Springer Nature is aiming for 50% of their published articles to be OA by 2024.
  2. The barriers some academic disciplines face in publishing OA articles need to be addressed. Transformative Agreements between publishers and research institutions are one mechanism that can help, ensuring that OA publishing is available to all academics, irrespective of their field of research.
  3. The regional disparity in OA publishing should be overcome. Journals should consult across geographic regions to understand and remove the barriers to OA publishing.

Going for Gold

Inchcoombe emphasised that publishers need to ensure that suitable OA options are available to all authors. Springer Nature is working towards this through their provision of 600 fully OA journals, and a further 2,000 journals available through their Transformative Journal commitment. Furthermore, he suggests that it will take the combined efforts of publishers, funders, institutions, and consortia to ensure sustainable OA publishing options. Warning that Green OA is not a sustainable model – as the version of record remains behind a paywall – Inchcoombe hopes that the industry can move rapidly towards the adoption of Gold OA as the preferred publishing model.


Is the transition to open access publishing and open science progressing rapidly enough?

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