Springer Nature: A White Paper on Researchers and Gold Open Access

In News by Porter Anderson

Results of a survey of almost 1,400 ResearchGate members who had interacted with Springer Nature publications form the basis of a new white paper on gold open access.

At the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library on the Phaleron Bay Delta, Athens. Image – iStockphoto: Kataronia

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Transitioning All Primary Research to Gold Open Access’
In his introduction to a newly released white paper, the chief publishing and solutions officer for Springer Nature, Steven Inchcoombe, reaffirms his support for gold open access over green.

“We feel that gold open access is the only way to achieve real and meaningful open science and it is why we are concerned that Plan S’ support for green open access via their rights retention strategy is misplaced.

“First, it removes the ability of authors to control how their work is used by prescribing the type of open license they must seek to apply to their accepted manuscript.

“Second, it provides access to an unfinished accepted manuscript, which requires the continuation of subscription payments to fund the creation of these articles, preventing the gold open access transition that will enable the benefits of open science.”

Steven Inchcoombe

A key point, as he says, is that only the gold open access protocol provides “immediate access to the final published version of record.”

The white paper, Exploring Researcher Preference for the Version of Record, then takes that stance as a starting point and surveys researchers to see if they say they agree. The result is produced with ResearchGate and, as a top line from Springer Nature, indicates that “the majority—nearly nine in 10 researchers—will take direct action to gain access to the version of record.

“In addition,” the company’s media messaging says, “the version of record is the version of their own work authors prefer others to use.”

These points come from the responses of 1,398 ResearchGate platform active members “who had interacted with at least one Springer Nature publication in the previous 60 days prior to the survey’s activation in October.

In terms of soliciting responses, the company reports, “An invitation to take part in the survey was displayed to active members while they were on the ResearchGate site. Respondents were offered the chance to enter a prize draw to win one of three US$150 digital gift cards once they had answered all questions.”

More Key Points From the White Paper

Image: Springer Nature, ‘Exploring Researcher Preference for the Version of Record’

In its offer to the news media of this material for a release from the company’s London offices as early as Thursday (February 17), Springer Nature has listed the following key points:

  • Researchers said they prefer to read and cite the article version of record. Eighty-three percent respondents said they preferred working with the version of record for citing content in their own work, compared with 9 percent saying they prefer accepted manuscripts, and 2 percent preferring preprints.
  • Researchers said they believe the article version of record is easier to read and is more reliable. In open text answers, respondents commented on the reassurance that peer review and proof of publication give to the version of record, pointing to the lack of time researchers have to read a large volume of content, and the desire to quickly assess and cite an article.
  • Researchers said they’re more likely to look for ways to find the article version of record, rather than an accepted manuscript or preprint. Where authors didn’t have access to the version of record—meaning that they had no access through a subscription or as a result of it being published open access—the majority, nearly nine of 10 researchers, said they’ll take direct action to gain access to the version of record, meaning they’ll contact the author.
  • Alternative versions of the article can offer value, but with caveats on use. Even though the version of record is preferred, many researchers said they also feel comfortable using a preprint or an accepted manuscript for reading and, in some instances, for citing. Speed of availability, in particular, is noted as a benefit from preprints.
  • The article version of record is considered the most authoritative and credible source by the majority of researchers responding to the survey. Researcher preference for the version of record highlights the value added by publishers, in particular with reference to the “stamp of credibility” that publication in a recognized journal brings.

Image: Springer Nature, ‘Exploring Researcher Preference for the Version of Record’

In a statement on the release of the paper, Inchcoombe presses his point, saying, “Attempts to enable the further growth of green open access and to make accepted manuscripts more widely available may only add confusion to the scientific record and do not reflect researcher preference. It’s why we are committed to transitioning all primary research we publish to gold open access so that this authoritative version is immediately available to all.

“Providing only immediate access to the unfinished accepted manuscript via green open access—which does not have the benefits of post-acceptance improvements to the article—is not linked up with data or code, does not show corrections, or retractions, and ultimately relies on the continuation of library subscriptions mean we risk falling short in delivering on the promise of an open science future that is so crucial to the future of the whole research enterprise.”

We note the geographical breakdown of responses:

  • Respondents based in Asia: 37 percent
  • Respondents based in Europe: 33 percent
  • Respondents based in the Americas: 20 percent
  • Respondents in other parts of the world: 10 percent

In terms of discipline, the respondents were categorized as being in biology (33 percent), engineering (28 percent), chemistry (18 percent), and physics (15 percent).

Most respondents (42 percent) are reported to have been in the “experienced researcher” category, meaning they had published an average 27 papers. Those categorized as “early career researchers,” meaning they’d published an average of 14 papers, accounted for 18 percent of the respondents. “Senior researchers,” with an average 49 papers published accounted for 35 percent. The remaining 5 percent is classified as being in unknown career stages.

And lastly, as this is a survey produced by a company the leadership of which has very forthrightly stated its opinion on the issue of gold vs. green open access, it’s good to note the white paper’s own stated limitations:

“As noted in the introduction, the usage shown in this report reflects the available data for Springer Nature articles on ResearchGate as part of a syndication pilot in January 2020. The presentation of the version of record as the default creates a bias toward the version of record, and it is therefore difficult to compare like-for-like usage across formats. A more accurate method to compare version of record usage to accepted manuscripts or preprints was not identified for this study.

“For the survey, there is a chance of selection bias as the survey only represents the views of ResearchGate members who interacted with Springer Nature articles. As such, these findings should be taken as a sample of researchers [and] may not necessarily be representative of all researchers.”

Again, you can access the full white paper here, and its data set on Figshare is here.


More from Publishing Perspectives on academic and scholarly publishing is here, more from us on open access is here, and more on Springer Nature is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.