Springer Nature Issues Its New ‘Progress Report’

In News by Porter Anderson

Springer Nature’s ‘progress report’ on open access and more outlines strides amid challenges in a complex, competitive sector.

Image: Springer Nature, ‘Championing Progress, 2023’

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

Holtzbrinck: ‘Bridge Builders of Human Understanding’
Following the report we covered Tuesday from the Coalition S program on many publishers’ “clearly disappointing” rate of progress in transformative journals’ ability to meet their open-access growth targets, the release today (June 28) of Springer Nature‘s own second annual “progress report” demonstrates the determinedly upbeat stance found in many parts of the scholarly journal industry.

The newly released report can be found here.

The recently released Plan S report specifically highlighted Springer Nature’s and some other companies’ performance in the field, pointing to “at least six titles, published by Springer Nature, which have been unilaterally withdrawn from the transformative-journal program, despite meeting [the] 75-percent open-access penetration rate threshold.”

Of 1,721 transformative journal titles tracked by the Plan S review, 1,329 of them in 2022 missed their open-access targets for 2022, Coalition S says. (Our story from Tuesday includes Springer’s response to this.)

Springer Nature was hardly alone in missing targets. Elsevier met those targets in 61 journals, but missed them in 115. However, Cambridge University Press met targets in 149 journals, missing them in 83. The performance across many publishers and “transformative journals,” in other words, shows both advances and some steps back, the overall context being–based on the Plan S program–that progress in the transition to open access is moving more slowly than many in the industry had hoped.

‘Visibility and Value’

Today, Springer Nature leads this promotional document with data that it says “details the visiblity and value it’s providing to researchers, authors, and editors” in many parts of the world. Media messaging from the company’s offices in London, Berlin, and New York highlights these points:

  • “Springer Nature has now published more than 1.25 million open-access articles, and is on track for half of its research-article output to be open access by the end of 2024
  • “Open-access research published in its hybrid portfolio within a transformative agreement grew three times faster than that published outside of one
  • “Product and technology investments grew 13 percent year-over-year, and reached €370 million [US$404.7 million] over the past three years
  • “Springer Nature’s platforms now support 7.9 million downloads every day [or] 92 every second
  • “Average downloads per article are up 80 percent from 2018 to 2021, and average citations growing more than 40 percent over the same period
  • “Investment in emerging technologies–including AI to spot fraudulent papers more quickly and effectively–is supporting the integrity of the scientific record as the volume of research published internationally grows
  • “With most pandemic restrictions lifted and children attending school in person once again, pent-up demand for textbooks led to strong performance in Springer Nature’s education segment”

Frank Vrancken Peeters

Springer Nature’s CEO, Frank Vrancken Peeters—also heard from in Tuesday’s story—says in regards to the newly released report, “Our role is to create global visibility for research, opening doors to discovery.

“We do this through our trusted brands and talented people, and by working in partnership with our communities across the research ecosystem. With this report we’re presenting our annual update on progress to transparently share how these commitments and our investments are making a difference.”

Springer, in contacting news editors, also points to the company’s work in “supporting colleagues returning to offices in greater numbers during 2022, and following the pandemic. The company onboarded around 2,000 new hires last year,” media messaging reads, “and dedicated more than 60,000 hours to training and development.

“Employee networks relating to sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion have grown in number and there have been novel ways to support people during the cost of living crisis, including additional payments, well-being support and a new ‘work-ation’ scheme allowing colleagues to work from overseas for a period to enable visits to friends and family.”

Stefan von Holtzbrinck

Springer Nature Group chair Stefan von Holtzbrinck writes well in his introduction to the report about his appreciation for a hardy international staff in challenging political and economic times. “Good decision-making and knowledge-building based on facts is more important than ever,” he writes. “I’m therefore very proud of our colleagues’ unfaltering commitment to ensure trustworthy content of the highest quality standards.”

He eloquently offers high praise to the research authors whose work goes into the company’s output, writing, “At the core of Springer Nature is our support for the people in our research and education communities—they are the bridge builders of human understanding. Together with us they keep the doors open to cross-disciplinary collaboration and to views that challenge the way we think. Both are critical if we want to deal with the big challenges we are facing today, while taking advantage of the latest scientific breakthroughs in the future.”

And even with the promotional overlay of the progress report’s intention, some of the sheer reach and breadth of the company’s work is keenly displayed. For example, here is a graphical representation of “Our Network in Numbers”:

Image: Springer Nature, ‘Championing Progress, 2023’

And there are many “open-access firsts” captured in a graphic which, in 2019, notes that the company “pioneered the transformative journal concept.”

Image: Springer Nature, ‘Championing Progress, 2023’

Indeed, the relentless turf battles carried out in communications with the press by Springer Nature and its rivals are reflected in a graphic showing transformative agreements established in California, Latin America, Egypt, Japan, and so on, the events marked as “first” or “largest.” Corporate competition is the currency of the realm in how these things are presented, which makes it easier to understand why the tone is typically celebratory while such tracking programs, even when other appraisals such as that of the Plan S report outlines instances of less felicitous results than might be assumed.

Image: Springer Nature, ‘Championing Progress, 2023’

In the end, of course, most corporate “progress report” documents are exercises in touting steps forward over dwelling on challenges. Springer Nature is easily as adept as any of our great scholarly research publishers at creating effective and cheering accounts of the company’s many successes, and there’s absolutely a great deal to applaud.

If anything, the background of the Plan S assessment makes Peeters’ comments all the more helpful, from the recent 16th Berlin Open Access Conference, which he writes about in his June 14 blog post. There, he said, “The conference concluded that ‘The global open access transition must advance at a far greater pace.’ I agree. Transformative agreements come with challenges, but the opportunities are just so great that I think it’s worth us all working together to keep the transition momentum going.”

That’s welcome, straightforward messaging: Things are moving too slowly; and it’s worth the effort to pick up the pace.

Somewhere between the Plan S analysis’ anecdotes of shortfalls and Springer Nature’s new progress report’s cheer, the reality is an enormously profitable and impactful publishing sector slogging through a years-long upheaval in business models, research-writing and -reading culture, and blistering competition. There’s nothing wrong with speaking directly to the challenges and defining forcefully and fully what’s not working as well as what is.

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

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson 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 an arts critic (Fellow, 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.