UC wins North America’s largest open access publishing agreement

Doe Library and the Campanile glow at sunset.

“The faster people can see science happening, the faster they can make new discoveries, be more collaborative, ... and make more advancements," said Berkeley University Librarian Jeff MacKie-Mason, of the benefits of open access publishing. (UC Berkeley Library photo by Jami Smith)

“A big deal, a breakthrough” in the University of California’s push to advance open access publishing is being announced today by the 10-campus system: The UC has won the largest open access agreement in North America to date with Springer Nature, the world’s second-largest publisher of scholarly research.

UC Berkeley leaders have emailed a message to the campus community.

Last February, the University of California ended negotiations with Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of scholarly journals. It had hoped to secure open access publishing of UC research, to make it available — without charge, without a subscription — to anyone in the world.

But the UC negotiating team, co-chaired by UC Berkeley University Librarian Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, didn’t stop there.

The result is today’s agreement, which, when the formal contract is signed, will by default publish open access all articles with a UC-corresponding author that appear in more than 2,700 Springer Nature journals. About 12% of UC research is published by Springer Nature, he said, and about 17% by Elsevier.

The four-year agreement also gives UC students, faculty and researchers access to more than 1,000 journals that UC did not subscribe to previously. The UC has been spending about $50 million annually, which is “extraordinarily expensive,” said MacKie-Mason, on subscriptions to scholarly journals.

Meanwhile, he said, people without subscriptions, such as “doctors, public health professionals, government researchers, people in poor countries, small colleges and universities and general citizens, didn’t have subscription access and couldn’t see the science that many of them had paid for with their taxes.”

The ability to quickly view the latest research on COVID-19 is an example of the benefits of open access publishing, especially to those racing to find solutions to dire circumstances in society, like a pandemic.

“The faster people can see science happening, the faster they can make new discoveries, be more collaborative and cooperative as scientists, economists and engineers, and the faster they can learn and make more advancements, including to benefit developing countries,” said MacKie-Mason. He added that the Springer Nature agreement “is a big deal. I’m really excited about this; it’s a huge breakthrough.”

While open access to the most well-known Nature journals is not initially part of the deal, there is a plan between Springer Nature and UC for a Nature open science pilot program in 2021 and for all Nature journals to be included by 2022.

There will always be a cost to publish research in journals — the average fee across all publishers of scholarly work is about $2,200, said MacKie-Mason — and the UC Libraries automatically will now pay the first $1,000 for open access publication. In the past, he said, researchers had used grant funding or other sources to bear the entire cost.

“The library is shifting subscription dollars to publishing dollars, to pay for open access,” he said, adding that if an author can’t pay the rest, “the library will pick up the cost.”

“Our approach is, ‘No author left behind,’” said MacKie-Mason.

MacKie-Mason said the UC, which as an institution has fought since 2013 to advance open access, also has won open access agreements with four other scholarly journal publishing houses — Cambridge University Press, the Association for Computing Machinery, JMIR and PLOS — and more talks are in progress with additional publishers.

And, said MacKie-Mason, discussions with Elsevier may resume soon.

“Open access is what customers want. We’ve known for 25 years that this is what scholars want,” he said. “I’m convinced (Elsevier) will see the light.”

Read UC's press release about the Springer Nature agreement here.