Sunday, October 12, 2008

Springer to acquire BioMedCentral: major milestone in transition to open access

Springer, one of the world's largest for-profit commercial publishers in science, technology, and medicine (STM) has announced that it plans to acquire BioMedCentral, a leading open access publisher.

Excerpt from the announcement:
Derk Haank, CEO of Springer Science+Business Media said: “This acquisition reinforces the fact that we see open access publishing as a sustainable part of STM publishing, and not an ideological crusade. We have gained considerable positive experience since starting Springer Open Choice in 2004, and BioMed Central’s activities are complementary to what we are doing. Additionally, this acquisition strengthens Springer’s position in the life sciences and biomedicine, and will allow us to offer societies a greater range of publishing options.”

I agree with Richard Smith that this is a great day for science. As Derk Haank points out, open access is no longer the road to take for ideological reasons only (profound though I believe these are); open access is the smart business move, too.

It is good to see another open access option available to the society publishers that prefer to work with the commercial sector.

What about library support for BioMedCentral? A few years ago, when BMC moved from an early pricing model that was clearly not sustainable to one based on processing costs, my approach was to encourage libraries to overlook the sticker shock and fully embrace the new, sustainable approach to pricing.

BioMedCentral, to date, has met my criteria for whether libraries should provide smart support for article processing fees. The fee pays for full open access (no free to read but only on our website nonsense); as a fully open access publisher, there is no need for concern about double dipping (collecting revenues from both subscriptions and article processing fees for the same material); and there is obviously a real effort to connect pricing with actual costs of production.

Into the future, whether I would continue to encourage libraries to support BMC under Springer depends on the pricing (and ongoing quality, of course). That is, if pricing remains largely the same, I would encourage libraries to continue to provide partial or full support. If there were substantial price increases, it would be understandable if libraries were to pull back from full to partial support, or partial to no support.

Springer has some interesting opportunities for innovation here, and some time to pursue them as the early industry leader. For example, why not strengthen library customer relations by providing additional discount to libraries that are both BMC supporters and substantial Springer customers?

Thanks to Scientific American via Peter Suber.

This post is part of the Transitioning to Open Access and Resources and Tips for Publishers Series.