Nature: the response

I was able to get quite a bit of feedback from Nature regarding prices, access, and content. I spoke with our North American sales reps and another staffer from the London office last month and their response is below, with my questions and their answers:

1.      According to Nature’s recent letter, 50% of Nature journals do not currently have an OA option. Are there plans to provide access to the remaining 50%? How would this be accomplished?

Its not 50% of all NPG's journals but 50% of our academic (not Nature-branded) journals. NPG's August letter to customers says "Open access options are now available on 50% of the 50 academic journals we publish including all 15 academic journals owned by NPG. Seven journals published by NPG on behalf of societies offer open access options, with more expected to follow later this year."

All of the academic journals NPG owns now have an open access option. Since the letter was published, six more of our society-owned journals have introduced open access options. They are American Journal of Hypertension, Laboratory Investigation, Modern Pathology, Mucosal Immunology, Neuropsychopharmacology, Obesity. We continue to discuss open access with our publishing partners, ultimately the decision to introduce an open access option on these journals remains with the society or organisation who owns the journal.
Nature Communications is unique amongst the Nature journals in offering an an open access option. The gold open access model (funded by article processing charges) is still inappropriate for Nature and the Nature research journals. These journals decline more than 90% of submissions, these high rejection rates and the developmental editing that goes into every published paper would make APCs prohibitively high. We estimate the APCs on these journals would be between $10-30000, and research funders are not currently willling to support this.  The Nature Review journals do not publish original research papers.

 2.      Does Nature have plans to incorporate newer metrics into journal, article, and author information and assessment? Some examples of these include article downloads, author h-index information, Eigenfactor information, etc. 

Earlier this year, we introduced article download information for 43 journals. This is available to authors within their account on eJournal Press, our manuscript tracking system.

We continue to monitor the alternative metrics such as the Eigenfactor, Article influence score and h-index. These metrics are not yet widely accepted or understood, but we remain very interested in alternative ways of judging impact and value.

For example, at NPG we think that cost per download and cost per local citation are potentially important measures of the value for money of a journal to an institution.

3.      With regards to communicating and sharing consortial plan arrangements and information, are there plans to provide more transparency on pricing? Specifically are there plans for different consortia to know prices and information provided to other individual customers and consortia?

NPG makes its academic list prices public in the interests of transparancy. We have no plans to make terms of consortia agreements public. Each consortium is different in terms of their holdings, number of institutions and FTEs, and these are confidential agreements.

4.      In my phone call with our NA reps we briefly discussed a library advisory board for Nature. Can you give more information on the group’s membership and activities?

The NPG Library Committee is an invited group of NPG institutional customers. The group represents a mix of customers from across the world, working in academic, corporate and government settings. It includes both individual customers and consortia managers. The Committee or a sub-group of it meet face-to-face approximately once a year. We discuss NPG's activities and the wider publishing and information communities with them regularly via a discussion board on Nature Network, email and phone. The Committee provide useful feedback and insight on the views of the information community.

5.      One comment to my blog post mentioned Nature’s mission statement and its recent change. Can you provide more details on how the mission statement is reviewed, updated and shared with customers and readers?

The journal Nature's original 1869 mission statement still stands, and guides Nature Publishing Group's activities today:

THE object which it is proposed to attain by this periodical may be broadly stated as follows. It is intended
FIRST, to place before the general public the grand results of Scientific Work and Scientific Discovery ; and to urge the claims of Science to a more general recognition in Education and in Daily Life ;
And, SECONDLY, to aid Scientific men themselves, by giving early information of all advances made in any branch of Natural knowledge throughout the world, and by affording them an opportunity of discussing the various Scientific questions which arise from time to time.

Nature's mission statement was updated in 2000 as follows:

First, to serve scientists through prompt publication of significant advances in any branch of science, and to provide a forum for the reporting and discussion of news and issues concerning science. Second, to ensure that the results of science are rapidly disseminated to the public throughout the world, in a fashion that conveys their significance for knowledge, culture and daily life.

We have no current plans to update Nature's mission statement.

6.      Another comment to my blog post mentioned the pricing model for Nature as being based on a floating currency model which is not determined by currency rates we see in bank and other financial updates. Is this how international currencies are determined and are there plans to review or revise this model? 

In 2008 NPG introduced local pricing based on four local currencies (dollar, euro, pound sterling and yen). This means price increases are applied to local currencies, independent of currency exchange rate fluctuations.

I have a few comments on these answers:

1. Estimates of $10,000 - $30,000 in author charges for one OA article? You heard it here first. That's the entire journals budget for some small libraries. They'd be able to get one article for the year - for all the faculty. I wouldn't call that a viable OA option.

2. I'm glad Nature is implementing article download information, but I think it much more beneficial if everyone, not just the author, can see the data. As a point of comparison citation data is available to all users in a database. 

 More generally, I think Nature is trying to have it both ways - be a boutique publisher, with high costs and a correspondingly  high-profit margin, and also remain a core publisher, in that most acdemic or scholarly institutions are expected to subscribe at least some of the content. With these cost increases and licensing options, Nature is becoming (or already has become) unaffordable for many institutions. If scholars weren't demanding access, many of these titles would have been cancelled by many libraries by now.  

I don't think you can have it both ways. If most of your customer base can't afford the content, then in my opinion your market is limited and you can't also be considered a core publisher. Can you be both Neiman-Marcus and Wal-Mart at the same time? I don't think you can.  I'm curious to see how many libraries have cancelled titles from Nature or have forgone adding titles because of the cost.

This discussion is also painful for me because I know faculty where I work want Nature journals - I have a list of over six titles that have been requested in the last few years. I feel I am doing a disservice to my colleagues in withholding access to something. But the money is simply not in our budget.

I also want to support publishers that are experimenting with new communication channels in scholarship like web features, a blogging platform, Second Life, podcasts and the like.  Nature has been very progressive in exploring these new areas of scholarship, and their support has helped legitimize them as communication channels. Does it have to come at such a high cost? I hope not.

10 responses so far

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    Those OA cost estimates are only valid given their current rejection rates. Why isn't Accept More not a solution?

  • Actually Nature and NPG have stated the $10-30k figure for years now, so this is not the first place to hear it. Many Nature editors, including myself in the past, gave talks where we stated the same thing. The original estimate, based on a third-party evaluation of publishing costs, was $18k. But that was about 2004.

    • ebrown says:

      Thanks for the info - this was the first time I'd seen a figure this high for one article. As a former NPG editor, how much influence and/or input did you have in the OA policies and pricing schemes?

  • Jason Baird Jackson says:

    Thank you for this interesting update. You mention the NPG Library Committee. I do not know about the specifics of the NPG Library Committee and my query is of a more general sort, but I would like to tag for future discussion such committees as they exist within the framework of many large publishers (and higher education-serving corporations in general). There is no doubt that these organizations should be listening to the customers that they serve. But I think that there is some as yet unidentified frontier at which these advisory groups stop serving the interests of the communities in question and start being instruments of control exerted by the firms that organize them. Is being flown in to an attractive destination for (relatively) amenity-rich, work-light meeting a kind of super-size swag? Does the prestige of being selected to participate in one of these groups have a skewing influence on the participants? What is the proportion of honest feedback dialogue relative to: "We're glad you are here and we (company X) would like to offer you some training in (what we hold to be) best practices in your field and later, our Washington lobbyist will offer some observations on developments related to open access."

    The development of parallel bodies vis-a-vis scholarly societies and their potential to insert publisher talking points into wider discussions motivates my wondering about these dynamics. Having my lunch paid for at a librarian conference by one or more major commercial publishers minutes before speaking about scholarly communications reform made this dynamic clear for me in miniature. Individuals and organizations of integrity (including commercial publishers themselves) can monitor for corruption, but they have to be on the lookout for it and not self-delusional about the risks. At issue too is the politics of representation. When someone joins such an advisory body, what is the status of their representation and their relationship to some real or constructed constituency?

    • Agree that these are serious concerns. (For the record: I've let ProQuest feed me breakfast once or twice. To the best of my knowledge and belief, it hasn't affected how I view or treat them.)

      They're playing out in other arenas as well: OCLC is under scrutiny for the payouts and perks paid to its advisory board.

      • ebrown says:

        Indeed, Dorothea, this OCLC payout scandal could have serious repercussions in the library community and affect the ongoing lawsuit they have with Skyriver. It asks the question: Who are some of these library directors working for? In some cases the payouts are half of their salaries from their employers.

    • ebrown says:

      Great point, Jason, the existance and function of "advisory groups" in publishing is not always clear or well-publicized. I think this topic deserves its own blog post, and it's another element of the "culture of swag" I described in an earlier BOT post. I haven't served on a pubisher's advisory committee, but I will say in my recent discussions with Nature the representatives I spoke with seemed to be cognizant of the advisory role and wanted input and representation across different constituents. Whether this actually happens in practice I don't know.

  • Bernd-Christoph Kämper says:

    To question 6 NPG answered: "In 2008 NPG introduced local pricing based on four local currencies (dollar, euro, pound sterling and yen). This means price increases are applied to local currencies, independent of currency exchange rate fluctuations."

    This was announced in the annual letter to customers on 17 September 2008. Elsevier did the same around 2001, if I remember correctly. However, they started with price lists whose relation to each others was in close correspondence to actual exchange rates at that time, which was fair enough to do. Can NPG justify why it chose a GBP/EUR rate (1,55) that was already way off mark (the pound had fallen below 1,3 in spring 2008 and is now around 1,18)?

    A policy like this should not be used as a false pretence or excuse to avoid necessary adjustments to evolving market exchange rates.

    For Europe, we believe that a marked divergence between a stipulated company rate and the actual exchange rate (such as that currently in effect for NPG site license pricing) is not in accordance with the idea of a common market and may get in conflict with the requirement for equal access to and freedom of competition within the European Market.

    Our position is that if a Europe-based company establishes separate EUR and GBP price lists for a group of products or services, and if the conversion rate between those list prices diverges materially from the actual exchange rate, then, within Europe, the customer should have the freedom of choice to decide whether to be invoiced in EUR or in pound. If he switches to pound, he will have to bear the risk of currency fluctuations, and will have to pay any extra bank charges associated with the currency conversion.

    As an outcome of negotiations initiated by the German Library Association’s Committee of Acquisitions and Collections Development, in September 2010 NPG has acknowledged this and will now, upon request, provide European clients with quotes in sterling for both NPG and Palgrave Macmillan journals, based upon GBP list prices.

    Bernd-Christoph Kämper, Stuttgart University Library

    • Beth Brown says:

      Thanks for the update and perspective on NPG and exchange policies from the European library community. Here in the US we don't always see the effect of these policies on non-US libraries. Also good to hear discussions with NPG have created clearer pricing information. Some years ago there was discussion of another large scientific publisher (no names but I think you can guess who it was) doing something similar with exchange rate pricing schemes.