Nature Opens the Archives

Users will be able to access articles dating back to 1869 from the journal and its sister titles, but cannot copy, print, or download the materials.

Dec 3, 2014
Bob Grant

WIKIMEDIA, NATURE JOURNALSome readers of the scientific literature are about to get an eyeful from Nature Publishing Group (NPG). Macmillan, the publisher of Nature, Nature Medicine, Nature Genetics, and more than 45 other titles in the NPG, has announced that it will make articles in all of its NPG journals freely available to read, but not to copy, download, or print. But there is a catch: in order to access NPG articles through ReadCube, the software platform that Macmillan is using to display the content, users must get the read-only link from a subscriber. Institutional subscribers can access and share content dating back to 1869, the year Nature launched, while personal subscribers can share links of content only back to 1997.

“To me, this smacks of public relations, not open access,” John Wilbanks, an open-access advocate and a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, told Nature. “With access mandates on the march around the world, this appears to be more about getting ahead of the coming reality in scientific publishing. Now that the funders call the tune and the funders want the articles on the web at no charge, these articles are going to be open anyway.”

“It’s a bold move,” Peter Suber, an open-access advocate and director of the Harvard University Office for Scholarly Communication, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Nature can afford to take it because it’s so successful,” but “there are other successful publishers that could also afford to take it.” Suber told Nature that the new policy is a step in the right direction, but could backfire if authors prefer to provide links to PDFs rather than depositing their manuscripts in online, open-access repositories, which typically allow users to download, print, or save the files.

This isn’t NPG’s first foray into open access. Earlier this year, the publisher announced that Nature Communications would only publish open-access articles as of October 20. Similarly, many science journals are making the move to open-access models of publishing.

As of now, NPG’s new publishing scheme is “a pilot,” according to Annette Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Science and Education; the publisher will be evaluating it over the next year. Thomas added that she expects the open-access business model to exist in harmony with the publisher’s subscription base, which rakes in millions of dollars every year.