Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Comments on the Springer-BMC deal

Here are some comments from around the blogosphere on Springer's acquisition of BioMed Central.

From Rafat Ali at

This is akin to the adoption of Linux and open source software by mainstream IT companies....

From Michael Eisen at It's NOT Junk:

I am sure some will lament the sale of the innovative BMC to a publishing behemoth, but this is an unambiguously good thing for open access. This proves what we at PLoS have been saying since we launched - that open access is not just a crusade to do whats right and best for science - its also good business....

Back when the open access movement started, a lot of people in the academic publishing world were hostile to PLoS, BMC and open access in general. Most of their objections fell flat - but the one that stuck in the minds of most scientists was the idea that open access might be a nice idea, but it was not a sustainable business model. But Haank - who was then the head of Elsevier - adopted a more practical attitude. He said to me at a meeting once (and I paraphrase):

We make a lot of money selling subscriptions to our journals. Were not just going to stop. But if the scientific community wants open access and can prove it is good business, we will [change] gears and embrace open access publishing. And well make a lot of money publishing open access journals.

Well, with this transaction its clear that weve succeeded. Springer sees open access as the future of scientific publishing. While PLoS now has a bigger and richer open access competitor than we had before, a major psychological obstacle for authors has been overcome, and I expect well see more and more commercial and non-profit publishers move towards open access in the near future.

From Adam Hodgkin at Exact Editions:

...I am sure that Springer are not intending to close down BMC (well 95% sure!). I agree with Suber that the really interesting aspect to this acquisition is that the big commercial publishers are now beginning to feel their way into a situation in which giving away content, making it freely available, is actually good for the profit-oriented business which also sells subscriptions to some highly prized content. And provides other services. It's what those other services are that is perhaps most unclear at this point....I am sure that publishers have scarcely begun to think about the ways in which making content freely accessible may be an effective and strange-as-it-may-seem profitable way of publishing. Locking it all up as tight as possible will not work well. Publishers need to go to bed with this mantra buzzing in their brains: the marginal cost of access is approaching ..... zero.

From Revere at Effect Measure:

...At the outset it was not clear if [the BMC] business model could work in scientific publishing, and its early years BMC struggled to make a profit. The sale of BMC to Springer Science+Business Media, the world's second largest scientific publisher (1700 journals), seems to have answer the question of viability. But it leaves some other questions open....

The handwriting is on the wall for scientific publishers [due to OA policies like those at NIH and Harvard] and the Springer acquisition can be seen as an acknowledgement of this....

The part I worry about is that we will see a continuous increase in the processing fees, just as we have seen rapacious scientific publishers increase subscription costs to levels that made it unaffordable for libraries to subscribe....If we get to the point where reading is free but it is too expensive to write, we won't be better off....

The same [BMC] management team will operate under Springer direction and in the future the implied promise is that BMC journals will benefit from Springer's extensive resources. Maybe. I hope so....

Springer may not be committed to open access for ideological reasons, but I am....If I see the goal of free accessibility to scientific research threatened by practices like ramping up processing fees, the only ramp I'll be taking is the off ramp.