Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Springer buys BioMed Central

Scientific American has the scoop:  Open access publisher BioMed Central sold to Springer, October 7, 2008.  Excerpt:

Open access pioneer BioMed Central has been acquired by Springer, has learned.

BioMed Central publisher Matthew Cockerill announced the news in an email today to editors of BMC's journals.

Those in the open access movement had watched BioMed Central with keen interest. Founded in 2000, it was the first for-profit open access publisher and advocates feared that when the company was sold, its approach might change. But Cockerill assured editors that a BMC board of trustees "will continue to safeguard BioMed Central's open access policy in the future." Springer "has been notable...for its willingness to experiment with open access publishing," Cockerill said in a release circulated with the email to editors....

PS:  I'll post more details when I have them.

Update (10/7/08).  Also see the joint Springer/BMC press release.  Excerpt:

...BMC is the largest open access provider in the world with over 180 peer-reviewed journals.

BioMed Central’s flagship journals include Journal of Biology, BMC Biology, BMC Medicine, Malaria Journal, BMC Bioinformatics andGenome Biology.  BioMed Central has revenues of approximately EUR 15 million per year.  The company is based in London, with a second office in Liverpool, and has approximately 150 employees.

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.”

Matthew Cockerill, Publisher of BioMed Central said:  “...BioMed Central has demonstrated that the open access business model can work, and we look forward to continued rapid growth as part of Springer...."


  • There's lot of fascinating room for conjecture here.  But one speculation we can rule out is that Springer will convert BMC's OA journals to TA.  First, it's clear from Derk Haank's statement that Springer wants BMC because it's OA, not despite it.  Second and more important, BMC has an Open Access Charter precisely to prevent an acquisition or take-over from reversing the company's commitment to OA:
    BioMed Central has established an independent Board of Trustees. If and when a change of ownership should be considered, the Board of Trustees will be asked to judge and advise whether sufficient guarantees to continue a policy of unconditional open access for research articles are being offered and agreed by any prospective new owner. BioMed Central will not enter into a change of ownership agreement unless the Board of Trustees accepts these guarantees.
  • Nor do I take this as a sign of BMC's failing health.  On the contrary.   If BMC were failing, Springer would not want to buy it.  BMC would not qualify either as a good investment or as a rival worth sidelining.  The purchase is a sign of Springer's confidence that BMC will continue its long, steady climb from the red to the black.
  • As the world's largest OA publisher, BMC was already in a unique position to benefit from economies of scale.  Joining Springer will enable it to realize even greater economies of scale --unless the efficiency of BMC's comparatively lean and mean corporate structure, optimized for OA publishing, is cut by Springer's legacy overhead.  But either way, get used to saying it:  Springer is now the world's largest OA publisher.
  • If Derk Haank says that OA publishing is a "sustainable part of STM publishing", then it's harder for anyone to say that it isn't.  That includes the publishing lobby, which for years has played on fears of unsustainability in its campaign to derail or dilute national commitments to OA for publicly-funded research.
  • Questions:  Will BMC's publication fees go up, down, or stay the same?  Will other giants look for OA acquisitions?  Will Springer use its corporate muscle to lobby for green and gold OA?
  • A prediction to remember:  Five years ago, the financial analysts at BNP Paribas studied the world of journal publishing and concluded that there was a 50% chance that in ten years the major commercial firms would dominate OA publishing as they then dominated TA publishing, but with lower profit margins.

Update (10/7/08).  Also see Andrew Albanese's story in Library Journal.  Excerpt:

...Financial terms were not disclosed. On the balance sheet, adding BioMed Central would seem to be a very minor deal for Springer; BioMed Central publishes some 193 open access journals with revenues of roughly $24.5 million, while Springer publishes over 1700 journals in addition to 5500 new books annually, with revenues nearly $1.25 billion. It is a significant event in the history of open access publishing, however, as a leading commercial publisher has now expressed confidence in a business model once deemed, at best, experimental, and often called untenable....

Industry watchers have long expected that BMC founder Vitek Tracz was building up to a sale, much as he did when he sold BioMedNet to Elsevier in 1996. While at Elsevier, meanwhile, Haank was rather agnostic about the future of OA, supporting “green” self-archiving policies. When he joined Springer, Haank hired BMC’s first CEO, Jan Velterop, in 2005, and Velterop oversaw the company’s initial foray into open access publishing, Open Choice, before leaving for KnewCo in March 2008.

As an upstart business, BMC has had its growing pains. The company, founded in 2000, had yet to turn a profit, instead choosing to bet on a longer-term strategy of growing its publishing program and OA. Although BMC individual author charges more than doubled in recent years, it kept its author processing charges (APCs) below the rates of its competitors, a strategy that helped yield significant growth in submission rates and articles published, if not short-term profits....

The question now, is will BMC have more of an effect on the way commercial giant Springer publishes, or vice versa....