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British universities have agreed to a new three-year read-and-publish deal with Springer Nature, despite many expressing “significant reservations” over the high cost of publishing open access in prestige titles.

As part of the new deal with the German-British publisher announced last month, universities will have unlimited open-access publishing in Springer and Palgrave hybrid titles, while free-to-read publishing will be available in Nature and Nature research journals, although this option will be restricted to a certain number of papers.

The Times Higher Education logo, with a red T, purple H and blue E.

Times Higher Education

Based on modeling, this cap on Nature-branded titles would be “sufficient” for British institutions, said Jisc, the U.K.’s higher education IT consortium, which has been negotiating with Springer Nature on behalf of British institutions for more than a year.

While the agreement would “result in real-term cost savings for all institutions” and was accepted by all universities that responded to a consultation, a large number had “significant reservations” about the deal, added Jisc.

These concerns centered on the high cost of publishing open access outside the agreement and limited transparency, particularly regarding how Springer Nature’s article-processing charges (APCs) are calculated, with gold open access for Nature priced at 8,490 pounds ($10,616). Springer Nature was one of several major publishers—along with Elsevier—which opted in November not to participate in Plan S’s Journal Comparison Service, in which journals shared information about their costs and services.

Paul Ayris, pro vice provost at University College London (libraries, culture, collections, open science) told Times Higher Education that the sector would only “grudgingly” accept the new deal because it “bakes into the system the high prices that we’ve seen with subscriptions.”

“Those APCs of 9,500 euros are a huge amount to pay. It’s too much for one article, and that level seems to have been built into the new deal. Springer Nature can’t explain how they’ve arrived at this price, either,” he added.

Although libraries recognized this was the “best possible deal that could be achieved at the moment,” Ayris said, the transformative deals the publishers agreed to were not delivering the change that many academics or librarians had anticipated. He added that they would exacerbate global inequalities because poorer nations would be unable to pay high-cost APCs.

Other concerns included Springer Nature’s approach to author rights retention, which some respondents felt created barriers to equitable open-access publishing worldwide, Jisc said.

The deal comes after the rejection of a previous offer in February because of cost concerns, with British universities also vetoing a proposed deal last year that would have required them to pay nearly £1 million extra ($1,250,000).

Welcoming the new agreement, Stephen Decent, principal and vice chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, said it would “further extend the reach and impact of U.K. research by providing open-access publishing in 2,500 Springer Nature journals,” which would lead to about 6,000 papers a year being published in a free-to-read format with the world’s second-biggest academic publisher.

“While this is an important deal that delivers concessions, the goal of fully accessible open research still eludes us,” added Decent, who called for “a more inclusive and open research culture, where all contributions to research are valued, regardless of the type of output or where they are published.”

Carolyn Honour, chief commercial officer at Springer Nature, said the new deal would “for the first time” cover all Springer Nature journals and would also “open up access to U.K. research” and extend “publishing opportunities to a broader range of institutions and disciplines.”

The publisher will “remain committed to working transparently, through the publication of data and resources, and extensively with our global partners, to drive progress towards this goal,” added Honour.

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