Nature Allows Article Sharing—With Restrictions

In what at first looked to be a decisive move in the direction of open access (OA), Nature Publishing Group announced December 2 that it would officially adopt two initiatives that would provide access to articles previously available exclusively by subscription. But the new features come with restrictions that many see as a nod to OA in name only, and Nature News quickly corrected its initial headline, which read “Nature Makes All Articles Free to View”—but not before it was picked up by a number of news and social media outlets.
npgIn what at first looked to be a decisive move in the direction of open access (OA), Nature Publishing Group (NPG) announced December 2 that it would officially adopt two initiatives that would provide access to articles previously available exclusively by subscription. But the new features come with restrictions that many see as a nod to OA in name only, and Nature News quickly corrected its initial headline, which read “Nature Makes All Articles Free to View”—but not before it was picked up by a number of news and social media outlets. The first of NPG’s changes allows subscribers to 49 of its journals—Nature, the Nature family of journals, and another 15 science publications—to create and share links to full-text content via email or social media. This will enable scientists and students at more than 6,000 subscribing universities and organizations to share NPG articles with interested users for personal, non-commercial use. The second innovation gives 100 trusted media outlets, including the Guardian and the New York Times, permission to link to thousands of original scientific papers in reports, articles, and blog posts. Both changes will be instituted on a one-year trial basis. However, these links provide access to read-only versions of articles, which are viewed on ReadCube, a cross-platform reference and citation manager. Content cannot be downloaded, printed, searched, or indexed, and therefore cannot be reused or ingested by repositories. This means that NPG’s new arrangement is not OA—which, according to the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition’s fact sheet, requires that any user be allowed “to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software or use them for any other lawful purpose.”


A division of Macmillan Science and Education, NPG publishes scholarly journals, online databases, and textbooks, and offers other services on the subjects of life, physical, chemical, and applied sciences and clinical medicine. Its flagship journal, Nature, was founded in 1869, and in addition to a wide range of academic and society-owned journals, NPG now publishes Scientific American (according to NPG’s website, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S.). NPG’s journals have been criticized for their reliance on a perception of exclusivity and impact factor—how often recent articles are cited in academic research—to justify high subscription rates (Nature, Nature Communications, and Scientific Reports were ranked first, third, and fifth respectively in the multidisciplinary science category of the 2013 Journal Citation Report). OA scientific publishing alternatives, such as the Public Library of Science, have given NPG some competition over the past decade, and directives such as the European Union’s Guidelines on Open Access to Scientific Publications and Research Data and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy memorandum have given impetus to a number of OA initiatives and mandates worldwide. In recent years, NPG has addressed these changes in the academic publishing landscape. It currently publishes 73 journals that offer an OA option, a number of which launched in 2014 (including the Frontiers and Nature Partner Journals series), and 38 percent of its published articles in the past year were immediately made OA under Creative Commons licenses. In September 2014, NPG announced that Nature Communications, originally begun in 2010 as a hybrid OA model, would become NPG’s first OA-only title, accepting only OA research submissions after October. NPG joined the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), a trade association representing the interests of OA publishers in all academic disciplines, in October, and has pledged to help authors locate sources of funding for the article processing charges that subsidize its OA titles. But for all NPG’s forward motion on the OA front, much of its high-value content is still behind a paywall and unavailable to the unaffiliated researcher, or those whose institution cannot or will not subscribe to the journals in question.


In spite of its largely subscription-only status, NPG’s articles are reaching a wider audience in ways that the publisher never intended. For instance, #icanhazpdf is a Twitter hashtag used specifically for the exchange of scholarly papers. Individuals looking for a particular article can tweet a link to the work in question, and anyone with access to it can send that person a PDF. Once the request is fulfilled, the tweet is deleted. This is known as “dark social”—content is shared via email or chat, rather than a shared social media platform, and its use cannot be tracked. NPG is aware of such practices. Steven C. Inchcoombe, CEO of NPG, told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “We know researchers are already sharing content, but not always optimally.” And in fact this recent initiative is an effort, on NPG’s part, to channel the sharing of its content through a proprietary and essentially in-house platform—ReadCube was developed by Digital Science, a division of NPG’s parent company, Macmillan Publishers. Originally developed as a desktop application to help organize research papers, much like Mendeley or Papers, ReadCube currently provides reading technologies for more than 30 publishers, including all single-article ecommerce for Wiley. Shared articles are viewed in ReadCube’s Enhanced PDF Viewer, and can be annotated or highlighted and then saved through either the browser-based or desktop applications. However, although the content resembles a PDF it is not a file, but rather a web page rendered in HTML5. And while users can access articles and annotations through a shareable URL, or save links to a ReadCube account, they cannot be printed or downloaded. All data resides with NPG, enabling the publisher to track the use of each shared article. “What they’re trying to do is encourage sharing on itself,” Timo Hannay, managing director of Digital Science (and former director of web publishing at NPG), told LJ. “Publishers have been torn because many of them would like to enable sharing—and they realize that sharing is a natural part of the research process—but they’re rather uncomfortable with just letting their content out in the wild and allowing it to be freely shared on third-party platforms where they’ve got no visibility and no control.… Publishers are looking for ways to provide visible legitimate sharing.” NPG’s ability to track articles could also affect the ecosystem of sharing metrics, Hannay added. While he doesn’t believe this will replace other factors, he believes that tracking annotations offers more granular feedback, and ReadCube’s data will become “part of a broader collection of measures.”


Within hours of its announcement, Nature News amended the original headline—“Nature Makes All Articles Free to View”—to “Nature promotes read-only sharing by subscribers.” But a fair amount of public relations damage had been done. Even with the quick revision, some viewed this as a bait-and-switch by NPG. Ross Mounce, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Bath, termed the plan beggar access: “The scholarly poor, without a Nature subscription, will still need to beg subscribers for access to specific articles they want. Only now this begging is more clearly legalized.”  And PhD student Tom Pollard was critical of both the concept and the platform, noting that ReadCube is not optimized for mobile devices (according to Hannay, mobile functionality will be rolled out in spring 2015): “This announcement isn't about supporting collaborative research, it's about controlling content. If the content was open access, we could all help to deliver it to wherever it needs to be, whether that's a classroom, a clinic, or someone's phone.” Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California Berkeley, took a more moderate line of criticism, adding that “If you believe, as I do, that paywalls that restrict the free flow of scientific knowledge are a bad thing, then anything that removes some of these restrictions is a good thing.” Hannay, however was emphatic that it was never NPG’s intent to identify the initiative as OA, explaining that “the Nature News team itself is completely…independent from the business side of Nature—never mind Digital Science, which is a whole other division of Macmillan,” and that all news outlets had received the same information. “What Nature News decided to write about it was completely up to them.” “This is not open access,” he told LJ. “It’s not intended to compete with open access, it’s not intended to replace open access or reduce the value of open access at all…. People need to be able to share subscription content as well, and that means doing it in a convenient and legitimate way. We want to enable that.”
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Amy Bourke

Readers interested in this issue might like to read a blog post from our CEO, Steven Inchcoombe - Content sharing is *not* open access and why NPG is committed to both We remain convinced that we are trying something new to help researchers collaborate, and provide the public with a way to read scientific content that has not been available to them before. We are very clear that this is complementary to, not an alternative to, our many open access and open research activities. Kind regards Amy Bourke Corporate Communications Manager Nature Publishing Group

Posted : Dec 19, 2014 02:45

Faye Kane,girl brain

Propaganda and bollocks. It's the same kind of patronizing doubletalk you got from Kruger and HP when they grabbed all the coffee cartridge / printer ink business from third-parties. Make it exclusive for a year, like the science data backing up articles paid for by NSF grants. Then the world can benefit from the research. This is a blatant example of market failure>. Another is funding highways with borrowed money instead of raising taxes a few cents, temporarily, like for the Houston beltway. It should have been paid for by a one-time road construction tax and be free forever. Instead, drivers have to slow down and stop every three miles to cough up cash for the rich lenders. That's also "forever." It costs more for drivers and is grossly inefficient because of the overhead for all the required infrastructure (like booths and toll-taker salaries). NPG is doing the exact same thing. And as always, they get away with it because everyone who should be raising hell prefers to watch a chimpanzee dressed as a human hit people with a plastic baseball bat on tee-vee. I got so sick of it that I live in a cave in the woods. --FLK

Posted : Dec 19, 2014 02:45



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