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Moving OA Article Publishing to the Default

At the beginning of 2020, a massive open access (OA) contract was finalized between 700+ research institutions in Germany and the major academic publisher Springer Nature. How does this agreement affect researchers in Hong Kong?

The contract is an agreement between Springer Nature and Germany’s Projekt DEAL, led by Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL). It is a transformative agreement, a new type of agreements that moves institutions’ publishing expenditure gradually from covering subscription fee towards publishing fee. The long term goal of transformative agreements is to flip academic publishing to an open access business model.

Under this particular contract, authors affiliated with more than 700 institutions in Germany have access to Springer Nature journals. In addition, they will be able to publish papers as OA with Springer Nature, using the funds managed centrally by institutions. The deal is expected to support 13,000 articles a year from German researchers to become openly accessible, therefore making it the largest transformative agreement so far. MPDL and Projekt DEAL have been pioneering OA contract negotiation in recent years. Previously they had a well-publicized transformation agreement with another publisher Wiley. Many research institutions in Europe and US have also been actively exploring new publishing arrangements.

OA and APCs

Openly accessible content is always welcomed by readers. This agreement will put more journal articles in the OA realm. Researchers over the world will benefit from it.

Springer Nature is one of the largest academic publishers in the world. It publishes over 3,000 journals, among them about 600 are fully OA, while majority of the rest are hybrid (i.e., a journal has some papers open access and some subscription access). Both types of journals charge authors APCs to publish OA. In a fully OA journal, the authors must pay the APC in order to publish. In a hybrid journal, authors can choose to pay or not; if not, the paper would stay behind a paywall. The APC of fully OA Springer Nature journals range from slightly less than €1,000 to more than €3,000; at the same time, their hybrid journals quote about €2,000 to over €3,000. Through Projekt DEAL agreement, German researchers will have their APCs covered. In the long term, transformative agreements like this one will gradually increase the OA portion in the body of research literature, change authors’ publishing behaviors, and shift the cost away from journal subscriptions.

HKUST researchers and Springer Nature

Among the publishers that HKUST researchers publish with, Springer Nature is always among the highest in article counts. For example, via Scopus, we can find 269 HKUST affiliated articles published in their journals in 2018; the top 6 journals are listed below.

Springer Nature Journals Journal Type 2018 Articles
Journal of High Energy Physics Fully OA 35
European Physical Journal C Fully OA 25
Scientific Reports Fully OA 19
Nature Communications Fully OA 13
Landslides Fully OA 7
Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology Hybrid 5


Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology is an example of hybrid journals. According to data in Scopus, about 10% of the articles in the journal are OA. The listed price of APC in this journal is €3,060 per paper. The 5 HKUST articles published there in 2018 are not OA.

Transformative Agreement in Hong Kong?

The Projekt DEAL-Springer Nature agreement sets an example for other institutions to follow. Looking at research output from Hong Kong, researchers from the 8 UGC-funded institutions publish about 2,000 articles per year with Springer Nature. Starting with our current subscription license to their journals, what kind of additional terms can UGC institutions negotiate with such a major publisher? What contract coverage can balance and sustain our expenditure on accessing content, supporting OA publishing, and benefiting Hong Kong researchers both as authors and readers? To move along this direction, it will require joint effort and good communication between libraries, administrators and researchers in universities.

— By Gabi Wong, Library

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published January 20, 2020
last modified March 11, 2022