Publishers Respond to NSF Public Access Plan


On March 18, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced the steps it will take to make federally-funded research publicly available. I had some questions regarding what this might mean for publishing companies and peer-reviewed journals.

I reached out to some of the largest publishers of scholarly journals, and representatives from three of the publishers responded. The answers ranged from certainty that NSF’s plan would be easily implemented to uncertainty about what the plan would mean. I’m including all three responses below. My questions were the same for all of the publishers I contacted, and are included in the first set of responses below.

Q&A with Kent R. Anderson, publisher of Science

Communication Breakdown: Will NSF’s public access plan require copyright and reproduction rules for journals to change? Or will researchers have to pay for articles to be open access?

Anderson: NSF’s policy is compatible with CHORUS, and AAAS [which publishes Science] participates in CHORUS, which allows publishers to make content subject to public access mandates likes the NSF’s available on their website without modifications to copyright and reproduction rules.

CB: If the cost is put on the journals, could that have a significant impact on their revenue streams? (I’m guessing that the percentage of articles stemming from federally-funded work varies widely, as does the extent of subscribers perusing online archives for work that’s more than 12 months old?)

Anderson: CHORUS has minimal costs for publishers to participate, and does not cost taxpayers anything. Other solutions favored by other government agencies, such as government-run repositories, cost taxpayers millions of dollars per year. The NSF and DOE policies, in making themselves compatible with CHORUS, save taxpayers money, create minimal expenses for publishers, and allow members of the public to access the definitive versions of articles subject to these public access mandates.

CB: If these changes do affect the revenue of journals, could that lead to changes in subscription fee structures to compensate for losses?

Anderson: The greatest unknown is the effect of a 12-month embargo period, which seems to have become the standard for public access mandates, but which does not reflect the varying half-lives of article downloads for different fields. Most articles have half-lives of 24-48 months, so there is some risk in these shorter embargoes. So far, however, the biggest challenge for publishers is that science funding overall is falling and libraries have seen their share of university budgets erode consistently for the past 30 years. Those funding challenges should be a source of serious concern for everyone involved in the scientific enterprise.

Statement from Grace Baynes, Head of Communications, Nature Publishing Group

[Note: Communication Breakdown is hosted by SciLogs, which is published in association with]

The National Science Foundation public access policy offers a balanced, pragmatic approach to providing open access to the research it funds. It is consistent with the National Institutes of Health public access policy introduced some years ago. Publishers such as Nature Publishing Group have successfully worked with the NIH, Wellcome Trust and other funders to ensure that authors can comply with public access mandates when publishing in the journal of their choice.

For example, authors publishing in NPG journals, including Nature and the Nature research journals, can self-archive their accepted manuscript on acceptance, for public access six months from publication. This can either be in a subject repository like PubMed Central, or an institutional repository. This policy has been in place since 2005, and is compatible with sustainability of the subscription model for us at this time.

So NSF authors can comply with the public access policy under our current self-archiving policy. Many other publishers permit self- archiving in this way, usually with a twelve month embargo for scientific articles.

For NIH authors and other funders who partner with PubMed Central, NPG can deposit accepted manuscripts on their behalf free of charge.

We also offer over 20 open access journals, including Nature Communications and Scientific Reports, for authors who would like to make their final published article open access immediately on acceptance. Over 60 of our journals offer authors a choice of subscription access or open access. Where authors opt for open access publication, an article processing charge is payable on acceptance.

In short, the NSF public access policy will ensure the results of the research they fund are publicly accessible, while working within tried and tested ways to balance this with a sustainable future for scholarly publishing and communication.

Statement from Elsevier

You have posed some very interesting questions to us around the new NSF policy. As the policy was only published two days ago we – like all stakeholders – will need time to reflect on it and what it will mean for the research community. Moreover, we are currently not in the position to be able to answer the questions you have posed. [Note: the response from Elsevier was sent March 20. Also worth noting: Elsevier is also a member of CHORUS.]

If you are interested in reading our open access policies these are available for you online at:, and our manuscript posting guide for authors:


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