Nature journals now free, as open access model gains steam

The public now has unprecedented access to dozens more research journals, including the prestigious Nature, as publisher Macmillan announced that 49 of its titles will be available through a free content-sharing model starting Tuesday.

Under the terms of a one-year pilot program, journal subscribers and media outlets will be able to create links to articles from the journals — which also include Nature Medicine and Nature Genetics — on ReadCube, a platform for viewing and annotating PDF’s, and share them with anyone on the web.

“[It] marks an attempt to let scientists freely read and share articles while preserving NPG’s primary source of income — the subscription fees libraries and individuals pay to gain access to articles,” the publisher explained.

Even though initial access to the articles is limited to subscribers and media outlets, the announcement means that, for practical purposes, everyone will eventually have easy access to the material through shareable web links.

This is good news for the public but also for scholars, many of whom have long chafed at publishers’ practice of slapping expensive subscription walls around articles for which the authors are not paid.

The Nature decision also comes amid growing support for an “open access” model for many types of research. The Gates Foundation, for instance, recently required grant recipients to make their work publicly available, while U.S. government rules now mean that publicly funded health studies can’t be locked down by copyright. More broadly, many are embracing what the Economist dubbed the “academic spring” in 2012, in which professors began to boycott journals that impose onerous copyright conditions.

The story of Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide while facing an aggressive prosecution for unauthorized downloading of JSTOR journals, may also be another catalyst in the turn to open access.