Commercial Ascendance of Open Access – Springer buys BioMed Central

The long-rumored sale of BioMed Central – the first true open access publisher – has finally been consumated.

I am sure some will lament the sale of the innovative BMC to a publishing behemoth, but this is an unambiguously good thing for open access. This proves what we at PLoS have been saying since we launched – that open access is not just a crusade to do what’s right and best for science – it’s also good business.

Springer’s CEO Derk Haank sums it up:

This acquisition reinforces the fact that we see open access publishing as a sustainable part of STM publishing, and not an ideological crusade.

Back when the open access movement started, a lot of people in the academic publishing world were hostile to PLoS, BMC and open access in general. Most of their objections fell flat – but the one that stuck in the minds of most scientists was the idea that open access might be a nice idea, but it was not a sustainable business model. But Haank – who was then the head of Elsevier – adopted a more practical attitude. He said to me at a meeting once (and I paraphrase):

We make a lot of money selling subscriptions to our journals. We’re not just going to stop. But if the scientific community wants open access and can prove it is good business, we will gears and embrace open access publishing. And we’ll make a lot of money publishing open access journals.

Well, with this transaction it’s clear that we’ve succeeded. Springer sees open access as the future of scientific publishing. While PLoS now has a bigger and richer open access competitor than we had before, a major psychological obstacle for authors has been overcome, and I expect we’ll see more and more commercial and non-profit publishers move towards open access in the near future.

(see also Peter Subers comments on the deal).

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