Nature, one of the biggest academic journal groups has announced that they will make all their articles free to view. While the articles will be available for anyone to read, they cannot be copied, printed or downloaded, the journal’s publisher Macmillan announced on 2 December.

nature publishing

“Subscribers to 49 journals on will be able to share a unique URL to a full text, read-only version of published scientific research with colleagues or collaborators in the most convenient way for them, e.g. via email and social media. Included are the world’s most cited scientific publication, Nature; the Nature family of journals and fifteen other quality science journals”, the press release reads.

This seems like a brilliant move which will allow scholars, students and passionate readers to access the content, while also preserving Macmillan’s main source of income – the subscription fees libraries and individuals pay to gain access to articles.

The PDFs with the articles will be available on the ReadCube platform. ReadCube is an open source desktop and browser-based program for managing, annotating, and accessing academic research articles; however, as mentioned above, you will only be able to read and annotate the articles – not download them. This move will also likely increase not only Nature’s popularity, but also ReadCube’s – a platform in which Macmillan has invested heavily. So basically you get a read only version of all the papers published in Nature, which you will also be able to share with your friends through a link that anyone can access. PDF articles can also be saved to a free desktop version of ReadCube, much like songs on iTunes can be saved on your computer. The only bad thing is that ReadCube is only available on Windows and MacOS, so if you’re running Linux or other operating systems, there’s a good chance it won’t work for you. Personally, I feel this is a pretty significant problem, as Linux users are most likely overrepresented in Nature’s audience.

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“We know researchers are already sharing content, often in hidden corners of the Internet or using clumsy, time-consuming practices,” said a statement by Timo Hannay, the managing director of Digital Science, a division of Macmillan that has invested in ReadCube. “At Digital Science we have the technology to provide a convenient, legitimate alternative that allows researchers to access the information they need and the wider, interested public access to scientific knowledge, from the definitive, original source,” Hannay said.

This move comes as open-source research is becoming more and more prevalent; for example, over half of 2007-2012 published research is now available for free. The Chinese research agencies are pushing more and more for full open access research and the White House directs open access for government research. Personally, I am strongly for open access research – bar some exceptions in which there are strong reasons to put a paywall over the articles. I feel that this current system with library subscriptions is more business oriented than science oriented and it’s stripping away potential progress by limiting the access to science. However, while this initiative is laudable… it’s not exactly open access.

“To me, this smacks of public relations, not open access,” says John Wilbanks, a strong advocate of open-access publishing in science and a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. “With access mandates on the march around the world, this appears to be more about getting ahead of the coming reality in scientific publishing. Now that the funders call the tune and the funders want the articles on the web at no charge, these articles are going to be open anyway,” he says.

So, what do you think? Is this just a PR move, or is it a legitimate attempt to move towards open-access research? Or is it both?

Nature was first set up on 4 November 1869. It was ranked the world’s most cited by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports and is widely regarded as one of the few remaining academic journals that publishes original research across a wide range of scientific fields. They get about 3 million unique readers every month, and if you’ve been reading ZME Science for a while, you’ve likely seen that we often cite studies from them.

Original Press Release.