Scientific publishing giant Springer Nature has announced a new landmark open access agreement with the Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL). Authors from participating Max Planck institutions will be able to publish an accepted paper in Nature and all Nature-branded research journals open access for a flat fee of £8575 once the agreement comes into force.

The new deal, which comes into play in January 2021 and will run for four years, is being offered to all of Nature’s institutional subscribers in Germany. Approximately 120 German institutions are expected to sign up.

The new scheme is based on a tiered price structure. Participating institutions will pay a flat fee, based on an estimated cost of €9500 (£8575) per article. It also offers reading access to Nature’s journals and subscription titles, including 21 Nature Review titles.

MPDL signed the agreement on behalf of the Max Planck Society’s 86 institutes, and the new framework will also be offered to other German institutions that currently subscribe to Nature and Nature-branded journals. Springer Nature estimates that approximately 400 articles will be published in the first year of the arrangement, if all eligible institutions elect to take part.

‘Having the opportunity to publish original research articles openly in such a highly selective and reputable journal as Nature will be an enormous opportunity for scientists in Germany, but an even greater benefit for researchers everywhere who will be able to learn from and build on their findings, accelerating the very process of the advancement of science,’ said Klaus Blaum, vice president of the Max Planck Society’s chemistry and physics section.

Some open access research advocates, however, are critical of the new agreement and the cost it imposes on researchers. ‘That opportunity is only open to selected organisations so the rest of the world cannot participate,’ says Peter Murray-Rust, a chemist at the University of Cambridge and campaigner in this area. ‘It’s basically saying that the primary point of publishing is to get an accolade,’ he continues. ‘There is a club of rich nations who get to publish in glamour journals like Nature and the publisher–academic complex works to dismiss everyone else.’

Peter Suber, who directs Harvard University library’s office for scholarly communication, is also sceptical. ‘It is a bad deal for universities, it’s not a bad deal for Nature,’ he tells Chemistry World. ‘Paying this “prestige tax” to publish in Nature is a bad idea. Libraries end up paying for Nature’s high rejection rate, not higher discoverability or visibility.’