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Challenges to Licensing from Some Publishers: Past Activities

Nature (2012)

NOTE: After successful negotiations, new Nature journals were licensed and made available as of January 2014.

For the most recent statement on the dispute with Nature Publishing Group, see our separate information page at

In 2001, NPG appeared on the Challenges to Licensing webpage for a number of issues that were ultimately resolved (see archival link below). In 2009, three issues prompted serious renewed concerns with NPG's licensing policies. Although UC concerns about unsustainable pricing are in temporary abeyance while discussions between UC and NPG are ongoing (see the above update), we continue to be concerned about the long-term implications of these issues:

  • Lack of sustainable long-term pricing

    In 2008, CDL was pleased to negotiate what we believed to be a stable pricing agreement with Nature Publishing Group for both Nature and its companion titles following several years of extremely steep price increases (for example, in 2007 UC's proposed cost for Nature increased by 65% - after significant negotiation, the increase was reduced to 54% - far exceeding the rates published by NPG on its website).

    Dishearteningly, in 2009 Nature informed the CDL that it again planned to sharply raise licensing fees for the University of California Libraries, this time by as much as 300% beginning in 2011 - an order of magnitude amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  • Excessive price increase for Scientific American

    Nature Publishing Group recently acquired Scientific American from its sister company at the Holtzbrinck group. With this change in management, the cost of UC's online site license would have been more than twice the fee currently charged for systemwide access. It is worth noting that this fee represented a 'discounted' offer: the list price quoted to the CDL was well over five times our current cost. The price of an institutional print subscription also increased more than seven-fold.

    There was no plausible justification for raising online licensing fees for Scientific American to such exorbitant levels. As has been pointed out by others (see for example the Open Letter from the Oberlin Group libraries at ), pricing a general interest periodical such as Scientific American at such levels is unreasonable and unlikely to be considered a fiscally responsible investment by many libraries.

    For this reason, the University of California Libraries unanimously decided to cancel an online license to Scientific American upon expiration of the subscription in May 2010.
    Campus libraries are happy to work with faculty and students to identify alternative high-quality sources of scientific news reporting and analysis.

  • Loss of perpetual rights and cost increases for transferring titles such as Polymer Journal (published on behalf of the Society of Polymer Science, Japan)

    UC lost access to the 2006-2009 archive of Polymer Journal in 2010 when the content moved to unless we signed a site license with NPG. These years were formerly available on J-Stage, which is now maintained as a closed file through 2005 only. Campuses expected more than a doubling of the print or e-only pricing.

Given these concerns about Nature's pricing policies, the UC Libraries are not currently licensing the online versions of new Nature journals.

Members of the UC community who share our pricing concerns may wish to write to the publisher directly to express their views.  Communications may be addressed to Steven Inchcoombe, Managing Director, Nature Publishing Group, London at and shared with Ivy Anderson, CDL Director of Collections and the University Librarian at your campus.

Nature Publishing Group (2007)

Once again the CDL finds it necessary to feature Nature on its Challenges to Licensing web page. Three issues have prompted renewed concerns in 2007:

  • Unsustainable long-term pricing

    UC experienced a 65% increase in the cost for Nature in 2007.

  • Lack of full disclosure of how Nature calculates pricing

  • Confidentiality provisions in Nature license agreements

  • These provisions prevent open discussion of the pricing model with other library colleagues and even within the UC community.

    An update is also provided on our previous concerns about perpetual rights.

    Pricing and Confidentiality Concerns

    In 2007, Nature changed its pricing, resulting in dramatic increases for many customers including those with the highest use such as UC. CDL’s actual costs for Nature increased by 65% in 2007, far exceeding the rates published by Nature on its website. There was little explanation of the basis for the pricing change or the discrepancy with published rates. At the same time, Nature demanded confidentiality language in its license that restricted customers from discussing the prices they were being charged for Nature within the community.

    These issues combine to create an environment of distrust surrounding Nature pricing policies and the integrity of its communications with subscribing institutions.

    Perpetual Rights Update

    After lengthy negotiations, Nature journals were licensed and made available to all UC campuses in 2001. While earlier CDL objections to the Nature institutional model were largely remedied, one major issue remained: lack of perpetual rights and the right to archive subscribed e-journals.

    CDL continued discussions, as did many other institutions with similar concerns, and in 2005 Nature responded with site license language that allowed post-cancellation rights to the available archived content with an annual access fee (but without agreeing to rights "in perpetuity"). The policy will apply as far as possible to all journals published by Nature Publishing Group. However, post cancellation rights will not apply to journals that offer open archives after 12 months or to journals owned by scholarly societies that may adopt different policies. The archived content available depends on the start date of licensing; access to all archive content back to 1997 is automatically included in the subscription fee for subscriptions entered in 2006 or earlier, while subscriptions begun in 2007 or later will offer a more limited window of archival access with the ability to purchase further back years at additional cost. Access fees had not yet been determined as of this writing, but Nature claims they will be competitive with the market. Annual access fees are not imposed as long as a current subscription to the relevant title remains in force.

    The current policies address CDL’s principal concerns with respect to long-term access, but we remain uncomfortable with Nature’s unwillingness to identify these rights as perpetual. In addition, while Nature offers an archival copy on a physical medium under appropriate circumstances, the terms affecting such copies remain unclear. It remains a CDL priority to secure perpetual rights to all the Nature resources the UC system has acquired since 2001.

    Given these concerns, adding future Nature Publishing Group titles to CDL or campus licenses is discouraged at this time.

    Nature and licensing of digital version (2001)

    NOTE: After successful negotiations, Nature journals were licensed and made available as of November 2001.

    July 26, 2001

    Licensing in digital form remains a top priority for the CDL. Our objections to the Nature institutional model have been largely remedied, the pricing is now reasonable, and CDL and campus library funds have been identified to support the license. I am hopeful that licensing terms can be resolved in time to make Nature and Nature monthlies available by fall.

    The major unresolved licensing issue is:

    Perpetual ownership/right to archive. The UC libraries collectively believe that, for the substantial investments we make in content and in order to serve future scholars, the rights to own what has been purchased/licensed in digital format are essential. Nature may change hands, Nature may be archived by a third party, and UC does not expect to pay repeatedly for the same content. UC should have the rights to archive the digital content it has purchased.

    This is a principle that is important to other research libraries as well and I am hopeful that Nature Publishing Co. is reviewing and well change this policy in the near future.  

    Beverlee A. French
    Associate University Librarian
    Director, Shared Content
    California Digital Library
    University of California

    AAAS and Science Express (January 2008)

    American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

    NOTE: Per CDC approval, this statement was removed in February 2012.

    A 2004 letter from the AAAS addressed to each UC campus indicated that AAAS intended to charge its top 150 users a higher rate for Science Online in order to recover lost revenue from advertisements and to be more fair to average use institutions. UC's cost with the new pricing model was ten times what UC libraries spent on AAAS print journals in 1999.

    To put this in perspective, a similar letter from AAAS in 2002 cited membership losses as the incentive for a new pricing model and resulted in an 80 percent price increase to UC. The cumulative effect in 2004 of those two AAAS price increases was a tripling of UC costs over 2002. In 2006, the subscription price of Science Online increased again by 11%, more than twice the rate of most other publishers.

    While AAAS has moderated price increases since that time, these exceptional price increases have never been rolled back or, indeed, fully justified to the CDL's satisfaction.

    In addition, AAAS continues a policy unique in the industry of charging a supplemental fee for access to 'as soon as publishable' articles under the rubric Science Express. Virtually all other publishers today consider early publication to be a normal feature of the online publishing environment. For research-intensive universities, many of which already pay a higher, usage-based licensing fee for access to Science, the additional surcharge for Science Express amounts to a further tax on access to cutting-edge research. The CDL encourages AAAS to abandon this fee.

    Due to these pricing policies, UC librarians are reluctant to license additional AAAS titles or products.

    Last updated: February 25, 2014
    Document owner: Wendy Parfrey