As per a Reuters report yesterday, the publisher of Nature and Scientific American, Germany’s Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, is merging with Springer Science+Business Media, “creating a group with 1.5 billion euros ($1.75 billion) in annual sales.” As well as showcasing the value locked up in scientific publishing, this merger also raises questions about the development of the field and the prospects for wider adoption of scholarly open access. Also included in the deal is educational and and social sciences publisher Palgrave Macmillan.
The official Springer announcement read:
Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (Holtzbrinck) and BC Partners (BCP) announced today that they have reached an agreement to merge Springer Science+Business Media (owned by funds advised by BCP) in its entirety with the majority of Holtzbrinck-owned Macmillan Science and Education (MSE), namely Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan and the global businesses of Macmillan Education. This is a strategic transaction by Holtzbrinck and BCP aimed at securing the long-term growth of both businesses. It will create a leading global science and education publishing house with the opportunity to better serve its authors, the research community, academic institutions, learned societies and corporate research departments, as well as to extend its reach within the education and learning markets.
Macmillan Science and Education, the Holtzbrinck property that owns Nature, has at least rolled out a content-sharing and free access model for the prestigious magazine. It’s unlikely that this will be rolled back under the new ownership structure. But this is also the same entity that previously tried to enforce an immoral and controversial moral rights land grab on its authors, using the clout of its prestigious name as an inducement to get contributors to surrender their legal entitlements. So the prospects for any improvement in the climate for scholarly open access in scientific publishing as a result of this merger are at best mixed.
Another potentially worrying factor is the presence of BC Partners in the mix. “Upon completion of the transaction, the new group will be under joint control of Holtzbrinck and funds advised by BCP with Holtzbrinck retaining a 53% share,” states the announcement. BC Partners, like most private equity investors, is there as a short-term owner, focused on maximizing the value of the asset before either selling it or – as seems most likely in this case – floating it in an IPO. This doesn’t give much comfort that they would push the merged entity into new business directions with an eye to its long-term future and the overall good of the scientific and scholarly community.