SpringerNature and Macmillan: one company, two directions: open access and IP maximization

Second update July 30 (thanks to Springer’s Katie Baker): this Holtzbrinck.com site helps with how it all sits. SpringerNature is first on the page of companies owned, Macmillan Publishing is second.

Update July 30:

To help readers “see” the overall SpringerNature business, I’ve included the following screen shots which lists of Springer Nature brands captured from the SpringerNature group website on July 30, 2019 and the Macmillan.com site which that states that “Macmillan Publishers is a division of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a large family-owned media company headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany”. According to the SpringerNature group history, “Springer Nature was formed through the merger of Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education and Springer Science+Business Media. The main shareholders of Springer Nature are Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and BC Partners. Holtzbrinck, a family-owned company based in Stuttgart, holds a majority share of 53 per cent” (from https://group.springernature.com/gp/group/aboutus/our-history). According to Springer representative Katie Baker (see comment), Macmillan Publishing is not associated with SpringerNature group. This is no doubt correct, however both report to the same owners, unless the Macmillan.com website is out of date, in which case an update on the business’ current ownership would be helpful.



When we interact with a large global business, whether as staff, customers, partners, or others, it is quite common that we only interact with a small portion of the company and have little or no knowledge of the company as a whole. Why does this matter?  Two examples:

  • When a country is having consultations on topics such as open access and copyright, a complex company like SpringerNature may be lobbying for opposing positions. SpringerOpen staff may only be aware of the open access position.
  • The nature of the mix of sub-companies owned by SpringerNature is such that SpringerOpen open access policies such as open licensing might be feeding commercial profit interests at another sub-company such as macmillan education without the knowledge of SpringerOpen staff, authors, and their acquaintances. For example, I would be surprised if SpringerNature sent staff from macmillan education to talk about downstream benefits of commercial re-use in textbook sales and rentals at OASPA or other open access / open education conferences. If open access advocates refer exclusively to downstream open educational uses of openly licensed material, it is not in the best financial interests of the parent company to discuss the potential for downstream toll access re-use.

Original post:

SpringerNature, owner of Springer Open, Nature, and BioMedCentral, positions itself as a leader in the open access movement. However, Springer, Nature, and BMC are only 3 of the brands of the parent company, SpringerNature Group. The purpose of this post is to raise awareness about the dual approach of the parent company with respect to copyright and intellectual property – positioning itself as both a leader in open access and a leader in IP maximization, and to encourage those with a sincere interest in the goal of open access to learn about, and question, organizations with an interest in serving this area.

While the SpringerNature site today states that it is:

“A new force in research publishing
Springer Nature is the world’s largest academic book publisher, publisher of the world’s most influential journals, and a pioneer in the field of open research” (from: https://group.springernature.com/gp/group

…another of the company’s brands, Macmillan, is sending letters to creators complaining that library lending is cannibalizing sales, and is further restricting paid library use of works. See the Canadian Urban Libraries’ Council on this matter here:

Following are the brands listed on the SpringerNature group site as of today:

Our brand sites
Nature Research
Palgrave Macmillan
Macmillan Education
Springer Healthcare
Scientific American

In addition to open access, this company is involved in toll access textbook publishing and rentals and educational services that appear to compete with public education services. Even among the 3 brands involved in open access, 2 (Springer and Nature Research) have a long history of making money through subscriptions and sales. Even today, this is probably a much larger source of income than open access, and one of these brands’ main assets is copyright ownership of a large corpus of works.

To understand the potential futures of open access, it is important to understand the nature of the players involved. The friendly staff of Springer Open are no doubt a pleasure to work with for people in the OA movement, and sincere in their embrace of OA. However, when they tell you that true open access requires open licensing granting blanket downstream permission for commercial uses, they might not be aware that some of these commercial uses could involve for-profit textbook sales and rentals.

Unlike Elsevier, SpringerNatureGroup does not post financial information on its website. As a publicly traded corporation, Elsevier is obliged to provide this kind of transparency, including profits and business strategy. The corporation as a form of business can be viewed as an early form of openness in business; anyone can buy shares and participate in profits and decision-making. Springer is privately owned, and has no such obligation. In this respect, Springer is far less open than Elsevier.

Originally posted on the Global Open Access List and the Radical Open Access List.

Cite as: Morrison, H. (2019). SpringerNature and Macmillan: One company, two directions: open access and IP maximization. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2019/07/29/springernature-and-macmillan-one-company-two-directions-open-access-and-ip-maximization/

2 thoughts on “SpringerNature and Macmillan: one company, two directions: open access and IP maximization

  1. To clarify this blog is incorrect. Palgrave Macmillan and Macmillan Publishers are not part of the same company. Palgrave Macmillan is part of Springer Nature which is a separate company to Macmillan Publishers.

    The policies referred to here relate to Macmillan Publishers and their e-lending policy with public libraries. It has nothing to do with Palgrave Macmillan or Springer Nature’s open access policies.

    • hi Katie,

      For the benefit of readers, please note that Katie Baker (as per e-mail) is a Springer employee.

      Thank you for your comment. I have posted an update. Based on the information that I have available to me, it appears that SpringerNature and Macmillan Publishing have a common majority owner, Holtzbrinck Publishing. If there has been a change in ownership of Macmillan Publishing, I would appreciate an update.

      This has little import for my arguments in this post. Macmillan Education’s textbook and sales rental model is sufficient to illustrate that the company’s interests are very much aligned with IP maximization.

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