Today Nature announced that subscribers to its articles will be able to share read-only access to those articles with anyone, via email or social media. Read-only means no downloading and no printing; to enforce this Nature will use the ReadCube platform, which it also owns. In addition a cadre of journalists will now have full access to Nature papers, so that they can drop these links into articles and thereby draw more readers to the Nature web site.
This is a highly regulated way to increase access and to burnish Nature's already burnished brand. Despite the tenor of the media coverage it is not a move toward open access, as John Wilbanks and Michael Eisen (among others) have already noted.
Here's a refesher on the nature of an open access publication, from the 2003 Bethesda Statement:
"The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship." Bold mine. A truly open access article can be shared with abandon and repurposed countless times. Nature's move attempts to impose the constraints of the physical world, which limited readership to those who wandered the stacks or ordered an ILL, on the digital realm.
So, open access this is not.
But it is better access than we had before. Half a loaf is better than none.
My hope is that, as people receive articles that they cannot save or print, that they raise an outcry about the absurdity of this arrangement. Then the other half of the loaf--full open access--can be realized.
For the logic of the Web points toward openness, which does not mean that publishers will or should go bankrupt. Eventually the money will be in services to make better sense of the literature, not in erecting subscription barriers. In the meantime, while milling about the faculty lounge or standing at the water cooler repeat after me: "Nature. Hmm. Half a loaf is better than none but I'm still hungry."