Publishing company, Macmillan has announced that it's making 48 of its journals free to access, including Nature Genetics, Nature Medicine and Nature Physics. Citing on-going library and individual subscriptions as their primary source of income, the publishers are now planning on using an iTunes-like online repository called ReadCube to host and display read-only, PDF versions of the journal articles. 

The PDFs will only be viewable on a web browser, will be annotatable, and copying and printing will be disabled. Share and repost links will be made available for use in news articles in social media. Institutional subscribers will have access to every paper dating back to the very first edition of Nature in 1869, while personal subscribers get access from 1997 onwards. Those who don't want to pay for a subscription can access the articles for free via a URL provided by a subscriber.

"We know researchers are already sharing content, often in hidden corners of the Internet or using clumsy, time-consuming practices," Timo Hannay, the managing director of a division of Macmillan called Digital Science, which has invested in ReadCube, said in a statement. "At Digital Science we have the technology to provide a convenient, legitimate alternative that allows researchers to access the information they need and the wider, interested public access to scientific knowledge, from the definitive, original source."

One criticism the move has been met with is that they're still not offering complete open access to their journals in the way that PLOS One has been since its launch in 2006. Libraries still have to pay hefty fees to provide access to their visitors, and the public will have to pay if they want to access anything that was published earlier than the late '90s. Plus some scientists may find the ReadCube system to be awkward to use on an everyday basis.

"To me, this smacks of public relations, not open access," senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in the US and open-access advocate, John Wilbanks, told Nature News & Comment. "With access mandates on the march around the world, this appears to be more about getting ahead of the coming reality in scientific publishing. Now that the funders call the tune and the funders want the articles on the web at no charge, these articles are going to be open anyway."

But it's certainly a step in the right direction. As Rich McCormick writes at the Verge, "Despite … the caveats to true open access in Macmillan's new policy, this move by one of the biggest scientific journals in the industry means that anyone can technically get their hands on 140 years of peer-reviewed research - a definite win for the scientific community at large."

Sources: Nature,  Nature News & Comment, The Verge