Last Friday, the Nature Publishing Group (NPG) announced that readers would no longer need a subscription to view content on its daily online news site, Nature News:

All content hosted on the Nature News site is now freely available. This includes online news articles, and news and news features articles published in Nature. Previously, this content was free for the first four days from publication before becoming subscription-access only. The Nature News archive is now accessible to all.

The announcement resurrects some questions raised in a CJR story last year about the merger of the Nature Publishing Group and Scientific American magazine. The story cited some internal concerns about the possible conflict of interest between Nature and Scientific American, despite assurances from publishers and editors that the two publications would remain independent.

This assurance was repeated by NPG Public Relations representative Grace Baynes, when asked about potential competition between Nature News and Scientific American (which already offers much of its online content for free) in light of Friday’s announcement.

According to Baynes the two publications are “complementary, not competitive,” and while there may occasionally be overlaps in coverage, the two publications bring two different perspectives to their stories, and target two distinct audiences.

“While Nature and Nature News primarily serve scientists and the research community, Scientific American’s primary focus is serving the needs of the intellectually curious citizen,” Baynes said.

In a press release, NPG said the removal of the pay wall is part of a larger plan to develop Nature.com:

Nature Publishing Group has made this change so that Nature’s news content can be disseminated and discussed as widely as possible, as we develop nature.com as the hub for quality science news and comment. With the rise of social media such as Twitter, Facebook and our own Connotea and Nature Network, we’d like to ensure that discussions about our news and comment can include an accessible link to the article.

A number of critics applauded Nature’s decision to “free” its news content. Last September, the Knight Science Journalism Tracker’s Paul Raeburn criticized the NPG for charging $32 to view news articles in a journal with a cover price of only $10, and was happy to see them liberated.

There are still some lingering frustrations with NPG’s pricing in other areas, however. Beneath Raeburn’s post about the recent decision, Michael Kenward, a former New Scientist editor turned freelance science writer/consultant, complained that while it’s nice to have Nature News for free, the charge to view scholarly research papers in the journal is still too high.

“If you look at the Harvard Business Review, the per article rate is just $6.50. So I have happily coughed up when I wanted something,” he wrote. “Another beef I have with Nature is that a subscription costs me twice as much as I pay for Science. Why? Because Science offers an electronic-only subscription. With Nature I have to pay them to wreck the planet by chopping down trees and flying paper around the place.”

No other plans for the journal’s scholarly material or for Nature News have been revealed, but NPG’s Baynes maintains that it is “continually working to enhance and develop both Nature News and the news content in Nature.”

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Thomas K. Zellers is a CJR intern, currently studying economics and environmental science at Fordham University.