Who pays for Open Access?


Library Journal includes a brief article about the Article Processing Charge model of open access publishing. This is by no means the only business model for open access publications, but it does account for approximately half of open access articles.

The article indicates that grant funding is increasingly being made available to pay these charges:

Claus Roll, Publishing Editor at EDP Sciences, also believes that available funding for Open Access is increasing, albeit slowly. This is a reflection of changing public policy. “Public and private funders like the NIH or the Wellcome Trust have a say in how their money is used,” he said. “They make Open Access publishing a requirement because they want to give the public insight into their funded research that may have a societal impact.”

Roll noted that while the OA model places a cost requirement on the author and his or her employer (typically absorbed by STEM grant providers), it also provides a tangible financial benefit. Researchers building on the work of others—a fact of life in the scientific community—are less encumbered by costs when accessing others’ OA articles. The “pay it forward” notion is particularly attractive.


Combating the double-dip

The Scholarly Kitchen blog has an interesting post today about the new “total cost of access” deals that some universities/libraries are striking with publishers. The post takes issue with the lack of transparency and a perceived  me-first attitude, but the deals do begin to chip away at what has been, up to now, a practice that benefited only the publishers’ bottom lines.

These deals may represent a shift from global offsetting to local offsetting. Avoiding “double dipping” has been a requirement for publishers with the rise of OA. When an author pays for an article to be made OA, subscription prices are expected to be reduced a proportionate amount, as subscribers should not be made to pay for free content. The added revenue from the author is “offset” by globally reducing the revenue a small amount from all subscribers. But local offsetting deals seek to keep the savings at the institution paying the OA fee. Institutions argue that their total cost should remain flat, so the added APC revenue from the author’s institution should be offset by a reduction in that institution’s subscription price. Offsetting is thus “local”, rather than spreading the savings around to all subscribers.

Protest against Elsevier by Lingua

 November 2, 2015
Scott Jaschik
All six editors and all 31 editorial board members of Lingua, one of the top journals in linguistics, last week resigned to protest Elsevier’s policies on pricing and its refusal to convert the journal to an open-access publication that would be free online. As soon as January, when the departing editors’ noncompete contracts expire, they plan to start a new open-access journal to be called Glossa.

“Oligarchy” of Publishers

From CBC News — an interesting report on a new study just published in PLoS One about the academic publishing industry.

While traditional book and magazine publishers struggle to stay afloat, research publishing houses have typical profit margins of nearly 40 per cent, says Vincent Larivière, a researcher at the University of Montreal’s School of Library and Information Science.


What he and his collaborators found was that the five largest, for-profit academic publishers now publish 53 per cent of scientific papers in the natural and medical sciences – up from 20 per cent in 1973. In the social sciences, the top five publishers publish 70 per cent of papers.

Essentially, they’ve become an oligarchy, Larivière and co-authors Stefanie Haustein and Philippe Mongeon say in a paper published last week in the open access, non-profit journal PLOS ONE.

Hybrid journal article fees

All that glitters

“A review of the United Kingdom’s progress towards ‘gold’ open-access research is instructive — for funders, publishers and scientists both at home and abroad.”

This Nature editorial from April 7, cites a startling statistic about hybrid journal publishing fees:

And then there are costs. All experiments should be encouraged in the evolving gold open-access market, but academics should know that fees for papers published in fully open-access journals are lower than those of ‘hybrid’ subscription journals that allow an open-access option. The Wellcome Trust says that the average fee levied by hybrid journals is 64% higher than that charged by fully open-access titles. British funders are now pondering steering the market by dissuading researchers from publishing in hybrid journals, as other countries have done.

It’s hard to see how the higher fees could be justified, since hybrid journals are typically collecting subscription fees as well. The fully OA journals are not, and often the article processing fee is the only source of revenue, unless, as is the case with many OA journals, their support comes from institutional subventions.

Library Publishing in Context

escholarship_homepageimagePaul Royster’s article, A Library Publishing Manifesto, provides an excellent overview of the current state of scholarly publishing. He recaps the commercial publishers’ practices that have let us down and the challenges faced by the university presses. Read with  The “Wild West” of Academic Publishing: The troubled present and promising future of scholarly communication, cited in the previous post, the two articles provide a good primer on the scholarly publishing landscape.
He makes a strong case for the role that library publishing can fill.
I believe the academy has room for both library and university press publishing. I believe this because each has a radically different role and mission. I do not think that either one has the solution to the other’s problems. I don’t see library publishing initiatives as opposed to the university presses, but I think they are better off independent of them. I want library publishers to “come out of Babylon” (as Bob Marley might say) — to leave behind the ownership-based, property-accumulating, copyright-hoarding, commercially-driven publishing model practiced by the corporate giants and imitated to various degrees by academic presses struggling for self-sufficiency.
All of us have a chance to do more and do better. In fact, the universe of publishable materials has never been more exciting and energizing. There is more than enough to go around. To those who would say “that’s not real publishing” or “not good publishing,” I can only say: it’s not a contest. We are all seeking to serve the communication needs of scholars and researchers. The Copyright Office defines publishing as “offering copies for distribution,” and that’s enough for me. We can all get judgmental, or we can each take advantage of the opportunities that the new technology has handed us.

The “Wild West” of Academic Publishing

In the present issue of Harvard Magazine Craig Lambert has a thought-provoking piece on the state of scholarly publishing: The “Wild West” of Academic Publishing: The troubled present and promising future of scholarly communication. He discusses such topics as the precarious economics of most university presses; the growing uncertain relationship between scholarly monograph publishing and the tenure process; the frequently exorbitant cost of many academic journals and the resultant deleterious effect on monograph publishing and acquisition; the swiftly growing Open Access movement and the complementary business models associated with OA publishing; diverse, experimental new models, both print and digital, in scholarly communication.

Secret Contracts Keep Journal Prices High

From The Guardian:

Universities ‘get poor value’ from academic journal-publishing firms

Research finds secrecy over contracts has stopped some institutions realising they are paying too much for journals

Top universities are paying too much for scores of academic journals provided by major publishing companies, an investigation has found.

Even with the hefty discounts universities earn when they subscribe to bundles of journals, commercial publishers offer worse value for money than journals published by the major non-profit professional societies, the study found. The analysis by a team of economists found that for leading universities, journals published by non-profit organisations were two to 10 times better value than those published by commercial companies, such as Elsevier, Springer, Sage, and Taylor & Francis.

For a fair comparison between commercial and non-profit publishers, the economists looked at value for money. One measure of a journal’s quality is the number of citations it gets in the academic literature. The economists used this to calculate the cost-per-citation for each journal, which reflects the journal’s value to academics.

Among the commercial publishers, Elsevier’s “price per citation” was nearly three times that charged by the non-profit publishers. Other commercial publishers, namely Emerald, Sage, and Taylor & Francis, had prices per citation roughly ten times those of the non-profits.

Evaluating big deal journal bundles.