The digital era is having substantial impacts on journal publishing. In order to assist in analysing these impacts, a model is developed of the costs incurred in operating a refereed journal. Published information and estimates are used to apply the model to a computation of the total costs and per-article costs of various forms of journal-publishing. Particular attention is paid to the differences between print and electronic forms of journals, to the various forms of open access, and to the differences between not-for-profit and for-profit publishing undertakings.
Insight is provided into why for-profit publishing is considerably more expensive than equivalent activities undertaken by unincorporated mutuals and not-for-profit associations. Conclusions are drawn concerning the current debates among conventional approaches and the various open alternatives.
One of the implications of Clarke's analysis is:
As journals have migrated to dual-mode publishing and to purely electronic formats, the advantages originally offered by for-profit publishers have dissipated. The level of professionalism required to operate an eJournal remains significant, but it is not out of the reach of committed senior academics supported by junior academics and students. Acquisition of infrastructure, and management of infrastucture and processes, are less challenging than was previously the case.
Information Research is an example of what Clarke calls the Unincorporated Mutual, Gratis eJournal and its business model is '...a communitarian undertaking, or from an economist's terms a "gift economy".' As Clarke notes, the costs of such journals are essentially zero, since all costs are absorbed by the partners involved. The nearest costed equivalent is the scholarly society producing just a single e-journal, the cost of which is estimated at $22,000 and the cost per paper, if supported by author-charging, $730 - so now all the readers of Information Research know what a bargain they are getting :-)