22 June 2008

Presentation on OA

Thanks to Peter Suber's blog for drawing attention to the presentations given at a session of the ARMA/INORMS congress in Liverpool earlier this month.

The presentations are by Matthew Cockerill of BioMed Central on why sustainable funding streams are needed for the OA publishing model (it would be more accurate to say that sustainable work streams are needed - but, then, Cockerill doesn't take into account the Platinum mode of publishing, which relies on voluntary work). Then we have Stephen Pinfield on setting up an OA publication fund - that is, not how to set up a fund for the publication of Platinum OA journals but a fund to continue to subsidise the commercial publisher. Thirdly, Margaret Hurley and Nicola Perrin of the Wellcome Trust explore the Trust's OA policy, that is, meeting the costs of author charging, or requiring deposit in an appropriate repository. Finally, Bill Hubbard on 'building repositories'.

Generally, it will be seen that these authors assume that (apart from repositories) the only true 'publication' route is through author charges. A rather sad reflection on what the different agencies ought to be doing.


  1. Tom,
    It's worth noting that not all BioMed Central journals have author-facing charges.

    The following journals, for example, are run by societies/organizations which cover the costs of publication:

    * Chinese Medicine
    * Chiropractic & Osteopathy
    * Journal of Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Injury
    * Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research

    and several more such journals are in the pipeline.

    Also, bear in mind that all journals (subscription journals, open access journals, not-for-profit-journals and commercial journals) depend on the effort contributed voluntarily by authors, peer reviewers, and editors and in fact that is the major 'cost' of scholarly publishing - dwarfing either the amount paid in subscriptions or in open access publication fees. See the recent RIN assessment/analysis of the costs involved in the scholarly publishing process.

    Under the subscription model, scholarly publishing has involved a variety of models - small-scale self-publishing of journals by academics without any assistance from a publisher, publication by not-for-profit organizations (e.g. NAS, ACS, ASM), and publication by for-profit publishers.

    No doubt this will continue under the open access model.

    Internalizing the costs of running journals to within the academic community does not get rid of those costs, and while it is certainly possible for academics to manage and run all aspects of a journal themselves (and indeed many do) collaborating with a publisher also offers many benefits, and these include cost-effectiveness if you take into account the value of an academics' time. The publisher can handle the administrative, technical and production aspects in an efficient centralized way, allowing academics to spend more of their time on research and teaching, rather than being burdened with the minutiae of operating every aspect of a journal.

    Meanwhile, one of the benefits of open access publishing, based on publication fees, is that it provides a very transparent view of the cost-effectiveness of the service being provided by the publisher.

    Looking at our comparison table of open access publication fees, there is no obvious correlation between whether a publisher is for-profit or not-for-profit and the level of the fees. Some of the lowest fees are from for-profit publishers.

  2. Yes - I'm aware of the debate and of the fact that costs are incurred somewhere. However, my main point is that the money going into author-charging, especially from national research agencies (and, more recently, from individual universities setting up specific publication funds) could be better spent in supporting truly "open" journals - with neither access fees nor publication fees. It will come one day and all support for the market model is simply delaying the process through supporting a system that the technology has made irrelevant.

  3. Re: "the money going into author-charging, especially from national research agencies (and, more recently, from individual universities setting up specific publication funds) could be better spent in supporting truly "open" journals"

    The distinction is somewhat moot - some agencies support journals directly and BioMed Central publishes such journals and has more in the pipeline. Other agencies choose to channel funds through author grants (usable to pay OA fees) and/or through institutional funds to cover the cost of OA.

    It essentially comes down to the same thing, but there are a couple of advantages to the model of supporting per article 'author fees', rather than the alternative of providing general subsidies to journals to allow them to have no charges at all. One is that the 'author fees' route allows agencies to target their funds to support the communication of the research they have funded, whereas if they subsidize a journal, their subsidy is being used to communicate research which may be from any source. This can create a 'free rider' problem - why should funder B contribute, if funder A is already covering the cost.

    The other benefit is that the visibility of publication fees to authors helps to ensure that the community is getting a cost-effective service.