Languages Magazine

The High Price of Open Access

By Andrew D Wilson @PsychScientists
We've been chatting about open access journals, and how surprisingly expensive it is to publish in them. Obviously there are costs involved in publishing, but given it's all digital and a lot of the labor remains free, why is it so high?

Because we are clearly just floating along in the zeitgeist and completely, if subconsciously, attuned to the academic universe, it turns out this question arose the other day on Twitter. Andrew Kern started with this tweet and then continued to dig (full Storify of the tweets here).

So I was staring at an invoice for page charges at PLoS Genetics ($2250) and wondered what could they be doing with all that money 1/40— Andrew Kern (@pastramimachine) March 15, 2016
The answer, it turns out, is that the very large amount of money that PLOS makes goes into all kinds of surprising things; huge (but unfortunately normal) CEO salaries, investments in stocks etc, building up reserves, and investment in the company and it's infrastructure (in particular a new submission system). Michael Eisen then came back with some useful context (full Storify here) which addresses some of these issues; much of the investment in the company is around open access advocacy, etc).

PLOS created open access, and proved it could be done and make money. This is a remarkable achievement done in a pretty small amount of time. They are strong advocates for open access and this advocacy requires time, people and money to advertise, attend conferences, lobby and more. All of this is important work and I really do appreciate it - open access simply must be the future of scientific publishing.

I am, however, still not convinced that I should be paying for that activity via my article processing fees.

PLOS tweeted out about what they do with their money in response to the online discussion:

What @PLOS is doing w/ its surplus? (1/5) Building a new submission system (Aperta) to simplify article submission & author collaboration.— PLOS (@PLOS) March 15, 2016
This is lovely, but why am I paying for it with my APCs?
What is @PLOS doing w/ its surplus (2/5) We continue to offer pub fee assistance; $3 mil in 2014 incl authors from low-mid income countries— PLOS (@PLOS) March 15, 2016
Also lovely, but surely this is only required because there are high APCs in the first place, and those are mostly paying for other things.
What do you do w/ your surplus (3/5)? Pub fees help fund #OpenAccess advocacy in addition to new technology development— PLOS (@PLOS) March 15, 2016
Great, but again why am I paying for this with APCs?
What do you do w/ your surplus (4/5)? Fact: The 11% fee inc (Oct/15) was first price increase in 6 yrs despite increased no of papers pubbed— PLOS (@PLOS) March 15, 2016
Irrelevant, and besides, with economies of scale, shouldn't costs be going down with more submissions?
What does @PLOS do with its $ surplus (5/5)? PLOS builds operational reserves to enable future investments in its mission.— PLOS (@PLOS) March 15, 2016
As Eisen discusses in this replies to Kern, this actually is legitimately important (although remember, their mission covers a lot of things I am not yet convinced should be paid for by APCs).
I have no idea how to pay for all the very real things that PLOS and others have to do in order to help push the field through the transition from paywalls to open access. But APCs are too damned high and they are creating barriers to entry into the open access world.

APCs are high in many places because they are a way for the big journal companies to continue making the money they used to make via library subscriptions (and actually that's money they are still making right now, although hopefully not in the future). APCs are high at PLOS for the same basic reason: to make enough money to sustain their company. Now, their business activity is more about creating and sustaining open access as a publishing model, more so than simply 'making everyone involved a profit'. But given that I'm not sure I should be paying for them to do that mission via APCs, from my first-person perspective the motivation makes no real difference because the end result is the same - a high cost at my point of entry.

The other issue is where the money is really coming from. I'm not paying APCs. Taxpayers are, via the grants and other university sources of income being used. In all cases, that money (which was often specifically given to us to do research) is being used to support a business that is only partly about communicating that research. Why should any of us be paying PLOS to advocate for open access through this route?

Here's the thing - I might be wrong, and this might actually be just fine because we all benefit so much from open access that helping fund its creation should indeed be part of the price of doing science. But I heard a lot of rumbles on Twitter from people and institutions who aren't that thrilled, and maybe, just maybe, it's time for PLOS to use it's money made from taking the first step towards OA and help the publishing world take the next step towards true open access by removing or lowering APCs and finding another way to fund its other work.

Or, you know:

.@pastramimachine i agree - I've always want to just post shit on the Internet, but the rest of you fuckers wanted journals so we made @PLOS— Michⓐel Eisen (@mbeisen) March 15, 2016

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Big Food Giants Manipulate Public Health Policy in China

    Food Giants Manipulate Public Health Policy China

    Coca-Cola is at it again. As soda sales decline in the United States and Europe, beverage companies look to emerging economies like China for growth. And, it... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Dietdoctor
  • Jewellery for a Precious You

    Jewellery Precious

    Jewellery is always close to a woman’s heart. It completes her look and boost confidence. Considering the changing trends in jewellery fashion, it becomes... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Dr.jenifer Sayyed
  • Rajshri Productions’ Next Is A Film On Friendship | Hum Chaar | Trailer

    Abhishek Dixit’s debut feature film Hum Chaar is a Bollywood film made under the banner of Rajshri’s film. Hum Chaar is written and directed by Abhishek Dixit. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Themoviean
  • Saint Paul the First Hermit

    Saint Paul First Hermit

    Today is the feast day of Saint Paul the hermit. This is a sweet and delicate Oatmeal Bread topped with rolled oats and naturally sweetened with agave. Saint... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Veronica46
  • Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu | Teaser | Pranav Mohanlal | Arun Gopy

    Arun Gopy’s Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu is an upcoming Malayalam action-drama feature film starring Pranav Mohanlal and Zaya David in the lead roles. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Themoviean
  • A Year Of Body Positivity

    Year Body Positivity

    Last January, as I sat there on New Years eve all set to make the same old resolutions I've made year after year for as long as I can remember, I realised how... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Sparklesandstretchmarks
  • Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – Jan 2019

    Garden Bloggers Bloom 2019

    Euphorbia rigidaWhen I went out to take the photos for this blog post I was surprised at how much was in flower dotted around the garden. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Patientgardener