Why the price of scholarly publishing is so much higher than the cost | Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

“In an efficient market, competing providers of a good will each try to undercut each other until the prices they charge approach the cost. If, for example, Elsevier and Springer-Nature were competing in a healthy free market, they would each be charging prices around one third of what they are charging now, for fear of being outcompeted by their lower-priced competitor. (Half of those price-cuts would be absorbed just by decreasing the huge profit margins; the rest would have to come from streamlining business processes, in particular things like the costs of maintaining paywalls and the means of passing through them.)

So why doesn’t the Invisible Hand operate on scholarly publishers? Because they are not really in competition. Subscriptions are not substitutable goods because each published article is unique. If I need to read an article in an Elsevier journal then it’s no good my buying a lower-priced Springer-Nature subscription instead: it won’t give me access to the article I need.

(This is one of the reasons why the APC-based model — despite its very real drawbacks — is better than the subscription model: because the editorial-and-publication services offered by Elsevier and Springer-Nature are substitutable. If one offers the service for $3000 and the other for $2000, I can go to the better-value provider. And if some other publisher offers it for $1000 or $500, I can go there instead.)…

Björn Brembs has been writing for years about the fact that every market has a luxury segment: you can buy a perfectly functional wristwatch for $10, yet people spend thousands on high-end watches. He’s long been concerned that if scholarly publishing goes APC-only, then people will be queuing up to pay the €9,500 APC for Nature in what would become a straightforward pay-for-prestige deal. And he’s right: given the outstandingly stupid way we evaluate reseachers for jobs, promotion and tenure, lots of people will pay a 10x markup for the “I was published in Nature” badge even though Nature papers are an objectively bad way to communicate research.

But it feels like something stranger is happening here. It’s almost as though the whole darned market is a luxury segment….

How can funders fix this, and get APCs down to levels that approximate publishing cost? I see at least three possibilities.

First, they could stop paying APCs for their grantees. Instead, they could add a fixed sum onto all grants they make — $1,500, say — and leave it up to the researchers whether to spend more on a legacy publisher (supplementing the $1,500 from other sources of their own) or to spend less on a cheaper born-OA publisher and redistribute the excess elsewhere.

Second, funders could simply publish the papes themselves. To be fair several big funders are doing this now, so we have Wellcome Open Research, Gates Open Research, etc. But doesn’t it seem a bit silly to silo research according to what body awarded the grant that funded it? And what about authors who don’t have a grant from one of these bodies, or indeed any grant at all?

That’s why I think the third solution is best. I would like to see funders stop paying APCs and stop building their own publishing solutions, and instead collaborate to build and maintain a global publishing solution that all researchers could use irrespective of grant-recipient status. I have much to say on what such a solution should look like, but that is for another time.”

The cost, value and price of scientific publication | Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

“There is a growing consensus that the cost of converting a scientific manuscript into a published paper — peer-reviewed, typeset, made machine-readable, references extracted, archived, indexed, sustainably hosted — is on the order of $500-$1000.

The value of a published paper to the world is incredibly hard to estimate, but let’s for now just say that it’s high. (We’ll see evidence of this in a moment.)

The price of a published paper is easier to calculate. According to the 2018 edition of the STM Report (which seems to be the most recent one available), “The annual revenues generated from English-language STM journal publishing are estimated at about $10 billion in 2017 […] collectively publishing over 3 million articles a year” (p5). So, bundling together subscription revenues, APCs, offsets deals and what have you, the average revenue accruing from a paper is $10,000,000,000/3,000,000 = $10,000/3 = $3,333.

(Given that these prices are paid, we can be confident that the value is at least as much, i.e. somewhere north of $3,333 — which is why I was happy earlier to characterise the value as “high”.)

Why is it possible for the price of a paper to be 3–7 times as high as its cost? One part of the answer is that the value is higher still. Were it not so, no-one would be paying. But that can’t be the whole reason.

Tune in next time to find out the exciting reason why the price of scholarly publishing is so much higher than the cost!”

Open Access Publishing: Costs, Benefits and Myths | CSUN University Library

“Open Access Week is a time for both celebration of the open sharing of knowledge and general reflection on the state of academic publishing. In March 2020 the California State University system announced a groundbreaking “transformative” subscription agreement with Elsevier, one of the world’s largest academic publishers of scholarly journals across all disciplines.

The agreement allows CSU campuses fee-free access to CSU faculty’s works published in participating Elsevier Science Direct journals, regardless of subscription status, as well as providing for fee-per-article open-access publishing to our faculty.

As this pilot agreement is up for review in 2021, now may be a good time to reflect upon its impact. Our presenters and panelists will take a deep dive into the outcomes and sustainability of this transformative “Read and Publish-Plus” arrangement….”

Higher Author Fees in Gastroenterology Journals Are Not Associated with Faster Processing Times or Higher Impact | SpringerLink

Abstract:  Background

Publications are an important component of academic careers.

Aims

We investigated the financial costs to authors for submitting and publishing manuscripts in gastroenterology (GI) journals in the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), and elsewhere.

Methods

This was a cross-sectional study carried out from 11/1/2020 to 12/31/2020. We used the SCImago Journal and Country Rankings site to compile a list of gastroenterology and hepatology journals to analyze. We gathered information on the journals’ Hirsch indices (h indices), SCImago Journal Rank (SJR), Impact Factor (IF), and base countries as of 2019, processing and publication fees, open access fees, time to first decision, and time from acceptance to publication. We used t-testing and linear regression modeling to evaluate the effect of geography and journal quality metrics on processing fees and times.

Results

We analyzed 97 GI journals, of which 51/97 (52.6%) were based in the US/UK while the other 46/97 (47.4%) were based elsewhere. The mean IF (5.67 vs 3.53, p?=?0.08), h index (90.5 vs 41.8, p?<?0.001), and SJR (1.82 vs 0.83, p?<?0.001) for the US/UK journals were higher than those for non-US/UK journals. We also found that 11/51 (21.6%) of US/UK journals and 15/46 (32.6%) of non-US/UK journals had mandatory processing and publication fees. These tended to be significantly larger in the US/UK group than in the non-US/UK group (USD 2380 vs USD 1470, p?=?0.04).

Conclusions

Publication-related fees may preclude authors from smaller or socioeconomically disadvantaged institutions and countries from publishing and disseminating their work.

Our Commitment to Price Transparency – The Official PLOS Blog

“PLOS is committed to transparency in all its forms—from our Open Science practices that we urge our authors to adopt, to providing our community clear insight into our journals and activities. Last year, Plan S provided a pilot opportunity for the latter through their Price & Service Transparency Framework which becomes a requirement for Plan S compliance in July 2022. We have committed to participate in and share our reporting from that framework each year and we are once again sharing our price transparency data in the spreadsheet and chart below. Read on for more details of how the framework has changed and what that means for PLOS. …”

Current market rates for scholarly publishing… | F1000Research

Abstract:  For decades, the supra-inflation increase of subscription prices for scholarly journals has concerned scholarly institutions. After years of fruitless efforts to solve this “serials crisis”, open access has been proposed as the latest potential solution. However, also the prices for open access publishing are high and are rising well beyond inflation. What has been missing from the public discussion so far is a quantitative approach to determine the actual costs of efficiently publishing a scholarly article using state-of-the-art technologies, such that informed decisions can be made as to appropriate price levels. Here we provide a granular, step-by-step calculation of the costs associated with publishing primary research articles, from submission, through peer-review, to publication, indexing and archiving. We find that these costs range from less than US$200 per article in modern, large scale publishing platforms using post-publication peer-review, to about US$1,000 per article in prestigious journals with rejection rates exceeding 90%. The publication costs for a representative scholarly article today come to lie at around US$400. These results appear uncontroversial as they not only match previous data using different methodologies, but also conform to the costs that many publishers have openly or privately shared. We discuss the numerous additional non-publication items that make up the difference between these publication costs and final price at the more expensive, legacy publishers.

 

Current market rates for scholarly publishing services

Abstract:  For decades, the supra-inflation increase of subscription prices for scholarly journals has concerned scholarly institutions. After years of fruitless efforts to solve this “serials crisis”, open access has been proposed as the latest potential solution. However, also the prices for open access publishing are high and are rising well beyond inflation. What has been missing from the public discussion so far is a quantitative approach to determine the actual costs of efficiently publishing a scholarly article using state-of-the-art technologies, such that informed decisions can be made as to appropriate price levels. Here we provide a granular, step-by-step calculation of the costs associated with publishing primary research articles, from submission, through peer-review, to publication, indexing and archiving. We find that these costs range from less than US$200 per article in modern, large scale publishing platforms using post-publication peer-review, to about US$1,000 per article in prestigious journals with rejection rates exceeding 90%. The publication costs for a representative scholarly article today come to lie at around US$400. These results appear uncontroversial as they not only match previous data using different methodologies, but also conform to the costs that many publishers have openly or privately shared. We discuss the numerous additional non-publication items that make up the difference between these publication costs and final price at the more expensive, legacy publishers.

 

Data sharing practices and data availability upon request differ across scientific disciplines | Scientific Data

Abstract:  Data sharing is one of the cornerstones of modern science that enables large-scale analyses and reproducibility. We evaluated data availability in research articles across nine disciplines in Nature and Science magazines and recorded corresponding authors’ concerns, requests and reasons for declining data sharing. Although data sharing has improved in the last decade and particularly in recent years, data availability and willingness to share data still differ greatly among disciplines. We observed that statements of data availability upon (reasonable) request are inefficient and should not be allowed by journals. To improve data sharing at the time of manuscript acceptance, researchers should be better motivated to release their data with real benefits such as recognition, or bonus points in grant and job applications. We recommend that data management costs should be covered by funding agencies; publicly available research data ought to be included in the evaluation of applications; and surveillance of data sharing should be enforced by both academic publishers and funders. These cross-discipline survey data are available from the plutoF repository.

 

The DEAL cost modeling tool – DEAL Operations

“The DEAL agreements provide a framework to orient institutional investments around open dissemination of research, but budgeting for the open access publishing needs of researchers can be challenging for stakeholders. While previous library subscription fees are known, the entity of investments in open access publishing of articles (APCs) before the DEAL agreements is, in most cases, unknown, as publishing trends of authors were not previously tracked and payments were largely made outside of central oversight.

The DEAL Cost Modeling Tool is an interactive, Excel-based tool that addresses this challenge, giving every institution the means to calculate their total costs with the publishers Wiley and Springer Nature and assess the financial impact of the DEAL agreements on the immediate and long-term, in a variety of cost scenarios.”

The DEAL Cost Modeling Tool

Abstract:  The DEAL Cost Modeling Tool is a practical tool that gives German research institutions the ability to calculate their medium-term expenditure development with the publishers Wiley and Springer Nature under various assumptions and compare these with the actual costs of the DEAL agreements. The interactive Excel tool, which is equipped with a wide range of input and modeling options, incorporates publication and financial data from Germany from the years prior to the DEAL contracts and a robust methodology to generate projections that illustrate potential cost developments under a selection of relevant scenarios. Anchored in the validated article-level cost data generated through the DEAL agreements, the DEAL Cost Modeling Tool makes a practical contribution to the discourse on evaluation of impact and costs associated with  transformative open access publishing agreements as they proliferate globally, prompted by consensus around the OA2020 Initiative and widely documented in the ESAC Registry,

Costing academic publications: author-pay principle, and manuscript submission and article processing charges | Cardiovascular Journal of Africa

“Dataism, an emerging ‘religion’! All data should be freely available (explained in Homo Deus by Harari). Followers ‘believe all good things – including economic growth – depend on the freedom of information.’1

So it is with open-access scientific publications – free-to-read medico-scientific research reports on easily accessible sites on the internet. No paywall! With the so-called gold model, which the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa (CVJA) incidentally has, this is immediate availability on the day of publication.”

The burden of article processing charges on Canadian universities

Abstract:  The question about the cost of access to scholarly resources is usually answered by focusing on subscription cost. This study highlights the article processing charges (APCs) paid by Canada’s research institution as an additional scholarly resource. Unpaywall database was queried with the DOIs of CARL member universities’ publication indexed in the Web of Science. We find that while Open Access should in principle reduce the cost of access to scholarly literature, we are rather in a situation where both the cost of access and the cost of publishing are increasing simultaneously.

ARL and Six Universities Awarded National Science Foundation Grant to Study Discipline-Specific Models and Costs for Public Access to Research Data – Association of Research Libraries

“The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and six universities involved in the Data Curation Network a $297,019 grant to conduct research, develop models, and collect costing information for public access to research data across five disciplinary areas. The project, Completing the Life Cycle: Developing Evidence-Based Models of Research Data Sharing, will start in August 2021….

This research seeks to answer the following questions:

Where are funded researchers across these institutions making their data publicly accessible and what is the quality of the metadata?
How are researchers making decisions about why and how to share research data?
What is the cost to the institution to implement the federally mandated public access to research data policy? …”

More Unexpected Consequences: How the Plan S Transformative Journal Route Favors Larger Incumbent Publishers – The Scholarly Kitchen

“But once you read the Transformative Journal reporting requirements, you will realize that this route is likely impossible for journals other than those from larger and wealthier publishers. Once again, a well-intentioned policy has created further inequities in scholarly communication….

Transformative Journals (TJs) are one route offered by cOAlition S “to encourage publishers to transition to immediate Open Access.” Through this route, a subscription/hybrid journal can remain compliant and eligible for Plan S authors by committing to a transition to becoming fully-OA and meeting a set of OA growth requirements each year until 2024, when support for TJs ends and they are expected to fully convert over to OA. Let’s ignore for now the OA growth requirements for TJs – DeltaThink’s recent analysis covers this well and shows how unrealistic the numbers are and how few journals are likely to progress adequately given the timelines involved…

Instead, I want to focus on the reporting requirements for TJs. Tallying up the number of OA articles published each year is easy to accomplish. The transparent pricing reporting requirements remain vague and meaningless enough that they shouldn’t prove too onerous for even smaller publishers to put together. Where things get difficult, if not impossible, is in the requirement for an annual public report to cOAlition S, a report that must include data on downloads, citations, and Altmetric scores for all papers published, and that must be sub-divided into OA papers versus non-OA papers.

For those working at larger publishing houses, this likely sounds trivial. You’d just assign your team of in-house bibliometric analysts to pull citation data from your expensive Web of Science, Scopus, or Dimensions subscription. Download information can be obtained from the usage tracking service you pay for, or perhaps it’s included from the full-service publishing platform that your organization owns or that you employ each year at significant cost. Altmetric numbers can come from your access to the paid service of the same name. Your employee bibliometricians will, of course, spend the necessary time parsing out the OA articles from everything else.

Hopefully the theme running through that last paragraph was fairly obvious – none of this is free, much of it is very expensive, and in-house bibliometric expertise is rare among smaller publishers….”

Navigating the barbed wire of publisher access barriers | Plan S

“In many ways, the specific details of this situation are irrelevant. What does matter is the important points it raises:

From the baffling experiences described above, one concludes that not only is the assortment of access options confusing for readers but that major publishers are challenged to engineer and control access and authentication as they intended. Such examples validate the reasons why hybrid OA journals are problematic.

There is a significant effort associated with gatekeeping and preventing potential readers from accessing content, when research should be disseminated and read as widely as possible. This represents an increased cost in the production of publications – a cost which is ultimately borne by the subscriber or individual reader. 

There is considerable evidence that open access articles are more read than non Open access articles. Indeed, even SpringerNature, the publisher of the article example above, states that “Open approaches accelerate the progress of science…. OA is immediately accessible and highly discoverable… Previous research shows the OA advantage for researchers: OA articles are cited on average 1.6 times more than non-OA articles, downloaded 4 times more often and attract 2.5 times more attention, as measured by news and policy mentions”.

Wouldn’t it be better if the money, time and energy invested by publishers in attempting to build a complex variety of access barriers were directed towards providing a consistent approach to access? Then the money, time and energy spent by researchers and libraries in paying for and attempting to access content, via confused and confusing interfaces, could be better spent on research. If authentication and access control are so challenging, and we all, including publishers, agree that Open Access is beneficial, then we need to abandon these types of attempts at gatekeeping, and instead focus on making all research publications easily openly accessible.”