The dramatic growth of BioMedCentral open access article processing charges

The average article processing charge for BioMedCentral journals requested from the University of Ottawa (uO) Library’s author’s fund increased 27% from 2010-11 to 2012-13. The 15% increase from 2011-12 to 2012-13 is 10 times the rate of inflation. 

The data indicates that this reflects increases in journal prices rather than changes in which journals uO authors publish in. For example:

Globalization and Health (a BMC journal)

  • 2010-11: uO paid an APC of $1,300 US. Assuming this reflects a BMC membership rate in effect at this time (15% discount, that’s still less than $1,500 US.
  • 2011-12: uO paid APCs at 2 different rates: $1,425 US and $1,715 US
  • 2012-13: uO paid APCSs at $1,670 and $1,715 US
  • The BMC rate listed on BMC’s own website as of Feb. 27, 2014 is $2,155 US from:

An increase in APC from $1,715 US to $2,155 US in the last year is about a 25% increase in the APC for this particular journal. Currency fluctuations could account for about one-tenth of this increase (see below for calculations), and the modest inflation rate would account for about a 1.5% increase. This still leaves more than a 20% increase in price above and beyond currency variations and inflation.

Currency variations UK pound sterling to USD, based on Bank of Canada daily and 10-year currency converter.

  • UK pound sterling to USD conversion rate:
  • Jan. 2011: 1.5586
  • Jan. 2012: 1.5654 (.0043 increase over 2011)
  • Jan. 2013: 1.6254 (.0383 increase over 2012)
  • as of Feb. 27, 2014: 1.6691 (.02688 increase over 2013)
  • Total increase in value of UK pound sterling in comparison with US dollar 2014 / 2011: 7%

Public Library of Science (PLoS), by contrast, has kept prices for their journals at exactly the same rates during this time frame. PLoS’ achievement of a 23% surplus during this time frame indicates that this was done without financial sacrifice. While I continue to call on the not-for-profit PLoS to actually lower their prices to facilitate the transition to open access, the remarkable contrast between PLoS’ holding the line on prices and while BMC raises their prices at rates far above inflation is worth noting.

Thanks to Jeanette Hatherill and the University of Ottawa Library for posting the Open Access publication rates in the uO institutional repository. This dataset contains the amounts paid for through the library’s author’s fund for open access article processing charges from 2010 – 2013. Watch for further calculations and release of my calculations spreadsheet as part of the open access article processing charges series.

This post also illustrates the value of open data. By posting this data for open access in the University of Ottawa’s institutional repository, uO is making it possible for me to conduct research like this that could be useful to uO’s own decision-making processes in future. Let’s hope this post inspires others to follow uO’s lead and share their data, too. 

This post is part of the Open access article processing charges research series

Thoughts on transforming peer review processes: lessons from funding agency initiatives?

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is in the process of developing a new, streamlined peer review support system. The development process includes testing IT solutions for coordinating peer review. Details can be found on the CIHR website


Could there be lessons from this kind of initiative that would further transition to a completely new form of peer review, for scholarly publications, building an overlay on open access archives? Houghton and colleagues (2009) in a major economic study of scholarly publishing in the UK found that this approach, while more transformative in nature, has the potential to achieve much greater cost savings than a shift to either gold or green open access combined with traditional publishing (both of which were found to lower costs as compared to subscriptions, even for one country moving on its own).

Here is a picture of what I think this might look like:

After a researcher completes a study funded by CIHR, the researcher deposits the preprint into the applicable open access archive (in this case, PubMedCentral Canada). CIHR then would use the technology and processes that they are currently investigating to streamline the peer review process applied at the application stage to coordinate the publication peer review process. When peer review is complete, the final article, with appropriate notice of peer review completion status, is also posted in PMC Canada. Articles can be cross-deposited in the institutional archives of all authors; ideally, this task would be automated.

Why do this? For starters, this ensures that the results of Canadian funded research are preserved in Canada, under the control of Canadian agencies reporting to the Canadian taxpayer. This would be a marked improvement over the current situation where a large portion of publications arising from Canadian taxpayer funded research end up as the “intellectual property”(1) of commercial publishers that report to shareholders, are generally not located in Canada and have no obligations to Canadians.

CIHR and the Canadian universities where the researchers work then have a wealth of published material to assist with demonstrating the value of the work that they do, and to drive website traffic to further demonstrate interest in the work that they do. This in turn can only help funding agencies and universities to receive the support that they deserve.

There are people in the publishing industry whose experience of peer review stems from their own organization’s operations who tend to speak as if this was the only, or the most important, form of peer review of scholarly research. Perhaps this is a good time to bring into the discussion the far more complex peer review procedures that go into research before it is even funded – increasingly, research that is not even funded. Currently, for example, the rate of success of applications for Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is about 20%, with some applications being returned approved but not funded (due to lack of funding).

For researchers and universities concerned about prestige, the fact of funding agency success is a mark of prestige. If I had to choose between publishing with Elsevier and SSHRC funding, I know what I’d choose (even if I weren’t part of the Elsevier boycott).

Are other research funding agencies conducting similar investigations? Is anyone looking into this?


Houghton, J., Rasmussen, B., Sheehan, P., Oppenheim, C., Morris, A., Creaser, C., et al. (2009). Economics implications of alternative scholarly publishing models: Exploring the costs and benefit: A report to the Joint Information Systems Committee. Loughborough University. Retrieved February 7, 2010 from
1. “Intellectual property” is in scare quotes to indicate that I consider this to be a fictional concept of questionable usefulness at best and considerable harm to society at worst.