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.”

News & Views: Open Access Market Sizing Update 2021 – Delta Think

“Each year, Delta Think’s OA Market Sizing analyzes the value of the open access journals market. This is the revenue generated by providers or the costs incurred by buyers of content. Our analysis this year shows that the open access market has had an exceptional year of growth in 2020. The effects of COVID-19 and exchange rate changes have compounded OA’s underlying strong growth. Based on current trends, we estimate it to have been worth around $975m in 2020 and on track to grow to over $1.1bn in 2021….

We estimate that the OA market grew to around $975m in 2020.

The 25% increase over 2019 is significantly larger than the growth in the underlying scholarly journals market, which is typically low to mid-single digit. It is larger than expected for the OA market.
Growth in OA will remain above that of the underlying scholarly journals market. The open access market is on target to be over $1.1bn in 2021.
Around 36% of all scholarly articles were published as paid-for open access in 2020, accounting for just under 9% of the total journal publishing market value.
We anticipate a 2020-2023 CAGR of 14% in OA output and 17.6% in OA market value….

Trends

The effects of COVID-19 have driven exceptionally high growth in scholarly output across all access models. OA output in hybrid journals has been boosted more than other OA output.
Historically, there appears to be more OA output that we have previously thought and it is growing at a faster rate.
Exchange rate fluctuations have compounded the exceptional growth in publishing activity, increasing reported revenues further above long-term trends.
We are still in the middle of the exceptional effects of COVID-19. It will likely be another 18-24 months before we gain sufficient distance to observe any changes to underlying trends.
The long-term growth curves show signs of flattening out to a steady state of just over 15% in both volume and value of OA. This represents a slight uplift in long-term growth rates compared with previous years’ data, due to increased adoption of OA and rising prices.
Hybrid revenues realized per article published are higher than those published in fully OA journals, and the gap appears to be widening….”

How can open science help achieve sustainability? | Research Information

“A focused, strategic and global approach to addressing the causes of climate change could pull us back from the precipice upon which we stand. But what does this have to do with research publishing? Of course publishers are part of a global network that reviews, improves, disseminates and ensures access to critical research that is providing the evidence-base about climate change – and, crucially – mitigation of its impact. However we believe that scholarly publishing, as a sector, has a wider role to play. Our impact is not just through publication of climate research, not just through our environmental consciousness as businesses, but also through driving open research. But why is open science critical if we are to collectively address climate change or support other sustainable development goals? 

The last 18 months has provided a perfect case study of why open science and open research matters. As Covid-19 took hold around the globe, it underscored how interconnected the world is and provided many examples of the vital role that open science could play in speeding up the response and improving outcomes. If rapidly and openly sharing research data and papers is critical to understanding and combating coronavirus, doesn’t the same hold true for climate and environmental concerns? Or other health issues such as cancer, heart disease, maternal and child mortality? 

The short answer is yes. But we have a long way to go. The past 18 months has shown the positive impact that open science can have in tackling the sorts of global issues that require collaborative, multi-disciplinary solutions. However it has also thrown into stark relief the gaps and challenges that hinder the full realisation of the potential of open research to help address societal challenges. The lack of integrated policy, if not tackled, will limit the social impact of open research, particularly with respect to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). …”

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!”

Do ‘Inclusive Access’ Textbook Programs Save Students Money? A New Site Urges Everyone to Read the Fine Print

““Inclusive access,” a textbook-sales model touted as a way to ensure that students without deep pockets can afford books, doesn’t always deliver on that promise, according to a leading open-access advocacy organization. So the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition and its partners have launched a website they hope will encourage a healthy skepticism, and deeper research, into the increasingly popular model.

Inclusive access programs weave the cost of digital course materials into a student’s tuition and fees, and are marketed as a heavily discounted alternative to traditional print textbooks. More than 950 college campuses have adopted related programs since 2015, when a Department of Education regulation enabled institutions to include books and supplies in their tuition or fees.

But advocates of open educational resources like Nicole Allen, Sparc’s director of open education, worry that colleges — clamoring for low-cost textbook options — are buying into the model without knowing for sure whether it’s actually saving their students money, considering the breadth of used-book and rental options available….”

Guest post: Overcoming the challenges of open access books – part 1/2

“In part one of this two-part series, we’ll explore some of the challenges around policies and funding for OA books that were highlighted by authors and editors who were kind enough to participate in interviews about their experiences with OA publishing.

Each of the authors and editors I interviewed named wider dissemination and a more equitable research ecosystem as the main benefits of OA publishing. But they also highlighted a number of challenges which we will delve into below….”

Risky business: COVAX and the financialization of global vaccine equity | Globalization and Health | Full Text

Abstract:  Background

During the first year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, COVAX has been the world’s most prominent effort to ensure equitable access to SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. Launched as part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (Act-A) in June 2020, COVAX suggested to serve as a vaccine buyers’ and distribution club for countries around the world. It also aimed to support the pharmaceutical industry in speeding up and broadening vaccine development. While COVAX has recently come under critique for failing to bring about global vaccine equity, influential politicians and public health advocates insist that future iterations of it will improve pandemic preparedness. So far COVAX’s role in the ongoing financialization of global health, i.e. in the rise of financial concepts, motives, practices and institutions has not been analyzed.

Methods

This article describes and critically assesses COVAX’s financial logics, i.e. the concepts, arguments and financing flows on which COVAX relies. It is based on a review of over 109 COVAX related reports, ten in-depth interviews with global health experts working either in or with COVAX, as well as participant observation in 18 webinars and online meetings concerned with global pandemic financing, between September 2020 and August 2021.

Results

The article finds that COVAX expands the scale and scope of financial instruments in global health governance, and that this is done by conflating different understandings of risk. Specifically, COVAX conflates public health risk and corporate financial risk, leading it to privilege concerns of pharmaceutical companies over those of most participating countries – especially low and lower-middle income countries (LICs and LMICs). COVAX thus drives the financialization of global health and ends up constituting a risk itself – that of perpetuating the downsides of financialization (e.g. heightened inequality, secrecy, complexity in governance, an ineffective and slow use of aid), whilst insufficiently realising its potential benefits (pandemic risk reduction, increased public access to emergency funding, indirect price control over essential goods and services).

Conclusion

Future iterations of vaccine buyers’ and distribution clubs as well as public vaccine development efforts should work towards reducing all aspects of public health risk rather than privileging its corporate financial aspects. This will include reassessing the interplay of aid and corporate subsidies in global health.

CO-CREATING A HEALTHY AND DIVERSE OPEN ACCESS MARKET: WORKSHOP REPORT

“Recognising the importance of a healthy and diverse OA market, in early 2021, OASPA sought to develop a better understanding of ‘the open access market’. It was understood that this needed to include an assessment of the roles of different actors in shaping the market and an acknowledgement that open access publishing is not always delivered through market mechanisms. The work aimed to identify influential factors and drivers to bring about positive change in this area.

Research Consulting was commissioned to assist in this work, in collaboration with a small steering group of OASPA members. An Issue Brief was developed to review the current state of the open access market and in July 2021 a range of stakeholder representatives were engaged via two workshops.

This report acts as a companion document to the Issue Brief, and summarises the key points discussed during the stakeholder workshops. To better contextualise the issues discussed in this report it is recommended that the Issue Brief is read first. Whilst there were two separate workshops, this report presents a combined view from all participants. Anonymised quotes from participants are included throughout this report to illustrate the points discussed….”

Developing a healthy and diverse OA market: Reflections – OASPA

“Earlier in the year we announced that OASPA was undertaking some work with a wider group of stakeholders to explore the nature of the open access market and the perspectives of different stakeholder groups, with a view to gaining a better understanding of the forces in play and a potential role for OASPA as an organisation in supporting a key area of our mission.

In early July 2021 OASPA and Research Consulting ran two workshops for a broad range of stakeholder representatives on developing a healthy and diverse open access (OA) market. 

We created an ‘issue brief’ which was sent to all workshop participants in preparation and we openly shared the issue brief and the slides used at the workshops on our blog at the same time.  

We now are pleased to release a report detailing the outcome of the two workshops.  This report is a summary of the discussions that took place, together with our subsequent conclusions and reflections.”

Commercial Science Journals: A Luxury Market? – SBMT

“SBMT: Why are the “diamond/platinum” journals the least valued by editorial metrics and funding agencies?

Dr. TR Shankar Raman: I have no idea why this should be so. It feels like the academic community has just painted itself into a corner. There are lots of excellent diamond open access journals. The journals published by Indian Academy of Sciences  are a good example (although they have a weird co-publishing arrangement with Springer Nature, the journals and papers can be freely accessed via the Academy website and there are no charges for authors to publish either). Of course, the number of papers that a diamond open access journal may be able to publish may be lower and many are in niche areas of science rather than multi-disciplinary in scope and hence their reach may be lower than what big-budget commercial journals can achieve with their resources. But this only means that diamond open access journals should be supported more to achieve better reach, not shift to commercial publishers. All public and philanthropic funding for science has everything to gain by supporting and mandating publication in diamond open access journals….

SBMT: How to design a policy in defense of Southern science through the promotion of “diamond/platinum” journals?

Dr. TR Shankar Raman: As individuals, we can each take a stand, as I have tried to in my post—that I will not review for or publish in commercial journals, but will especially do so for diamond open access journals. Particularly, senior scientists and leaders in their fields must set an example by publishing, reviewing for, or accepting to be on the boards of diamond open access journals. But this will not go far unless we also collectively work to change overall policy. As a community, we must petition our academies, funders, and science administrators to change policies to give greater recognition to papers published in diamond open access journals. This can trigger a big change: especially if it begins to count towards jobs and promotions in academia. Impact factor should be trashed as outdated, harmful, and retrogressive. Recipients of public funds should be mandated to publish in diamond open access journals published by nonprofit scientific societies as this is the most cost-effective way to spend the available (limited) funds to achieve publication that is freely, openly, and widely accessible, while supporting and advancing science. Other initiatives such as Gold Open Access, self-archiving of submitted final versions, or pay-to-publish APC models are all half measures or discriminate and exclude large numbers of scientists around the world, who cannot pay the large fees involved. Policies should support membership fee support for scholars and new and tenured faculty to join learned academic societies that publish diamond open access journals so that the funds are kept within the community and to advance science rather than feed the profits of commercial companies….”

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. …”

The AAS goes for Gold | Published by The Open Journal of Astrophysics

“Yesterday there was a big announcement from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) , namely that all its journals will switch to Open Access from 1st January 2022. This transition will affect the Astronomical Journal (AJ), the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ), Astrophysical Journal Letters (ApJL), and the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series (ApJS). Previously authors were able to opt for Open Access but from next year it will apply to all papers.

The positive aspect to this change is that it makes articles published by the AAS freely available to the public and other scientists without requiring the payment of a subscription.

On the other hand, these journals will require authors to pay a hefty sum, equivalent to an Article Processing Charge (APC), that increases with the length and complexity of a paper. AAS journals have in the past levied “page charges” from authors for standard (non-OA) publications. In the new regime these are merged into a unified scheme….

What’s on offer is therefore a form of Gold Open Access that switches the cost of publication from subscribers to authors. In my view this level of APC is excessive, which is why I call this Fool’s Gold Open Access. Although the AAS is a not-for-profit organization, its journals are published by the Institute of Physics Publishing which is a definitely-for-profit organization….”

Revisiting: Is There a Business Case for Open Data? – The Scholarly Kitchen

Looking back at this 2017 post brings a mixed bag of thoughts. First, the fortunes being made with collecting, curating, and selling access to consumer data still haven’t spilled across into research data, and that’s likely because a) relatively few research datasets are available, and b) for the most part, the ones that are available have inadequate metadata and incompatible structures, so that combining datasets for meta-analyses is scarcely worthwhile. Until we address the problem of missing research data – which (full disclosure) we’re trying to do with DataSeer – we can’t really make much headway with getting it all into a consistent format. However, while combining datasets for re-use is a core feature for consumer data, it’s only one of the reasons for sharing research data. Open data also allows readers to check the results for the paper itself, and perhaps this is where our attention for the ‘business model for open data’ should turn. In particular, peer review is considerably simpler when the authors submit computationally reproducible manuscripts. Editors and reviewers can then be sure that the datasets support the analyses and hence the results, allowing them to focus solely on the appropriateness of the experimental design and the significance of the conclusions. It’s therefore conceivable that journals could reduce the APC for computationally reproducible articles (or hike it for non-reproducible ones), thereby incentivizing the extra effort required to required to produce them. No matter what route we choose, it’s clear that our current incentive structures around open science (mostly strongly worded policies and the lure of extra citations) are not getting the job done, and we need to consider alternatives. Money can enter the equation at a few places: by only funding open science, as exemplified by Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s, or by offsetting the extra effort required by researchers with additional financial resources, by making things cheaper or non-open science more expensive. Let’s see where we go.