Subscriptions and open access fees

Paying for open access has been on my mind recently. All those “open choice”, “author choice”, “open option”, “open article”, “online open”, “open science” and other similar schemes (why does each publisher have to have a different name for the same thing?!?), they create a need for someone to pay a fee in order to get their article published. Richard has already commented on this , highlighting the RIN’s recent report on the topic.
My preoccupation has been occasioned partly by discussions with our procurement people yesterday about how we purchase journals (in preparation for the RCUK Shared Services Centre). The possible impact of open access on journal subscriptions occasioned a lengthy detour to explain what OA was and what the strategic implications were for procurement. That moved us into high-level RCUK strategy on research outputs, which is the terrain of the RCUK Research Outputs Group, who recently issued their own report .
When I returned to my office I found a flyer from the Portland Press with news of its new open access journal ASN Neuro . I was perplexed briefly as it mentioned an “Institutional Membership rate of $630”. Sounds like a subscription, but it’s not – the journal is Open Access so it can’t be. No, this membership gives you a $210 discount off the publication charge for any papers that your institution’s authors may publish.
Other publishers have similar things – OUP’s Nucleic Acids Research has morphed its online subscription into an institutional membership that confers discounts on publication charges. Some, such as PNAS give a discount on publication fees to any institution with an institutional site licence.
The Portland Press flyer also mentioned their new Opt2Pay (cute name) scheme, also with a tie-in to subscriptions.
And of course BioMedCentral have had an Institutional membership scheme for some time. In its early years this did not look very attractive as we were publishing little with BMC journals, and the membership charge was relatively high. I think they have modified the scheme, with more options, now and I really must look at it again. PLoS also had an institutional membership scheme, but it required quite a strong commitment. I really need to check it out again.
I can see that the link between subscriptions and OA fees is going to give me a few headaches when I try to figure out what journals we can afford for next year.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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10 Responses to Subscriptions and open access fees

  1. Tom Hopkinson says:

    As a past employee of an unnamed major publisher, I was somewhat chilled by the glee with which a senior employee there related the influence that they (through the PRC) had had on the selection of the analysts commissioned to produce the RIN report you mention. The report is better than previous attempts, but glosses over the fact that most open access journals (including ours) charge no publication fees whatsoever..something that is still often ignored in discussions about OA, and something worth bearing in mind when you’re thinking about your author-side costs for next year!

  2. Frank Norman says:

    Tom – I’m not familiar with the PRC. A quick search suggests it may be the Publishing Research Consortium ? Did your publishing friend mean to suggest that the RIN report on paying OA fees was in some way biased? It didn’t come across that way to me.
    Your statement that most open access journals (including ours) charge no publication fees whatsoever rather surprises me. I wonder what your definition of “open access journal” is?

  3. Maxine Clarke says:

    Responding to your post, Frank, rather than the discussion on it so far, I think another issue for journals is simply a technical one. Delivery of a range of publishing options isn’t that straightforward, and at the very least adds a cost (for a journal to offer a range of author and/or reader options and to deliver the online technology that makes that work for individual and site-licence subscribers).

  4. Tom Hopkinson says:

    It surprised me too when I heard it..
    I think the finding first surfaced in this report. This is based on journals in the DOAJ, so follows their definition: “We define open access journals as journals that use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access. From the BOAI definition [1] of “open access” we take the right of users to “read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles” as mandatory for a journal to be included in the directory.”
    This doesn’t of course mean that it’s “free”, but it does mean a rethink about what the real costs of changing publication models are, perhaps.
    I actually think the RIN report is pretty measured, and carried out in good faith – any study like this has to based on some assumptions, and I don’t know if the ones chosen are necessarily biased.
    What bothered me was the implied acknowledgement that had the PRC (sorry, yes – publishing research consortium) not influenced the choice of analysts, the outcome of the report could have been different.

  5. Frank Norman says:

    @Maxine – of course everything has a cost, that’s not surprising. I was just trying to highlight that subscription cost and article fees are now becoming more entangled. So as a librarian I have to take a more complex decision. Not just “do we need to subscribe to this title and how much value (use) will it get?” but also “and how many (if any) articles are we like to publish in it and what can we save in OA fees by having a subscription?”
    @Tom. I am still a bit sceptical. I recall, back in the 1990s when digital publishing was in its infancy, there were lists produced revealing large numbers of e-only peer-reviewed journals. This was cited as evidence that online journals could be serious beasts. But when I looked at the lists I could find very very few journals in basic biomedical sciences (the field I know best). I suspect that the same may apply to that statistic about large numbers of free-to-publish OA journals.

  6. steffi suhr says:

    All those “open choice”, “author choice”, “open option”, “open article”, “online open”, “open science” and other similar schemes (why does each publisher have to have a different name for the same thing?!?)
    That’s an interesting point, Frank. I think all these names reflect the different ways each publisher defines ‘their’ version of Open Access (this is touched on here). There does not seem to be a clear ‘industry standard’ yet, which would be a very important point to address (soon).

  7. Tom Hopkinson says:

    That may be a fair point – I don’t know if there’s a breakdown by journal available. Perhaps anyway it would be more useful to know what proportion of articles published didn’t require author fees, instead – as that would include waived fees for example, and give a better idea of the actual proportion of research output involved.
    But whether or not the actual percentage itself is meaningful, it still gave me cause to rethink the economics and incentives of the whole thing. I’m new to OA myself and was surprised to find a number of big, successful OA journals in our field alone that run without author charges (Emerging Infectious Diseases is a good example).

  8. Frank Norman says:

    Tom – EID is an interesting example, plus its Euro coounterpart, Eurosurveillance. Both of these I think are supported by official sources – EID by the US CDC and Eurosurveillance by the ECDC. In other words, supported by taxpayers as they are an important component of disease surveillance.
    I don’t think that model extends into other subject domains.

  9. Graham Steel says:

    My $0.02
    The following comes to mind.
    But the next time you hear someone talk about the “cost” of publishing in OA journals, please point ’em here.
    That was Bill Hooker from 2nd Dec 2007 referring to this post on his blog, Open Reading Frame.

  10. Tom Hopkinson says:

    Yes – although EID’s remit extends beyond surveillance, I agree that model won’t work in all cases – but you could perhaps imagine equivalent bodies deciding to support an open access journal for clinical research, say. But there are other models. BMJ relies on print subscriptions and advertising – and it’s not just a question of size: Molecular Medicine does the same.