Many of the things that publishers do are perplexing, frustrating or reek of exploitation (it’s arguable that even the act of selling us subscriptions falls into the latter category) . I wrote earlier this year about a perplexing and frustrating example. Here’s some more.
A two-faced article
This article, in the Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry can’t decide whether it is OA or not. Heck, it can’t even decide who it’s published by. Its bibliographic record in PubMed has two different links to the full text – one to Elsevier, marked as Open Access, and the other to SpringerLink.
The Springer link takes me to an abstract of the article showing it as an article published by Springer. It looks like something you need to subscribe to, or pay to access but a further link from that page in fact allows me to view the full text PDF. The article is marked as copyright American Society for Mass Spectrometry but I cannot see any statement to say that it is open access nor any Creative Commons licence. At the bottom of the PDF page it says “Published by Elsevier”.
The Elsevier link takes me to an HTML version of the whole article, on a page marked “Open Archive”. It also says it is “Under an Elsevier user license”. I learnt that
“Articles published under an Elsevier user license are protected by copyright. Users may access, download, copy, translate, text and data mine (but may not redistribute, display or adapt) the articles for non-commercial purposes”
with various further conditions. The article is not available in PubMedCentral, which seems to me evidence that it is not genuinely open access, despite the label on the PubMed link to Elsevier.
I suspect the problem is that the article is in a journal owned by a learned society but published by a commercial publisher. This is not always a good combination. Presumably the journal changed publisher and this created further confusion. I wonder why both versions are still extant?
Paying and paying and paying
Someone asked me to get them an article in a new Cell Press journal, Cell Systems. (Cell Press is an imprint of Elsevier). We purchased a copy of the article for the requester who then told us that they really wanted to get the supplementary information (SI) as well. We took a look at the publisher website, hoping the SI might be free. But it wasn’t free – it was going to cost us $22 to download it. Or rather, it would cost $22 to download one file. This article has 9 separate SI files and each of them (as far as I can tell) will cost $22. My investigative instinct did not extend to trying to download all 9 SI files to check the full price really would be 9 times $22 = $198.
This single article seems an excellent argument against putting SI on a publisher website.
There does seem to be an option (Read-it-Now) to pay a single price for the article and its SI all together, but this is a short-term ‘rental’ option and is not suitable for someone who wants to save and reuse the SI data.
How much is your APC?
The EMBO Journal is a moderately well-thought of journal, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of the prestige pile. I was therefore surprised to learn that if you want to publish an article there with immediate open access it will cost you $5,200. That puts it in the same price league as Cell and Nature Communications, both of which have an APC of $5,000. At least, they did last time I looked. And that’s the thing – I’m not in the habit of checking journal websites regularly to see what their APCs are this week. When I looked back to see what we had to pay last time (in early 2016) someone wanted to publish an article in EMBO Journal I found that it was just $3,900 – still a bit above the average APC for a journal published by a commercial publisher (EMBO J is published by Wiley) but quite a bit less than their current price.
I looked into it further and found that there had been a large hike in all Wiley APC prices at the beginning of 2016 when the publisher changed its pricing model for open access. Up to the end of 2015 they charged an open access fee plus page charges of $95 per page. From 1 Jan 2016 they stopped charging the page charge and raised the APC to make the lost fees.
Part of me wants to applaud this transparency – having page charges on top of APCs seems like triple-dipping and in these days of online journals page charges are an expensive anachronism. Not to say a rip-off. But loading the extra cost onto the APC is still a rip-off.
I poked around the wayback machine a little to check on some of the facts about past APCs. Wiley’s spreadsheet listing all their APCs seems to be updated quite frequently, so I guess there are quite a few increases. I think it would be interesting to do this more systematically to track changes to APCs. (But not quite interesting enough that I felt moved to do it myself).
I found that I had a new Twitter follower – the Director of Cogent OA. I’d not encountered this publisher before but quickly found that it is owned by Taylor and Francis (one of the big four) and it has thus far published 200 OA articles in 15 broad journals with a total of 122 sections. I’m not a fan of setting up large numbers of empty journals/sections in the hope that they will attract articles.
Cogent charges an APC of $1250 but this is marked as a ‘recommended’ price. Cogent are pioneering the idea of “Freedom APCs”.
As the first multi-disciplinary publisher to introduce Freedom APCs – a “pay what you want“ model – across the entire portfolio, our authors can choose how much they contribute towards open-access publishing based on their funding and financial circumstances.
I wonder how free the author really is to decide what they want to pay? Once again, it would interesting to do some experiments to test this out.
The landscape of publishing and open access grows ever more complex and confusing. TO be absolutely on top of everything is really a full-time job, but few of us (certainly not me) are able to spend all our time on mastering everything that is changing.