Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Scholarly journal article publishing: profits at below 30% of current revenues

Thanks to Mark Ware, Michael Mabe and the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) for releasing the 2012 STM report as open access.

Based on data from the Executive Summary, we can calculate that the current average revenue per scholarly journal article published globally is approximately $5,000 US. BMC is making a profit charging an average APC that is 37% of this amount, and PLoS is bringing in a 23% surplus at less than 30% of this amount.

This is based on Ware and Mabe's report of:

9.4 billion in revenue for english-language STM journal publishing
1.8 - 1.9 million articles published per year in 28,100 actively scholarly journals
=  approximately $5,000 in average revenue

BioMedCentral average of $1,874 is based on data downloaded from the BMC website as part of the open access article processing fee research project

The average article processing fee for an article in the profitable BioMedCentral journals is $1,874 US - that's profit-making at an average of 37% of the current average revenue. PLoS is now enjoying a 23% profit rate, charging $1,350 per article for PLoS ONE - that's a high profit rate at 27% of the revenue of the current average.

It should be noted that PLoS was not originally designed to be a model of publishing efficiency, but rather a combined advocacy and publishing organization meant to compete primarily at the high end of the scholarly publishing market. PLoS' costs reflect this original mission: well-paid professional staff and headquarters in one of the world's costliest real estate markets, San Francisco. 

This is yet an another indication, as I have argued elsewhere, that high quality scholarly publishing can be accomplished for a small fraction of existing spend - something that every faculty member and university administrator in today's tough economic times ought to know.