Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Molecular Biology of the Cell, or, Why Open Access by Article Processing Fee Sometimes Just Makes Sense

Re-analysis of data from the American Society for Cell Biology, publishers of the subscription-based Molecular Biology of the Cell, in MBC and the Economics of Scientific Publishing, illustrates how sometimes an article processing fee approach to open access, combined with dropping the print edition to focus on online, can be just a very natural fit. Given the current economic situation, now might be the perfect time to make the switch.

Currently at Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBC):
  • article processing fees constitute 61% of the journal's revenue (colour charges 35%, page charges 26%).
  • print costs (printing, binding, paper, mailing) are 32% of expenses
In other words, if MBC were to drop the print edition, then article processing fees are already covering all but 7% of the costs. That is, 100% of costs - 32% print costs - 35% colour charges - 26% page charges = 7%. Assuming that the 5% cost for reprints and some of the 6% costs for "other" are print-related, such as tracking subscriptions or managing authentication, then it is quite possible that article processing fees are already covering the full costs of an online-only open access version of MBC.

MBC readers and authors currently do enjoy some of the benefits of freee access through participation in PubMedCentral after a brief 2-month delay. A full shift to OA would mean the full benefits of immediate OA, preferably libre OA with a suitable open license, such as Creative Commons - Attribution (plus, optionally Noncommercial and/or Sharealike).

There is another benefit that would address a concern expressed by authors in the MBC survey. That is, authors are concerned about the cost of page and colour charges. Because of the print version, it is very likely that authors sometimes forego including valuable material for economic reasons. In an online-only environment, adding more pages, colour figures - even audiovisuals and research datasets - does not add costs as it does in the print environment. If MBC were to drop the print edition and switch to OA / online-only, it could immediately begin to do more for authors and for readers.

According to the Association's data, only a small percentage of readers really prefer and read the print. For these few readers, there are now print on demand services. As of 2007, it was still perceived as important to publish in a journal produced in print. This may still be the case, however the impact of the current economic crisis may help to explain to members and authors why it is essential at the present time to move to new, more efficient business models. One of the concerns members had about dropping print was archiving; it might be timely to raise awareness among members of the role of PubMedCentral in which MBC participates, as an archive of the world's medical literature, carrying on the tradition of the U.S. National Library of Medicine in the online environment.

Thanks to Heather Joseph via Peter Suber on Open Access News for the link to the article and background information.

This post is part of the Essential Efficiencies and Transitioning to Open Access series.