Saturday, September 14, 2013

Should we protect high cost subscription scholarly journals? Why not support scholars instead?

Dana Roth on the GOAL open access list has raised a question about whether subscription journals like the 'Journal of Comparative Neurology', with a subscription price of $30,860, would be sustainable with green open access. The subject line is Disruption vs. Protection. Following is my response:

A journal publishing 234 articles per year charging $30,860 for a subscription SHOULD be disrupted, on the basis of price. At this rate it would cost 7 times more to provide access to only the medical schools in North America than to provide open access to everyone, everywhere with an internet connection, even at the rates of a for-profit professional commercial publisher's very high impact journal. At the rates of The Journal of Machine Learning, aptly described by Shieber as an efficient journal, all of the articles published in this journal could be made open access for a total cost that is less than 10% of a single subscription.


The Association of American Medical Colleges accredits 141 medical schools in the U.S. and Canada alone. If each one of these schools purchased a subscription at $30,860, that would add up to revenue of $4.3 million per year.

$4.3 million would be sufficient to pay open access article processing fees for 1,657 articles at the rates of the professional for-profit BioMedCentral's very-high-impact journal Genome Biology (U.S. $2,265).

Shieber describes the approach and costs (average $10 per article) of the Journal of Machine Learning on his blog The Occasional Pamphlet:

The question should be how we can protect and sustain high-quality scholarly publishing in an open access environment - not how to protect such mind-boggling inefficiency as journals that charge over $30,000 for a subscription!

Those who think that it is important to sustain scholarly journals so that a surplus can assist with things like education might want to consider whether medical schools should immediately cancel this journal and offer a medical student a $30,000 scholarship instead.

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