Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The variability of the open access article processing charge

The purpose of this post is to share an early observation from the open access article processing charges research I'm working on with colleagues. In brief, the purpose of this post is to suggest whether it might be counter-productive to look for a specific open access article processing fee for each journal using this approach, as for example the proposed new DOAJ form for publishers does.

It appears that there is a common misperception that each publisher or journal using this particular business model (a minority of open access journals) has a specific figure for the OA APC. The more data I gather about this approach the more evident it becomes that this overarching business model includes at least several different business models, and that a variety of discounts based on such factors as ability to pay, memberships, contributions to the journal, to name a few, are the norm rather than the exception.

For example, BioMedCentral is an example of an open access publisher with relatively open, stable, transparent open access article processing charges, readily downable from here. But even in this most straightforward case, the list fees are listed in three different currencies, and the actual fee for an individual author will depend on such variables as whether the author's institution has a membership, whether the author is eligible for a fee waiver or a discount based on one or more membership types, whether the author is registered for Current Clinical Trials (details on some of the discounts are available here) etc.

The Directory of Open Access Journals has two categories for publications charges: "has publication charges" and "conditional". The wide variety of models suggest to me that perhaps all of these journals actually belong in the latter, conditional category.

Why does this matter? As useful as it is to have a specific figure for budgeting purposes, pushing publishers to select a given amount seems likely to discourage experiments which could have such  impacts as lowering overall costs or improving the efficiency of scholarship in the future.

For example, scholarly societies might want to experiment with lower publication costs for society memberships to see if this is a way of maintaining membership revenue with open access the society traditionally enjoyed when journals were funded through subscriptions. This kind of experimentation is not consistent with setting a specific fee.

This post is part of the Open Access Article Processing Charges series.