Supplementary evidence from the Public
Library of Science (PLOS)
1. We have received evidence that businesses
read more papers than they publish and would therefore put less
money into the system under an author-pays publishing model. What
measures do you have in place to cope with this expected drop
in revenue? (Q179)
First, it is important not to measure the contribution
businesses make to science and scientific publishing too narrowly.
While companies will likely spend less to publish in open access
journals than they currently spend on journal subscriptions, they
will still make substantial financial contributions to science
and scientific publishing through partnerships with universities
and, more importantly, through taxes.
PLoS and other open access publishers will not
be directly affected by companies cancelling journal subscriptions.
We have never relied on subscription revenues and thus no explicit
measure needs to be put in place to deal with their loss. The
open access financial model is simple and directthere are
costs associated with each journal and each paper, and these are
recouped through publication fees. Companies who wish to publish
their work in open access journals have to pay this fee, of course,
but open access publishing does not require any additional financial
contribution on their part.
In their testimony Elsevier argue that the loss
of subscription revenues from companies will place an increased
financial burden on public institutions. We believe this is incorrect,
and that the lost revenue from companies will be more than made
up for by reduced costs that will result from the restoration
of market forces to scientific publishing. Total revenue in STM
publishing is estimated at between US$7 and US$10 billionor
at least US$4,000 per paper. The real costs of publishing a paper
in a typical scientific journal are in the region of US$1-2,000,
requiring a total expenditure of, at most, US$3 billion per year
on scientific publishing. Even allowing for inefficiencies and
profit, the total savings to the system will almost certainly
exceed the roughly US$1 billion spent by companies on journal
More importantly, the long-term benefits of
open access to the UK economy and society far outstrip the short-term
reduction of business contributions to scientific publishing.
Unfettered access to the published scientific literature will
stimulate and facilitate research and developmentespecially
for small start-up companies for whom comprehensive access to
the literature is prohibitively expensivethereby increasing
productivity. Furthermore, the availability of the scientific
literature in a free and open form will spawn new industries in
areas in which the UK is very strong (bioinformatics, text mining).
The public will benefit from this increased productivity with,
for example, more effective disease treatments developed more
rapidly and less expensively. The UK treasury will benefit through
increased tax revenues, allowing it to devote more funds to research,
scientific publishing, and other important causes.
Financial arguments aside, it is important to
point out that companies should not have to pay to access the
scientific literature. We have argued that members of the publicwhose
taxes support scientific researchshould not have to pay
again to access the results of research they sponsored. The same
is true of companies. Furthermore, expecting companies to pay
often exorbitant prices to access the scientific literature as
a way to reduce the cost of publication of government-sponsored
research adds a financial disincentive to private investment research
and developmentin effect, a rather perverse tax on the
commercial investment in research that the UK government otherwise
tries to encourage.
2. What checks and balances have you built
into the system to ensure that your open access journals do not
accept more articles in order to generate an increased income?
The natural checks and balances in the academic
"economy" will guarantee that the more selective journals
will be the most widely and appreciatively read, and therefore
the most prestigious and most attractive to authors. Scientists,
who are very value conscious in their expenditure of research
funds, will generally pay more to publish in a more prestigious
venue or to make their article more appealing to readers. Indeed
it is not uncommon for colour charges for an article in Nature
to exceed £1,000, but authors are generally happy to pay
them if a colour figure makes their article more attractive to
readers. There is thus a strong incentive for PLoSor any
other publisherto maintain high editorial standards. Authors
send us their papers because publishing in our journals signifies
that their paper has passed through a rigorous peer-review process
and has been deemed by our editors to be of significant import
and interest. If we were to relax these standards in the interest
of generating more money, our audience (which includes all of
our potential authors) would quickly notice the lowered standards
and the value of publishing in and reading our journals would
Moreover, for PLoS, as for most scientific societies,
publishing is a central part of a larger mission to promote scientific
progress and education. To compromise this mission for the sake
of higher revenue would be to betray our founding principles.
Our entire editorial and business organisation
is structured to ensure that all of our journals maintain high
standards and a good reputation in the community. Every paper
goes through rigorous peer review monitoring by highly trained
and experienced professional editors working in partnership with
active researchers who serve as voluntary academic editors. Any
effort to compromise the integrity of this process for financial
reasons would be counterproductive as well as contrary to our
This apparent incentive to lower editorial standards
for economic gain is not unique to open access publishing. Many
publishers justify subscription rates to potential subscribers
in terms of the number of articles their journals contain, thereby
creating an economic incentive for restricted-access journals
to publish more papers. Despite this incentive, the scientific
publishing system has retained its integrity for the same reasons
it will retain its integrity under open access.
Finally, the possibility that publishers would
compete to provide a low-cost outlet for publication of larger
volumes of articles would not necessarily be a problemindeed,
very valuable information (such as the results of clinical trials
that produce negative or inconclusive results) is now often left
unpublished because it is deemed not to have produced a scientific
result important enough to interest the readers of a journal.
Society would be well served by a cost-effective mechanism for
recording these results in a public archive.
3. It has been suggested that, were the UK
to mandate an author-pays publishing model, it would pay for publications
twiceonce to publish its own work, and the second time
to read the work published in countries which had not adopted
the author-pays model. The Committee would value your thoughts
on this matter. (Qq202, 205)
This is incorrect. If this were to happen the
UK would not be paying twice for the same thing, they would be
paying for two different things.
By mandating open-access publication and providing
funds to UK authors to publish in open-access journals, the UK
government would be acting to ensure that the results of research
it funds are freely accessible to scientists and the public in
the UK and all other countries, furthering its goal of creating
new knowledge and making it available for the benefit of its own
citizens and the world.
If the UK were the only country to make such
a mandate, it would also have to pay to access the works of scientists
from other countries, but this would be a separate expense for
a different purpose. Furthermore, if the UK were to lead the way
in mandating open access this would have a profound effect on
an open access movement that is gaining momentum worldwide. Funding
agencies across Europe have already provided strong endorsements
of open access, as have private foundations and major universities
across North America. We expect that most countries in Europe
and North America (the source of most published papers) would
rapidly follow the UK lead, and that publishers would see this
event as the necessary catalyst for their transition to open access.
4. In oral evidence you said that the costs
of an author-pays publishing model would be lower than the costs
of the traditional publishing model. Can you provide an analysis
to illustrate this point? (Q205)
Just to be clear, we were referring to the overall
cost to the scientific community to publish its collective research
As we and others detailed in our evidence, the
costs of scientific journals have increased at a rate far greater
than inflation. These increases have been accompanied by very
healthy profits for most publishers. We argue strongly that these
price increases are a consequence of an industry that is no longer
responding to market forces, and that the restricted access business
model is the prime cause of these inefficiencies. Open access
will restore efficient market forces and, undoubtedly, reduce
profits to a reasonable range at a considerable saving to the
scientific community. This analysis is supported by stock analysts
at firms like Bear Stearns and BNP Parabas who have consistently
downgraded commercial publishers' stocks as open access has progressed,
and by the publishers themselves whose strong opposition to open
access reflects their belief that their current profit margins
depend on maintenance of the subscription-based system.
We have also carefully analyzed the costs of
operation for a scientific publisher, as well as the costs of
producing different types of scientific journals, and have concluded
that our cost per paper will be roughly US$1,500 including fixed
costs for the organisation and specific costs for each paper.
Although we have not been in operation long enough to provide
explicit data to support this cost, it is in line with estimates
of other commercial and not-for-profit publishers of the cost
of all of the steps leading to the online publication of a peer-reviewed,
edited and formatted research article. Even if we assume we have
underestimated our costs somewhat, it is difficult to imagine
that they will come close to the lowest estimate (US$4,000) of
the per article revenue across the industry. Although the elimination
of excessive profits is one source of this difference, it is not
the only source. For an open-access publisher, no money must be
spent on soliciting and managing subscriptionscosts that
can run up to 30% of budget for some publishers. More importantly,
PLoS and BioMedCentralthe two largest open access publishersmake
extensive use of computer technology to reduce our costs without
compromising our standards. As open-access publishing becomes
more widespread, market forces should act to promote the additional
development of such technologies and to further drive down costs.
Although we, and most others who have analyzed
scientific publishing carefully, are convinced that open access
will reduce costs, this is not the prime motivation for making
this transition. Even if open access cost exactly the same as
the current system, under open access we (the global scientific
community) would be getting so much more for our money. Under
the current system our US$7-10 billion per year covers the cost
of peer-review, editing and production of all the papers we produce
and buys a very limited kind of access to this material for a
limited group of scientists and physicians, predominantly those
affiliated with wealthy institutions in the developed world. Under
open access the same (or less) money will cover the cost of peer-review
editing and production of all the papers we produce and buy unlimited
access to and use of this material for everyone in the world.
5. Can you supply any data on the average
cost per journal to the publisher of peer review?
There are at least three components to cost
of peer review: the cost of obtaining expert reviews from practicing
scientists, the costs of managing the review process, and salaries
for staff editors who are sufficiently expert to contribute to
the evaluation of a paper's scientific merit.
For the vast majority of journals the cost of
peer-review itself is very small relative to the full cost of
publication because it is done by academics in their own time
and provided as a free service to the publisher. Some journals
pay reviewers for their services, although this is rare in the
sciences (eg the Lancet pays professional statisticians to review
certain papers) and does not contribute significantly to the system-wide
costs of peer review.
The transition to electronic journal management
systems (JMS), whereby manuscripts are submitted and exchanged
electronically and reviews are submitted directly into this system,
greatly reduces the overall cost of peer review. Some systems
were developed by publishers, but increasingly they are licensed
from vendors. The costs of these systems and their functionalities
varyPLoS, for example, pays its JMS vendor $20 per submitted
article, a small marginal cost relative to the overall cost of
publishing a paper.
For a few top-tier journals like Nature
or PLoS Biology, the main cost of peer review is the paid
internal editorial staff whose professional judgment plays an
important part in the peer review process as such journals attempt
to insure that works they publish are of special significance
and general interest. PLoS Biology has six expert professional
reviewers and journals like Nature and Science have
more than 25. These highly-trained editors can be expensive, and
are the primary cost cited when journals like Science claim a
cost of US$10,000 per article. It is worth noting, however, that
most papers are published in journals with relatively little professional
editorial oversight. For example, at a commercial publisher like
Blackwell, one journal manager might oversee five-10 society publications.
For our future PLoS community journals (with staffing and publication
standards similar to most society journals), we estimate that
peer review will cost no more than US$200 per article.
6. How much, on average, does it cost to
publish a journal article?
The cost of publishing an article will also
depend on many different factors and vary with the efficiency
and scale of the publishing process (see Appendix 1PLoS's
recent white paper on Publishing Open Access Journals). Some of
the factors that influence the cost of publishing include the
cost of peer review, as discussed in Q.5, and the cost of processing
both rejected and published articles, ie whether an electronic
or human-managed system is in place and the journal's rejection
rate (since rejected articles typically do not generate revenue).
Once an article has been accepted for publication, additional
variable costs come into play, including production processes
such as graphic design and copyediting that journals may undertake
and value-added components of the journal such as reviews or commentaries
that add to the overall cost of the journal.
We estimate that a typical article processed
through our journal management system and production process costs
between US$1,000-1,200, not including costs for peer review and
print. Blackwell has estimated a figure of £1,250, which
includes their current profit margin and cost of the print run.
BioMedCentral estimates it processes articles for £550. The
variations derive not from publishers' lack of honesty or transparency,
but rather from rapid improvements in electronic publishing processes,
variable value-added costs described above, and issues of scaleBioMedCentral,
for example, currently publishes over 100 journals and so benefits
from economies of scale more than PLoS currently does.
7. Some disciplines are better funded than
others. What measures do you have in place to ensure that there
is no bias towards the richer, better funded disciplines under
an author-pays model?
The ideal system for scientific publishing is
one in which all scientists can publish their works in an appropriate
journal and access the works of their colleagues without impediments.
The current system denies countless scientists access to journals
they need for their research, especially scientists at less wealthy
institutions or in poorly funded disciplines. Open access will
correct this access inequity. But we must make sure that we do
not create a system in which some scientists cannot publish their
work in the appropriate journal.
There are really two dangers here. First that
individual authors will be shut out of particular open access
journals because they can not pay the publication fee. And second
that poorly funded disciplines will be poorly served by open access
publishers responding to the lack of available funds in the discipline.
The answer to the first problemfor PLoS
at leastis simple. The ability to pay will never be a consideration
in our decision to publish a paper. If a paper passes peer review,
it will be published, regardless of author's ability to pay. We
have factored into our business model and financial projections
an expectation that 20% of our authors will be unable to pay our
publication costs (this number is based on discussions of the
frequency of requests for waivers of page charges from several
journals, and is intentionally an overestimate). We expect waiver
requests to come both from authors in developing countries as
well as authors working in poorly funded disciplines in developed
Obviously the lost revenue from these articles
must be made up elsewhere. One model is to increase charges to
other authors by the amount required to make up the shortfall.
Some have argued that this will result in the UK subsidising the
publication of research from other countries and of well-funded
disciplines subsidising publications from poorer disciplines.
While this is true, we note that both of these subsidies already
exist. Wealthy disciplines subsidise poorer disciplines by contributing
disproportionately to library or institutional acquisition budgets.
The UK subsidises the publication of authors in developing countries
by subscribing to the journals in which they publish their work.
Since the number of published articles from poorer countries is
relatively small, subsidising their publication provides an inexpensive
but high-leverage way for the UK to support development in poorer
There are also alternatives to having some authors
subsidise the costs of those who can not afford to pay. Several
foundations with an interest in promoting science in developing
countries (eg The Open Society Institute) have allocated funds
to subsidize publication charges for authors from these nations.
There is some risk that open access publishers
will respond to the relative lack of funds for publication in
poorly funded disciplines by devoting insufficient resources to
these fields. It will be difficult for an open access publisher
to optimally serve fields that do not have sufficient resources
to cover the costs of publishing their research output. (We note
that the current system does not ideally serve many poorly funded
disciplines.) PLoSas an organization of scientistsis
committed to serving the entire scientific community. But the
best defence against a bias towards well-funded disciplines is
for the funding agencies and research institutions who will primarily
fund open access publishing to allocate sufficient funds to all
disciplines to cover their publication costs. Publication budgets
need not be allocated in direct proportion to research funding.
In addition to, or instead of, including publication costs in
research grants, a general fund could be created by each research
organisation to provide publication funds to any of its scientists.
Since publication costs will represent a modest fraction of research
costs, this will not present a significant financial burden for
institutions, and these costs will be offset by savings on subscriptions
and other publication-related charges.
What seemed an impossible ideal in 1836, when
Antonio Panizzi, librarian of the British Museum, wrote: "I
want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned
curiosity, . . . of consulting the same authorities, . . . as
the richest man in the kingdoms," is today within our reach.
Today, we have the means to make humanity's treasury of knowledge
freely available to scientists, teachers, students and the public
around the world. New technologymost notably the Internet,
with its capacity for distribution, storage, and retrieval of
information in digital formhas brought us to the threshold
of an era that scientists, philosophers and scholars have hoped
for and dreamed about for millennia. At this extraordinary moment
in the history of science and learning, the UK Parliament has
a unique opportunity and, we hope, the vision and leadership to
take us across this threshold.
Every other argument we have made, although
we believe each is compelling in its own right, is minor by comparison.