Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 5


  A set pattern of processing charges for publication in open access journals has yet to emerge. The two most prominent open access publishers are BioMed Central ( and the Public Library of Science ( BioMed Central publishes just over 100 journals, and currently charges $500 (+ VAT) per article published, although they have announced that they will be charging three times as much for some titles that they intend to launch later this year. They have nearly 400 institutional members in 32 countries. Researchers from member institutions have the right to publish an unlimited number of research articles in journals published by BioMed Central without paying any article processing charges. To date BioMed Central has published 5,000 articles. Recent statements from BMC suggest that the operation has yet to break even, despite several years of publishing using an open access business model. The Public Library of Science has so far launched one journal, PLoS Biology, which charges $1,500 per article published, with a printed version available on subscription. Neither BMC nor PLoS make charges for submissions.

  There have been a number of attempts objectively to quantify the first copy costs associated with publishing a journal article. Odlyzko and Tenopir and King estimated an average first copy cost per article published of $4,000. A recent study by John Cox Associates estimated the first copy cost per article as $3,500. The SPARC Consulting Group, in their Guide to Business Planning for Launching a New Open Access Journal prepared for the Open Society Institute, project a first copy cost per article published of $3,750, assuming no submission charges.

  Clearly there is a gap to be bridged if these estimates are correct. Furthermore, if processing costs are waived from authors without the ability to pay (from developing world countries for example), and if the rejection rate from peer review approaches that of established journals of high prestige, then the cost per article published that must be levied on those with the ability to pay must rise significantly. If the extra funding required cannot be raised from charges to authors, then advertising, sponsorship or donations must compensate. But with a shortfall of $2,000-$3,000 per article published, given the number of articles published each year (1.4 million), the sum to be made up in this way could run into $billions, each year. We submit that open access publishing still has some way to go before it can show that its economic models are either sustainable or scalable.

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Prepared 20 July 2004