Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Nature Publishing Group

  Nature Publishing Group is an independent journal publisher, part of Macmillan. We have been invited to attend the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into scientific publications, but have decided not to submit a formal statement to the committee, as we have contributed to submissions from the PA and the STM. We agree that subscription-based pricing of scientific journals protects the integrity and neutrality of the selection process in the dissemination of research articles. However, we would like to emphasise one point relating to high-impact research journals, such as Nature, in the current debate about subscription prices and "author pays" business models.

  Nature receives many more submissions than it publishes; after careful consideration and expert peer review, it publishes fewer than 10% of the research articles submitted. Economics dictates that high-quality journals like Nature have a high unit cost per paper published, because for every article published more than ten have been reviewed and deselected. Reviewing and filtering such a large number of articles is expensive, and yet Nature remains one of the most inexpensive journals in the market. In fact, the cost of Nature in real terms is half of what it was when it was launched by Thomas Huxley 135 years ago; a library with several thousand users can enjoy electronic access to 51 issues per year at a price that is less than the publication fee of two research articles in most "author pays" journals. This is because the cost of publication is supported by Nature's several million readers, tens of thousands of subscribers and a significant number of advertising clients. If the "author pays" model were imposed on a journal like Nature, these costs would have to be borne by the relatively few authors whose papers are published after our rigorous selection and peer review processes.

  Under an author pays model, we estimate the actual cost per paper published would be in the region of £10-30,000 depending on the impact of lost advertising. Such an amount would be hardly affordable to most research scientists, and so journals such as Nature would be forced to reduce editorial criteria, and publish more, lower quality papers, and/or favour wealthy authors that were in a position to afford such a fee. The publication process would be in danger of being driven by economic considerations rather than academic principles. The "author pays" model potentially undermines the integrity of the world's highest quality journals, with unwelcome consequences for the scientific community, and for the wider public.

  We believe that competition in the market place delivers efficiencies and drives down costs. Nature Publishing Group has always embraced and will continue to welcome new business models and publishing opportunities. However, we strongly believe that fair subscription pricing maintains the integrity and independence of the publication process, and that a mandatory shift towards "authors pays" models would seriously damage high-quality journals.

February 2004

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 20 July 2004