Re: BioMed Central and new publishing models

From: Jan Velterop <>
Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2002 20:26:12 +0100

BioMed Central. What we do and what we don't do.

BioMed Central's main motive is the promulgation of open access for
peer-reviewed primary research articles. Our secondary motive is to find
ways of building a stable framework for open access, getting away, as
much as we can, from the begging bowl and being at the mercy of fickle
subsidies, and instead, find a business/economic model that sustainably
works for open access.

A couple of axioms:

a. Research articles must be peer-reviewed

b. Copyright must not be allowed to play a role in the business model

The latter may need some clarification. When talking about copyright,
there is always the difficulty of having two sets of interpretations of
what copyright fundamentally means: the European one (Roman Law countries)
and the Anglo-Saxon one. This is relevant, because although we would
like to keep copyright at bay, we do believe in the inalienability of
the 'droit de paternite'. The Anglo-Saxon copyright laws do not have
such inalienability, but often recognise, at least in common practice,
the authors' moral rights.

At BioMed Central we leave the copyright in the hands of authors, but we
insist on users of the open access articles we publish honouring the
authors' moral rights such as the right to be acknowledged and to have the
integrity of the articles being left intact. Other than that, we 'ignore'
copyright and it certainly plays no role in our economic model.

How do we promulgate open access?

We currently employ two models:

        Bundled - journals for which we organise both the peer review
(along the lines of Nature) and subsequently the online
open access publication (examples: BMC Cell Biology - - and Journal of Biology -;

        Unbundled - journals for which the peer review is organised by
independent editors and editorial groups, whose accepted articles we
publish online in open access (examples: Cancer Cell International - - and Kinetoplastid Biology and Disease - This is the prevailing model
(minus the open access!) in the conventional STM publishing world. The
conventional STM publishers have no dealings whatsoever with the peer
review processes of the vast majority of their journals.

In both cases we levy an article-processing charge (APC) for accepted
articles, payable, if at all possible, from research grants or by the
authors' institutions. An increasing number of institutions have become
BioMed Central member institutions, which entitles authors from those
institutions to automatic waivers of APCs. Waivers are also available for
authors in circumstances where paying APCs amounts to a de facto
impossibility, such as in developing countries. Some additional income is
generated from advertisements on our site.

We do not currently charge for peer review if the article is not accepted.
There are costs to organising peer review, but we have been, and still
are, building tools to keep those costs to a minimum. These tools are
available, gratis, to the independent editors and editorial groups of
the 'unbundled' journals. These tools comprise, inter alia, an online
submission module, referee selection module, online 'mail-to-reviewer'
module, admin and version-control module, et cetera. They have been
created and are continually improved to make the peer review process as
quick, efficient, reliable and cheap as possible.

Especially for the 'unbundled' journals, where peer review and publishing
are more clearly separated, I have likened what we do with articles
accepted after peer review to what is known as 'self-archiving'. In
quotation marks, though, for it is similar in certain respects, but not
the same. The articles we publish are not just marked up and converted
into HTML and PDF and put online (and made available via Avant-Go),
they are also firmly and actively embedded in the web-like structure of
the scientific literature, among others via CrossRef linking, indexing
in PubMed, Medline, BIOSIS, and other services, rather than just relying
on them being found by search engines or harvesters (all our material is
OAI-compliant). We actively pursue a policy of redundancy of availability,
by placing copies of all our output, in full, in other archives, such
as PubMed Central (negotiations with other archives, outside the US,
are ongoing and likely to result in further announcements in the near
future; we are aware that these national archives are often subsidised and
therefore vulnerable - see what is happening to PubSci - so we are seeking
refuge in large numbers and are also collaborating with LOCKSS).

On an aside, archiving, of course, never was a publisher activity, but a
library one. It is only recently, with the advent of online publishing,
that some publishers have started to see a way of making money out
of archives, in many cases borrowing older issues from a university
library in order to digitise them! Our policies make exploiting our
archive impossible - we do not, after all, have copyrights - so our
'archiving' efforts are more 'archivability' efforts and focussed on
metadata (OAI and other standards) and securing 'a good long-term home'
for the articles we publish, just in case we are forced to give up
maintaining our own archive in the long run.

Articles of exceptional interest are also press-released to a wide and
global variety of specialist and general media, giving the authors maximum

All the research articles we publish can, of course, be included in
institutional self-archives or authors' own web sites. We do more than
just archive, but our archiving 'component' is typically organised along
disciplinary lines rather than geographical ones, the latter being
the case for the typical institutional self-archiving facility. With
the majority of articles in the life sciences and medicine written by
multiple authors with multiple affiliations, this approach offers some
advantages over institutional archives, although sophisticated indexing
and OAI-compatibility of the material levels the differences to a degree.

The fees we charge for our services (the APCs) are, on a per-article
basis, materially lower (up to a factor 10) than the aggregate cost per
article to academia of conventionally published material. We are finding,
however, that scientists are rarely concerned with that. They do certainly
not seem concerned if their institution picks up the bill. What they
value most in open access journals is the vastly increased visibility and
findability of their articles, leading to increased use and, reportedly,
to increased citations to their articles.

Because the new open access journals do not have an impact factor (IF)
assigned by the ISI impact factory yet (they are too young to have one;
the formula calls for several years of track record), some authors
are reluctant to trade off prestige (which comes with publishing in a
journal with a reasonable IF) for increased exposure. They need this
prestige in order to get tenure or grants, as many tenure committees
and funding bodies are not yet ready to recognise articles published
in non-conventional journals. This is likely to change once there is
a track record of the new open access journals that enables IFs to be
calculated. Early indications of citations to articles in the open access
journals published by BioMed Central point to very good IFs in due course.

The changes open access imposes on the conventional publishing edifice
are fundamental, and there will always be scepticism and reluctance to
embrace new models that are so far-reaching. Fortunately, however,
there is a growing corpus of authors who see the importance, benefits
and opportunities of open access and who are willing to 'blaze the
trail'. 'Established' scientists are in the best position to give open
access a boost; their careers don't depend on impact factors. We are
engaged in efforts to reach especially these echelons of authors.

Received on Wed Aug 14 2002 - 20:26:12 BST

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