Re: Scientific publishing is not just about administering peer-review

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 17 Oct 2003 12:30:11 +0100

On Fri, 17 Oct 2003, Subbiah Arunachalam wrote:

> I understand that BioMed Central charges $500 per
> paper as cost of publishing expenses, whereas PLos
> charges $1,500. Why is this large difference?

Representatives of PLoS and BMC will no doubt reply.
This question has been raised in this Forum before, e.g.:
or google query: amsci (500 OR $500) (1500 OR $1500)

Short answer:

(1) The price is an estimate in both cases.

(2) PLoS is directly aiming for the highest-quality, highest-selectivity,
highest rejection-rate range, competing with Science, Nature, Cell
and NEJM for articles. Hence PLoS is investing more in start-up as well
as including costlier processing. The (sensible) rationale is that if
PLoS can successfully introduce open-access publishing at the very top of
the journal quality hierarchy, open-access is more likely to propagate
throughout the hierarchy.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that no one can know in advance
what the true cost of the essentials in the open-access era will be
until toll-based add-ons have had a chance to compete with the vanilla
open-access version (the author's final, refereed, revised, and accepted
draft) to reveal exactly what the essentials are! We can be sure
peer-review will be among them, but what else?

One way that add-ons can compete with vanilla final-drafts is through
self-archiving: If authors self-archive all their vanilla final-drafts
and yet institutional libraries continue to pay the tolls for the
publisher's value-added PDF (or XML) version, then clearly there is a
market for all those further added-values. If, instead, toll-access
revenues decline under competition from the authors' self-archived
vanilla versions, then publishers can gradually phase out some of the
add-ons, cutting costs at the same time. To the extent that cutting down
on values-added and their associated costs preserves toll-access demand,
it can guide us toward a more realistic idea of what is and is not
essential, and how much it costs. If the only essential added-value
proves to be peer review itself (plus possibly some editorial costs),
the cost will be minimal.

A transition to open-access publishing (i.e., cost-recovery via
author/institution charges per outgoing paper, rather than institutional
toll charges per incoming paper) will be based on the best available
estimate of the essentials at the time.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: Complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Posted discussion to:

Dual Open-Access Strategy:
    BOAI-2: Publish your article in a suitable open-access journal
            whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1: Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable toll-access
            journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Fri Oct 17 2003 - 12:30:11 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:47:06 GMT