Re: The Cost per Article Reading of Open Access Articles

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2004 04:37:15 +0000 (GMT)

On Mon, 19 Jan 2004, Jonas Holmstrom wrote:

> > The Cost per Article Reading of Open Access Articles
> >
> >
> I would like to say that you are talking about "author-CPR" and I'm talking
> about "reader-CPR".

It is not the author who R's, it's the reader who R's. The author W's (writes) and
the journal peer-reviews, validates and publishes what the author writes. That is
a service, to the author (and to the author's institution), for which, in Open
Access (OA) Publishing, one author-institution pays, once per article, in
exchange for the service -- instead of the reader-institutions paying,
multiply, in exchange for the access.

> Downloads matter for both author-CPR and reader-CPR.

But they are just as irrelevant to cost as the downloads of advertisements
from a vendor's site.

> My guess is that OA-publishers have not seen the need for keeping track
> of downloads (related to cost or not).

Downloads are measured (by both OA-publishers and OAI archive-services),
not to track costs (which are irrelevant) but to measure research impact:

> In my article I say: "The CPR measure presented here is from a reader
> perspective. Another type of CPR measure can be calculated from the
> perspective of the author. This is done by relating the article-processing
> fee to the number of times an author's specific article is downloaded, read
> or cited.

This is useful for demonstrating the enhanced impact of OA articles,
but its relation to cost is irrelevant except in the very general sense
that a research institution can probably maximise its research revenues
by maximising its research impact (by providing open access to all of
its outgoing research articles) and maybe can even eventually save money on
its serials expenditures on toll-access (TA) to the incoming articles from
other research institutions (if their journals convert from TA to OA).

> Cost to Research Community
> ScienceDirect: cost per article use = $11
> BioMed Central: ~2000 downloads per year ( time of a paper); $500
> processing charge per published paper
> BioMed Central: cost per article use = $0.25, maximum

Download cost is irrelevant in OA; neither the downloader nor his
institution pays. Yes, OA articles are used far more than TA articles
(that's the main reason for preferring OA to TA: impact!). In addition,
the total cost for BMC's OA service ($500 per article) is about one
third of the average price that all subscribing institutions combined
pay per TA article. It follows (trivially) from either or both of these
substantive facts that the overall cost "to the research community" -- if
there were such a party, either producer or consumer, but there isn't! --
per download is far lower (but users don't pay for downloading! you may
as well say the cost per citation is lower too, but users don't pay for
citing either!).

That's virtually the definition of OA: cost-free access! The
author-institution buys cost-free access for its research output, in
order to maximise its research impact, very much the way an advertiser
buys ad-space, hence eyeballs.

    Odlyzko, A.M. (1998) The economics of electronic journals. In:
    Ekman R. and Quandt, R. (Eds) Technology and Scholarly
    Communication. Univ. Calif. Press, 1998.

> I might note that author-CPR can be calculated in a number of ways. One
> might relate one's own article-processing fee to the number of times one's
> own article has been downloaded (or more correctly read), or to the number
> of times a journal's or publisher's articles are downloaded on average.
> Downloads of single articles can easily be manipulated so this way of
> calculating author-CPR is not very reliable.

The author-CPR figure is epiphenomenal: It is not the "client" (the
downloader) who is paying the cost (and the marginal cost of downloads
to the downloader's university's infrastructure is negligible, whether it
is for research articles or airline tickets). Nor is the downloader's
university paying its network infrastructural costs for downloads to
either the author's university or the author's publisher. So the CPR is
merely a notional cost, like calculating the cost of a TV ad per eyeball:
A good way to show the value of ads, but no relation to who's buying,
selling, or paying.

The language of "cost" is being used where the real currency is research
impact (downloads, citations).

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
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Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Tue Jan 20 2004 - 04:37:15 GMT

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