BioMed Central responds to ALPSP's study 'The Facts about Open Access'

From: Grace Baynes <Grace_at_BIOMEDCENTRAL.COM>
Date: Fri, 14 Oct 2005 16:01:31 +0100

We hope that this will be of interest to the list. Any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Grace Baynes (
BioMed Central

BioMed Central responds to ALPSP's study 'The Facts about Open Access'

BioMed Central welcomes objective research into open access publishing. Unfortunately, however, the report published by ALPSP this week ("The Facts about Open Access") contains significant factual inaccuracies. We also disagree with many of the reports interpretations and conclusions. The two most serious problems with the report are that it inaccurately describes the peer review process operated by BioMed Central's journals, and it also draws unjustified conclusions concerning the long-term sustainability of open access journals.

The overview of the report incorrectly states that BioMed Central does not operate external peer review on most of its journals. In fact, all of BioMed Central's journals operate full peer review using external peer reviewers. Full peer review is a condition of the inclusion of articles in NIH's PubMed Central, in which all 140+ of the journals published by BioMed Central are archived.

The study groups BioMed Central together with Internet Scientific Publications (ISP) as a cohort, and indicates that this was done because over half of the responding open access journals were from these two publishers. ISP and BioMed Central have little in common as publishers, and so the conclusions drawn about BioMed Central by looking at this cohort are not meaningful and are often misleading. For example, the BioMed Central/ISP group of journals is reported to offer online manuscript submission on a lower percentage of journals than other journal groups. The report picks up on this as a surprising finding, suggesting implicitly that open access journals are lagging behind in this regard. In fact, BioMed Central offers online submission of manuscripts on every one of its journals. Not only that, but BioMed Central's manuscript submission system is widely praised by authors, many of whom tell us that it is the best online submission system they have used.

ALPSP Chief Executive Sally Morris comments in her introduction to the report that "Over 40% of the Open Access journals are not yet covering their costs and, unlike subscription journals, there is no reason why the passage of time - evidenced in increasing submissions, quality or impact - should actually change that". She goes on to suggest that this calls into question the sustainability of the open access publishing model. The suggestion that the economics of open access journals are unlikely to improve over time is not supported by the evidence in the report, and runs strongly counter to BioMed Central's direct experience.

According to BioMed Central Publisher, Dr Matthew Cockerill,

"The fact that many open access journals currently operate at a loss is simply a sign that these are early days. There is every reason to think that the passage of time will profoundly improve the ability of open access journals to cover their costs.

Between September 2004 and September 2005, for example, the journal BMC Bioinformatics almost trebled the number of submissions it received. It also increased its article processing charge during that same time period. Both factors have helped move BioMed Central much closer to overall profitability, and this progress is continuing."

Further evidence for a promising future for open access journals is given in the study's findings on revenue expectations and trends. 92% of open access journals were meeting or exceeding revenue expectations, in comparison to 91% of AAMC journals, 83% of ALPSP journals and 76% of surveyed HighWire journals. Similarly, the study finds that revenues from the last fiscal year to the current fiscal year are "trending upward" for 71% of 209 surveyed open-access journals, compared to between 27% and 67% of subscription-based publishers that were surveyed.

Dr Cockerill continues,

"To try to determine whether an entire model is 'sustainable' based on asking individual publishers operating in today's environment if they are making money is to miss the wood for the trees. You have to step back and look at the big picture. The big picture is that open access offers the research community a far better deal than the traditional model.

Scholarly publishing is viable only because it is paid for and supported by the research community, out of the funding (often public funding) which that community receives. Whether a model is financially viable comes down, in the long run, to a couple of simple questions: Can the community afford the overall costs, and is the service provided worth the money?

In terms of open access, the answer to these questions is increasingly clear. Wellcome is the UK's largest biomedical research charity, spending 400 million a year. The work it funds results in around 3,500 articles being published each year. Wellcome's research predicts that the overall cost to the science community of OA publishing will be, if anything, significantly less than the costs of the current publishing model. If the open access model can deliver greater access to research, at a lower cost to funders than the existing model, then it is clearly sustainable."


For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:

Grace Baynes, BioMed Central
Tel: +44 (0)20 7631 9988

About BioMed Central (
BioMed Central, part of Current Science Group, is an independent online publishing house committed to providing open access to peer-reviewed research. This commitment is based on the view that immediate free access to research and the ability to freely archive and reuse published information is essential to the rapid and efficient communication of science.

Further information

ALPSP study
'The Facts about Open Access':

Wellcome Trust:

Report 'An Economic Analysis of Scientific Research Publishing':

Wellcome Trust open access policy information:

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