Re: What Are the Costs, Per Article, of Peer-Reviewed Journal Publication?

From: Sally Morris <>
Date: Fri, 25 May 2007 09:58:00 +0100

Apologies for the late response.

There is an excellent article by Don King in Learned Publishing (April)
which reviews the literature (of which there is plenty) on this subject,
although there's relatively little on subject differences

The article is OA, by the way


Sally Morris
Editor-in-Chief, Learned Publishing
South House, The Street
Clapham, Worthing, West Sussex BN13 3UU, UK
Tel: +44(0)1903 871286
Fax: +44(0)8701 202806

-----Original Message-----
From: American Scientist Open Access Forum
Behalf Of Stevan Harnad
Sent: 05 May 2007 16:01
Subject: What Are the Costs, Per Article, of Peer-Reviewed Journal

    Full version with hyperlinks:

    SUMMARY: One can calculate the price a subscribing institution pays
    per article, journal by journal and field by field. The number of
    institutional subscribers per journal may be listed or estimated, but
    that's still all revenues rather than costs. If all text-generation,
    access-provision and archiving are offloaded onto the distributed
    network of institutional repositories, the only service left
    for a journal publisher to provide is peer review. The only two
    factors modulating that cost would be the journal's submission
    and rejection rates (since the referees are unpaid). That gives
    a more realistic idea of what Gold OA will cost per article once
    we have 100% OA (rather than the arbitrary asking-prices we have
    from today's Gold OA and hybrid Gold "open choice" journals). Green
    OA self-archiving mandates might have the eventual side-effect of
    inducing this transition to Gold, but the real objective of OA is
    not to save money on subscriptions: It is to put an end to needless
    loss of research usage and impact.This can be achieved by Green OA
    self-archiving mandates, whether or not they lead to an eventual
    transition to Gold OA.

A fellow OA advocate has just asked me whether I know any research or
data on the costs of research journal publication, globally and broken
down by discipline and/or journal types.

I had to reply that I wish I did, but even 25 years as editor in chief
of a very high impact journal did not give me those figures, even for
that one journal!

What is easily calculated, journal by journal and field by field, is the
price a subscribing institution pays per article. (That's just the
annual institutional subscription price divided by the annual number of

The publisher's revenue per article is a bit harder to determine: Asking
the journal publisher for the number of institutional subscribers may
provide it in some cases. Using the average ball-park figure of 800-1200
institutional subscriptions for journal sustainability gives a rough

But that's still all revenues. Costs are another matter, and not only
are those data closely guarded by publishers, but in several respects,
their reckoning is arbitrary. There is the usual arbitrary figure of
"overhead" and "infrastructure." But apart from that it is very hard to
tease out how much the print-run, mark-up, distribution, fulfilment,
and advertising cost. And then there is the even vaguer task of
estimating what expenses would be left if the paper version were
scrapped altogether, and the journal were online only.

And last, and in fact most important, no one can say what costs would be
left if there were no online edition either: If all text-generation,
access-provision and archiving were offloaded onto the distributed
network of institutional repositories, what would be left for a journal
publisher to do? To implement the peer review (and possibly a certain
amount of copy-editing). The only way to find out how much that would
cost, per submitted paper, is not to try to infer and extract it from
all of the added costs and services with which it is currently (and
hopelessly) co-bundled by conventional publishers, but to see what it is
costing, per submitted paper, for an OA publisher that is providing that
peer-review service, and that service only.

I suspect that if that figure were looked at directly, in actual cases,
the only two factors modulating the size of the cost would be the
journal's submission and rejection rates (which might require a separate
submission fee and, for accepted papers, an acceptance fee), not the
journal's discipline or subject matter. This is because on the
service-implementational side (which is all that is being paid for) the
only variables are the submission and rejection rates. The thoroughness
and rigor of the peer review itself, and the effort put in by referees,
will no doubt vary from field to field and journal to journal, but that
is not what is being paid for (since the referees are unpaid!). Peer
review processing costs are just volume-based.

So I am sorry I could not help with the top-down answer. I do think the
bottom-up answer can be derived from actual cases of pure OA journals
doing nothing but peer review, or almost nothing but that, today. Then
that bottom-up answer can be used to estimate how much would be saved by
downsizing today's conventional hybrid (paper/online) journals into such
peer-review-only OA journals -- and, more important, it could give us a
much more realistic idea of what Gold OA is likely to cost per article,
once we have 100% OA (rather than the arbitrary asking prices we have
from today's Gold OA and hybrid Gold "open choice" journals -- based
usually on dividing their current annual revenues from a journal by the
annual number of articles published in that journal).

It does not follow, of course, that established journals will willingly
downsize to just the peer-review service and its price! But this brings
us back to the far more important and urgent matter of Green OA
self-archiving, and Green OA self-archiving mandates:

What might possibly have the eventual side-effect of inducing this
downsizing by conventional journals is mandated Green OA self-archiving.
The competing functional and cancellation pressure from the free Green
OA version might force publishers first to cut needless costs, products
and services (the paper edition, then the online edition) and to offload
all of those instead onto the network of Green OA IRs. Then still
further cancellation pressure might not only force a conversion to the
Gold OA cost recovery model, but it would then by the very same token
release the institutional subscription cancellation funds that would pay
for the institutional per-article Gold OA publishing costs.

Estimates like the ones we've just discussed here -- of the ratio
between the current per-article revenue of conventional journals and the
per-article costs of an OA peer review service alone -- will give an
idea of just how much money would be saved by the cancellations and
conversion. A conservative estimate might be 3/1 or 4/1, but the ratio
could conceivably even turn out to be as much as an order of magnitude.

The real objective of OA, however, is not to save money on
subscriptions: it is to put an end to needlessly lost research usage and
impact, so as to maximize research productivity and progress.

The Green-to-Gold transition scenario is just speculation, of course;
but as there is already so much idle speculation rampant, I would call
it counterspeculation. It is not speculation, however, that the real
objective of the OA movement, namely, 100% OA, can be reached by
mandating Green OA self-archiving, whether or not it leads to an
eventual transition to Gold OA.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Fri May 25 2007 - 13:14:06 BST

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