Re: Submission Fees (was: RE: "Overlay Journals" Over Again...)

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Sun, 5 Jul 2009 14:27:41 -0400

I cannot find -- in Jan's explanation, below, of the nonlinear nature
of subscription journal pricing -- the response to the pair of points
I raised. So I will try to repeat them, in context:

(1) Yes, if and when subscriptions are all cancelled, and journals
have downsized to providing only the peer review service, and all
journals cover their peer review costs through article processing
fees, it will be a good idea to charge for submission and processing,
regardless of whether the outcome is rejection or acceptance.

(2) But, no, it makes no sense to pay this processing fee today, when
subscriptions are not cancelled, journals have not downsized to just
providing peer review, processing costs are still being paid by
subscriptions, and asking to be paid for the processing costs would be

This is not just an objection to not transferring these superfluous
processing fees toward the proportionate lowering of the subscription
price. It is also the objection that processing costs are premature
and unnecessary today, especially for a subscription journal, when we
have neither universal OA nor subscription collapse, just
subscriptions, processing charges, and a smidgeon of OA.

Pre-emptive, unnecessary processing charges (whether for acceptance or
for rejection/acceptance) -- even if they could be transferred
"linearly" to lowering subscription prices -- are not what is needed:
universal OA is what is needed. And there is no need to pay extra for
it while subscriptions are still being paid at all.

The way to provide universal OA today is for institutions and funders
to mandate Green OA today, universally.

Stevan Harnad

On Sun, Jul 5, 2009 at 7:37 AM, Jan Velterop <> wrote:
> So it seems double-dipping unless it's honest? Perhaps it's honest unless it's clearly double-dipping.
> A very wide-spread misconception, on this list and elsewhere, is that subscriptions somehow are priced linearly. That if 10% of the papers are OA, and paid for on behalf or by the author, the subscription price should be reduced by 10% as well. To think that is not to understand the fundamental nature of subscriptions. Subscriptions are never ever going to be priced linearly with the amount of papers published. Simply because they can't. In any event not as long as the number of subscriptions is not a guaranteed and immutable element in the equation.
> Another characteristic of subscriptions is that, in science in any case (due to the monopoloid nature of journals and the uniqueness of articles), they are utterly inelastic in economic terms. Or rather, somewhat elastic in one direction, but inelastic in the opposite one. When prices go up, there is a chance of cancellation. When prices go down, there is essentially no chance of selling more subscriptions.
> These characteristics 'conspire' to make a sensible publishing strategy one where the highest possible subscription price is charged, and the highest level of selectivity of articles to publish, in order to justify that high price. The defense cannot be lower prices, as that doesn't result in more subscriptions. Stricter selection of papers (sometimes called 'quality') is a much better bet for a publisher.
> Neither of these effects is there in an author-paid publishing system. But if the charges only apply to published (i.e. accepted) papers, the remaining problem is the one of loading the economics solely on those published articles, introducing an incentive to have a lenient acceptance policy. A few OA journals have been able to square that circle and avoid low acceptance thresholds by cross-subsidies or substantial grants. Once a journal's reputation is built, sustaining it with a high degree of selectivity is easier. Vide PLoS.
> For most unsubsidized OA journals, however, the ones that need to keep up their own trousers, a submission fee -- not a publication fee -- would be the most rational. That is not to say, of course, that the most rational system is the one that eventually prevails. We've had this discussion for a decade now, and it may still be a while. But there is a precedent. To say it is impossible for a publisher to go that route, because others don't do it, belies the fact that the very same thing happened with OA.  Charging authors was considered impossible as long as other publishers didn't. And yet it happened. And it's growing. And although the pace is slow, it's steady.
> For any publisher who needs to hold up his own trousers, a belts and braces approach is sensible. That doesn't imply double dipping. Innocent until proven guilty. That applies to publishers as well.
> Jan Velterop
> On 4 Jul 2009, at 11:21, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> A subscription journal charging submission fees (or acceptance fees or both) seems like a bit of double- (or triple-) dipping , unless it is honestly faithfully and fully translated into lower subscription fees.
> It is very likely that if and when universal Green Open Access (as a result of universal mandates to self-archive the author's final refereed drafts of all peer-reviewed journal articles immediately upon acceptance for publication) causes subscriptions to become unsustainable -- and hence causes journals to cut expenses, phase out the print edition as well as access-provision and archiving, provide only the service of peer review, and convert to the publication-fee-based Gold OA model, paid for out of a portion of the institutional windfall savings from the subscription cancellation -- then the Gold OA fee will be a conditional one, with an initial, lower, submission fee, credited toward part of the acceptance fee, if accepted.
> But this is all premature and unnecessary now, when most journals are still subscription-based, institutional funds to pay Gold fees are still tied up in subscriptions, Green OA is far from universal, and hence journals have not yet phased out  the print edition, access-provision and archiving. For all this to happen, universal Green OA is needed first. Otherwise we are doing voodoo calculations.
> All this will be familiar to readers of the AmSci Forum, where it has been discussed many times before, in years past:
> Stevan Harnad
> On 3-Jul-09, at 11:38 PM, Zac Rolnik wrote:
> The use of submission fees for journals in the area of business
> and economics journal publishing is not unusual.  As a matter of
> fact, I cannot think of any top ranked finance journals that do
> not charge a submission fee.  Some of these fees can range
> between $250-500 and often they are charged for resubmission if
> the article is given a "revise and resubmit" decision.  And the
> more prestigious the journal, the more price inelastic this
> submission fee becomes.
> I am not sure if you could create a sustainable business model on
> submission fees, but I never understood why open access journals
> would not implement them.  It seems wholly unfair to charge only
> the papers that make it "successfully" through the review process
> to acceptance, while the majority of papers that are being
> rejected (I am assuming this, but it may be a big assumption) get
> a free ride through the process.  Maybe the submission fee could
> be applied to the acceptance fee once the article is accepted --
> this would be even fairer to the accepted authors.
> I do not think submission fees encourage journals to accept
> papers or increases the potential for abuse as some may have
> claimed.  In a certain way, fees charged on acceptance only would
> create a greater incentive for abuse and "acceptance" decisions
> for less worthy papers.
> Finally, charging submission fees may make authors think twice
> before submitting a paper that may not be ready for prime time.
> As a publisher, I often see authors submit articles too early
> knowing that the chance of acceptance on the first submission is
> low and hoping the reviewer can provide some constructive
> feedback.  In talking to some journal editors, they feel that
> submission fees is a rationing mechanism -- you are less likely
> to submit a paper if there is a fee unless you feel it is ready
> for the review process.
> Thanks,
> Zac Rolnik
> now publishers
> -----Original Message-----
> [] On Behalf Of Ivy Anderson
> Sent: Thursday, July 02, 2009 11:08 PM
> To:
> Subject: Submission Fees (was: RE: "Overlay Journals" Over Again...)
> The idea of submission fees is one that we at the California
> Digital Library have also repeatedly attempted to advance in
> recent years. Publishers frequently cite the steep rise in
> submissions as a factor affecting their cost structure.  It makes
> no sense that this activity is entirely subsidized by other
> players in the publication chain.  Some recent modeling that we
> have done at CDL - admittedly based on rough and preliminary
> figures from a variety of sources - suggests that even very
> modest submission fees, if implemented by publishes across the
> board, would come close to completely covering the systemic cost
> increases associated with the steady increase in publishing
> output overall (another factor to which annual price rises for
> journals are frequently attributed by some analysts).  If anyone
> has studied this - i.e. the potential contribution that
> submission fees would make to the cost of the scholarly
> publishing system as a whole - with any rigor, I would be very
> interested to see those data.
> It's easy to understand how the current incentive system works
> against this: what publisher will voluntarily disadvantage itself
> in attracting submissions by imposing such fees if its
> competitors do not? Nonetheless, as library budgets continue to
> contract, the survival of scholarly publishing may just depend on
> finding ways to distribute costs across a wider base. Submission
> fees - even if modest ones - should be on the table.
> Ivy Anderson
> Director of Collections
> California Digital Library
> University of California, Office of the President
> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> [] On Behalf Of Jan Velterop
> Sent: Wednesday, July 01, 2009 9:54 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: "Overlay Journals" Over Again...
> The situation is this:
> 1) researchers HAVE to publish and HAVE to have their
> publications  peer-reviewed;
> 2) existing systems (OA-author-paid as well subscriptions) ONLY
> pay  for PUBLISHED articles.
> So the real problem is this: in neither case is the organization
> of  peer review per se paid for. Those who argue that it is,
> place the  entire burden of cost exclusively on the PUBLISHED
> papers.
> What is needed is a system such as, say, your diving test. You
> pay  for the test, whether you pass or not. Translated to
> publications, a  fee at submission is what we need, for which
> peer-review is  organized. And this fee should be non-refundable,
> whether the article  is accepted for publication or not.
> Where is the courageous and/or visionary 'publisher' (just using
> a  familiar term that should probably be changed into 'assessment
> organization' or pithier equivalent) who starts a system like
> that?
> Jan Velterop
Received on Sun Jul 05 2009 - 20:15:47 BST

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