Can the costs of quality-filtration be reduced?

The costs of the conventional ‘hierarchy of journals’ approach to the quality-filtration of the research and scholarly literature can be very high.

For example, Mike Rossner, Executive Director of the Rockefeller University Press, has quoted a figure of US$10,000 as the average cost per article for the online versions of the three journals that this press publishes. These journals (and their 2008 Journal Impact Factors) are: J Cell Biol (9.1), J Exp Med (15.5) and J Gen Physiol (4.7). He provided this cost figure at the 07:50 min. point during his presentation at an event held on March 9, 2010 by the Scholarly Communication Program at Columbia University.

The full 97 min. video of the presentations is available at: Who Pays for Open Access?. Mike Rossner is the first of three speakers. He called these Rockefeller University Press journals ‘selective journals’, and described their business model, which provides free public access to articles after a 6-month embargo period. He suggested (at the 18:25 min. point in the video) that, for biomedical research journals, “charging for information in only the first 6 months after publication is a clear-cut way to know how valuable it is“.

The costs per article for these ‘selective journals’ are high mainly because of staffing costs of the ‘publication platform’. Tasks such as the management of the peer review system and the performance of copy-editing are done by paid staff. These people must deal with all of the manuscripts that are received, even though only about 10% of them are published.

Mike Rossner also suggested (at the 14:00 min. point in the video) that PLoS ONE provides an example of his definition of an ‘archival journal’ – one where: “Reviewers ask if data support conclusions, not whether the research represents an advance in the field “. An ‘archival journal’ publishes a higher proportion of submitted articles than does a ‘selective journal’. This higher volume reduces costs.

The current publication fee for PLoS ONE is US$1,350. This figure probably overstates the actual cost per article, if PLoS is indeed using PLoS ONE to subsidize its more selective journals (see the 14 min. point in the video, and, for example, Bulk Publishing Keeps PLoS Afloat, Philip Davis, The Scholarly Kitchen, July 7, 2008).

In contrast, Green OA costs much less. To date, an exemplar for Green OA is the arXiv repository, which provides OA to e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance and Statistics. The cost of per submission for an article in the arXiv repository is much, much lower than the publication fee for PLos ONE. It’s less than US$7 per article (see the section on “How much does arXiv cost to operate? ” in the arXiv Support FAQ).

This much lower cost was mentioned (at the 48:35 min. point in the video) by Ivy Anderson, Director of Collection Development and Management at the California Digital Library, the second speaker in the event at Columbia University (whose presentation begins at the 18:50 min. point in the video). However, she also pointed out that arXiv is primarily a repository. It’s not a publishing platform.

Although submission to the arXiv doesn’t involve peer review, there is an arXiv moderation system. Excerpt:

The arXiv moderators are experts in their fields and in the types of submissions that are appropriate for their subject classifications. They evaluate based on the content of the submission and the policies of arXiv.

In an analogous way, the OA collection PLoS Currents: Influenza also uses a Board of Expert Moderators. In the PLoS Currents FAQs, it’s stated (here) that:

There are currently no publication charges for PLoS Currents. However, it is possible that we will introduce a small publication charge in future to cover the running costs.

It’s also stated, near the bottom of the same FAQs page, that: “We intend PLoS Currents: Influenza to be the prototype for additional PLoS Currents sites“.

Comments: The entire video (Who Pays For Open Access?) is recommended, including the presentation by the third speaker (Bettina Goerner, Manager, Open Access for Springer, beginning at 51:40 min. in the video) and the discussion session (beginning at 72:25 min.).

So, how best to increase the cost-effectiveness of quality-filtration of the research and scholarly literature? One can ask (as does Mike Rossner at the 17:40 min. point in the video): “Has the revolution in searchability negated the utility of selective journals as filters of information?“. He thinks that it hasn’t (and won’t for some time).

Perhaps, if PLoS Currents: Influenza is successful, in that it’s valued by it’s users and it’s running costs are low, then this peer moderation-based approach to quality-filtration of contributions to specified areas of research may flourish, as it has for those specified areas served by the arXiv.

It’s noteworthy that some basic article-level metrics (ALMs) are also provided for each contribution to PLoS Currents: Influenza. These include statistics about “Views” and “Comments“, together with “Ratings“. One need not wait for citation data in order to obtain some guidance about those contributions to this collection that are already attracting attention.

For more about the need for sophisticated ALMs, see: Article-Level Metrics and the Evolution of Scientific Impact by Cameron Neylon and Shirley Wu, PLoS Biol 2009(Nov); 7(11): e1000242. See also the “Metrics” and “Comments” that are attached to this same article.

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4 Comments »

  1. Jim Till said

    For the text upon which some of Mike Rossner’s talk at Columbia University (on March 9, 2010) was based, see his article, Updating realistic access, J Cell Biol 2010(Apr 7) [Epub ahead of print][PubMed Citation].

  2. Jim Till said

    Mike Rossner has explicitly distanced himself from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Washington DC Principles Coalition for Free Access to Science (which represents society publishers), both of which have opposed government-initiated access mandates. In a letter dated March 31, 2010, addressed to Bart Gordon, Chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives, he wrote: “We strongly support the efforts of the Federal government, such as the NIH mandate and the Federal Research Public Access Act, to provide public access to the results of Federally funded research“. See also: US seeks to make science free for all by Declan Butler, Nature 2010(Apr 8); 464(7290): 822-3 [PubMed citation].

  3. Jim Till said

    For a previous post to this blog about PLoS Currents: Influenza, see: What’s next for PLoS Currents? (September 3, 2009).

  4. Jim Till said

    Who Pays for Open Access”, a 10-minute video of highlights from the longer original version, was posted on June 7, 2010.

    0:10-3:01 min: Mike Rossner (Rockefeller University Press);
    3-6:33 min: Ivy Anderson (California Digital Library);
    6:33-9:52 min: Bettina Goerner (Springer Publishing Company).

    Found via: Research Without Borders Spring 2010 Events Now on YouTube, Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, Columbia University, June 25, 2010.

    The same edited version of the video is also available via: Who Pays For Open Access?, YouTube, June 7, 2010.

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