What is Open Access and How Should We Pay for It?

Bill Hooker has taken Nature editor Maxine Clark to task for her claims about the open access status of the online features offered by the Nature Publishing Group. Maxine points to the various free online services offered by Nature -- including Nature Precedings, Nature Reports, Nature Network, Scintilla, and the journal Molecular Systems Biology -- in claiming that Nature has "many open access projects and products". Bill disagrees. You should read his entire post, but the punchline is that Clark is redefining Open Access to fit Nature's model and to be used as a marketing device.

A big issue with Open Access publishing is how to pay for the various services offered. The traditional model of scientific publishing earns money for the publisher via subscriptions (both private and institutional) and advertising. Additionally, some publishers require the authors to pay a publication fee. Open Access publishers must survive without subscription fees, but they do have publication fees for authors. One nice feature of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), is that they will waive the publication fee if you cannot afford to pay it -- they are the only Open Access publisher with whom I have dealt, so I don't know if this policy applies to other publishers. This comes in handy when you would like to publish an article in an Open Access journal, but lack the funds to pay the often hefty fee requested by the publisher (generally over $1000).

That's where my story comes in. I am currently preparing a manuscript, and I've narrowed down the list of journals -- to whom I'll give the honor of rejecting my work as unsatisfactory -- to three. All three journals offer Open Access options, but only one is entirely Open Access (it's a PLoS journal). I'd like to submit my manuscript to the PLoS journal, but I know I won't be able to afford the publication fee. Both of the other journals also have publication fees, which are they are less than the PLoS fees and will be waived if I cannot afford them (they offer Open Access options at comparable prices to the PLoS journal).

Regardless of where I send the manuscript for review, I will be asking for a fee waiver. One journal isn't very friendly when it comes to waiving publication fees. The PLoS journal won't give me any flack, but I feel bad asking for a second waiver from PLoS in the span of a single year -- like I'm duping them out of their money. I like PLoS and what they stand for, so I don't want to be hurting their cause by not paying my publication fees. I don't feel so bad asking for the fee waiver from the other two journals (one is the journal for a society to which I belong and the other is published by an academic press), but I probably won't be able to go Open Access with them because they are unlikely to waive both the publication fee and the Open Access fee.

Any ideas? I'm especially keen on hearing from people who serve as editors for Open Access journals, work for publishers who offer Open Access options, or submit their work to Open Access journals.

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You have to admit, though, that Nature has taken great strides to make more of their content openly available, or at least greater strides than any other top tier journal. I work at a major research university, and I am continually amazed at how difficult it is to get access to Science articles, for example. In my opinion, while no one will probably ever be as open as PLoS has been, or at least as pioneering, Nature deserves at least some credit in this arena.

1. I agree with Bora. The PLoS waiver is there to be used by all who need it. Don't feel guilty.

2. Not that you need another thing to do, but lobbying to change the entire system would help too. The fact is, if the libraries and individuals cancelled their subscriptions to expensive journals (which they usually pay with federal money from indirect costs or direct from grants) then there would be plenty of money available to cover reasonable OA publication fees.

Thanks for furthering this discussion, which I (obviously!) think is an important one. In particular, I get all warm and fuzzy whenever I see a researcher actively seeking out OA publishing options.

Not to quibble with myself, but what bdf and Pedro Beltrao have said about this is true, that Nature has done a lot of good things. It's abundantly clear that many people at Nature are pushing hard to open up science and scientific communication. I was not sufficiently clear about this in the post you linked (I will follow up asap). The folks at Nature are not the enemy (though their parent, for-profit publishing company may be).

I also want to clarify that while I think the effect of Maxine Clarke's comments was to muddy the OA waters, I don't mean to claim that she is doing that deliberately or underhandedly.

Regarding your paper (congrats in advance btw!), have you looked through BioMed Central's journal portfolio? There might be a fully-OA journal there that would suit your paper.

If you pay the PLoS fee this time, you can just consider it as if you got two publications at half their normal fee each..

That being said I would (and likely will) avoid publishing in any PLoS journal for awhile because I know some other better-known journals (Carcinogenesis, FASEB J, etc) are instantly-recognizable and will serve me better on my CV, now when I need good pubs ASAP (as a new postdoc). In a few years I might be more amenable to PLoS pubs as they might be as recognizable and therefore serve my interest in a more immediate manner.

Bill, I saw Pedro's comment as well. I can also be held to blame for perpetuated your slightly hazy opinion. Nature has been doing a good job of innovating web2.0 for science and their online features are very nice.

I have looked at BioMed Central, and their costs are comparable to PLoS. The PLoS journal I'm shooting for will probably be my primary target (now that I'm getting positive feedback that asking for another waive is not unacceptable). If I don't get in there, I'll compare what BMC has to offer with the two non-Open Access journals.

The PLoS journal I'm shooting for is about as recognizable as the two other journals I'm considering. I'm not too concerned with people looking at that journal name and wondering why I submitted there.

Hi Rich,

You can request that Penn State University becomes a BioMed Central institutional member, there is more information here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/membership

If your library or institution would like to further discuss membership of BioMed Central, our sales contacts are listed at http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/libraries/salescontacts

Grant money is another option for those whose institution is not a member. More and more grant bodies worldwide allow their grant money to be used to pay for article processing charges, see:

When authors submit a grant proposal, they should consider including article processing charges within it.

There is currently an automatic waiver for authors who submit an article to a BMC-series journal from a low-income or lower-middle income country with a small-economy. Requests for waivers or partial waivers on the article processing charge should be sent to waivers@biomedcentral.com.

We also offer a reviewer discount of 20% off the full article processing charge. The submitting author must have been the peer reviewer to be awarded the discount, and have returned the review on time and within the previous 12 months. The reviewer discount only applies to the journal in which the review was undertaken, but for the purposes of this discount the BMC series (those journal with names beginning BMC, see http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/authors/bmcseries) count as one. Discounts of £30 are available if authors submit manuscripts formatted with Endnote (http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/ifora/endnote), Reference Manager (http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/ifora/refman) or Publicon (http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/ifora/publicon). Only one discount applies per article, and they cannot be accumulated (http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/apcfaq#discount).


Matt Hodgkinson
Senior Editor
BMC-series journals

The lab currently doesn't have funds (that I know of) to pay for the publication charges. It would be nice if my university were a BMC member, but they're not and, given the miserly nature of our library system, I doubt they'll ever join -- they'd see it as paying for a something in which they don't get anything in return.

Hey RPM,

I was just in conversation with the french bastard in my office about open access systematics journal. I just submitted a species description to a sort of in-house journal for the Smithsonian (sort of in-house but not technically if you know what I mean...) and the page charges were friggin $1500!! This includes estimated 22 printed pages (we have several full page plates and a full page table as well). For that price I might as well published in an open access journal. Luckily they offer a 12-page fee waiver for members of the society that publishes the journal (of which I am). Which halves the price. Since Frenchie is a coauthor he will pony up some from his grants. I don't have any grants, so my advisor will pony up some too.

There is one journal called Zootaxa, its about 6 years old and publishes peer-reviewed systematic papers online for free. You can have the option of open access for $20/page which for me would have been about $440 give or take. Pretty damn worth it. I'm not sure what the reputation of the journal is yet, I need to look into it more. I think Frenchie will publish his revision of taxon there.

But I contacted Bora about starting a PLoS systematics journal. He was kind enough to forward my email to the managing editor of which I got prompt and thorough reply. It seems like the people at PLoS are really into suggestions, so who knows maybe it will fly someday. Unfortunately, I do intend to graduate sometime in the near future.

The PLoS model is great, but there 2 problems for taxonomists: 1) descriptions need to be print to satisfy the current code of zoological nomenclature and 2) the PLoS fee is prohibitive to most taxonomists (myself included). Which is why most taxonomic work is published in obscure near impossible to find journals of whatever museum of whatever. This invisibility of taxonomic work creates problems for all scientists when they need to refer to a description and contributes to the neglect of the field and poor attitude of other fields to the field of systematics. Resulting in lower respect at institutions and fewer funding opportunities in spite of the growing demand for specialists in most taxonomic groups. Open access can increase visibility of our works and make it easier for people in medicine, ecology, conservation etc. to find high quality information about their species of interest.

I will do my part to support open access or even contribute to the startup of an open access systematics journal. In the meantime I do intend to publish my PhD work now or in the next couple years.