May 2014 survey of DOAJ journals charging APCs

Just published in MDPI’s Publications!

For further background on this suite of research projects see the Sustaining the Knowledge Commons project page.

Abstract: As of May 2014, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) listed close to ten thousand fully open access, peer reviewed, scholarly journals. Most of these journals do not charge article processing charges (APCs). This article reports the results of a survey of the 2567 journals, or 26% of journals listed in DOAJ, that do have APCs based on a sample of 1432 of these journals. Results indicate a volatile sector that would make future APCs difficult to predict for budgeting purposes. DOAJ and publisher title lists often did not closely match. A number of journals were found on examination not to have APCs. A wide range of publication costs was found for every publisher type. The average (mean) APC of $964 contrasts with a mode of $0. At least 61% of publishers using APCs are commercial in nature, while many publishers are of unknown types. The vast majority of journals charging APCs (80%) were found to offer one or more variations on pricing, such as discounts for authors from mid to low income countries, differential pricing based on article type, institutional or society membership, and/or optional charges for extras such as English language editing services or fast track of articles. The complexity and volatility of this publishing landscape is discussed.

Citation: Morrison, H.; Salhab, J.; Calvé-Genest, A.; Horava, T. Open Access Article Processing Charges: DOAJ Survey May 2014. Publications 2015, 3, 1-16.

Does Urbanization Always Drive Economic Growth? Not Exactly…


We often think of cities as major drivers of economic development and growth. Big cities expand our access to infrastructure like public transit and public education. They allow for more efficient distribution of social services such as government assistance and … Continue reading »

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The dramatic growth of BioMedCentral open access article processing charges

The average article processing charge for BioMedCentral journals requested from the University of Ottawa (uO) Library’s author’s fund increased 27% from 2010-11 to 2012-13. The 15% increase from 2011-12 to 2012-13 is 10 times the rate of inflation. 

The data indicates that this reflects increases in journal prices rather than changes in which journals uO authors publish in. For example:

Globalization and Health (a BMC journal)

  • 2010-11: uO paid an APC of $1,300 US. Assuming this reflects a BMC membership rate in effect at this time (15% discount, that’s still less than $1,500 US.
  • 2011-12: uO paid APCs at 2 different rates: $1,425 US and $1,715 US
  • 2012-13: uO paid APCSs at $1,670 and $1,715 US
  • The BMC rate listed on BMC’s own website as of Feb. 27, 2014 is $2,155 US from:

An increase in APC from $1,715 US to $2,155 US in the last year is about a 25% increase in the APC for this particular journal. Currency fluctuations could account for about one-tenth of this increase (see below for calculations), and the modest inflation rate would account for about a 1.5% increase. This still leaves more than a 20% increase in price above and beyond currency variations and inflation.

Currency variations UK pound sterling to USD, based on Bank of Canada daily and 10-year currency converter.

  • UK pound sterling to USD conversion rate:
  • Jan. 2011: 1.5586
  • Jan. 2012: 1.5654 (.0043 increase over 2011)
  • Jan. 2013: 1.6254 (.0383 increase over 2012)
  • as of Feb. 27, 2014: 1.6691 (.02688 increase over 2013)
  • Total increase in value of UK pound sterling in comparison with US dollar 2014 / 2011: 7%

Public Library of Science (PLoS), by contrast, has kept prices for their journals at exactly the same rates during this time frame. PLoS’ achievement of a 23% surplus during this time frame indicates that this was done without financial sacrifice. While I continue to call on the not-for-profit PLoS to actually lower their prices to facilitate the transition to open access, the remarkable contrast between PLoS’ holding the line on prices and while BMC raises their prices at rates far above inflation is worth noting.

Thanks to Jeanette Hatherill and the University of Ottawa Library for posting the Open Access publication rates in the uO institutional repository. This dataset contains the amounts paid for through the library’s author’s fund for open access article processing charges from 2010 – 2013. Watch for further calculations and release of my calculations spreadsheet as part of the open access article processing charges series.

This post also illustrates the value of open data. By posting this data for open access in the University of Ottawa’s institutional repository, uO is making it possible for me to conduct research like this that could be useful to uO’s own decision-making processes in future. Let’s hope this post inspires others to follow uO’s lead and share their data, too. 

This post is part of the Open access article processing charges research series

Scholarly journal article publishing: profits at below 30% of current revenues

Thanks to Mark Ware, Michael Mabe and the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) for releasing the 2012 STM report as open access.

Based on data from the Executive Summary, we can calculate that the current average revenue per scholarly journal article published globally is approximately $5,000 US. BMC is making a profit charging an average APC that is 37% of this amount, and PLoS is bringing in a 23% surplus at less than 30% of this amount.

This is based on Ware and Mabe’s report of:

9.4 billion in revenue for english-language STM journal publishing
1.8 – 1.9 million articles published per year in 28,100 actively scholarly journals
=  approximately $5,000 in average revenue

BioMedCentral average of $1,874 is based on data downloaded from the BMC website as part of the open access article processing fee research project

The average article processing fee for an article in the profitable BioMedCentral journals is $1,874 US – that’s profit-making at an average of 37% of the current average revenue. PLoS is now enjoying a 23% profit rate, charging $1,350 per article for PLoS ONE – that’s a high profit rate at 27% of the revenue of the current average.

It should be noted that PLoS was not originally designed to be a model of publishing efficiency, but rather a combined advocacy and publishing organization meant to compete primarily at the high end of the scholarly publishing market. PLoS’ costs reflect this original mission: well-paid professional staff and headquarters in one of the world’s costliest real estate markets, San Francisco. 

This is yet an another indication, as I have argued elsewhere, that high quality scholarly publishing can be accomplished for a small fraction of existing spend – something that every faculty member and university administrator in today’s tough economic times ought to know.

The Balancing Act in Borneo: Managing Deforestation, Sustainability, Biodiversity, Health, and the Value of Rainforests


Borneo: the third largest island in the world, one-third of which is home to 220,000 km2 of diverse and beautiful rainforest. Borneo is divided among three countries—Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia—and at approximately 130 million years old, the Borneo rainforests are some of the oldest in the world.

The landscape of Borneo, however, is rapidly changing. Natural forest resources provide significant income for both Malaysia and Indonesia, and oil palm plantations, which require the clearing of natural land cover, produced an annual revenue of US $40 billion for Indonesia and Malaysia in 2012. In contrast, Borneo rainforests present the only opportunity for large-scale conservation in Southeast Asia and are one of the few places still called home by large, endangered animals like orang-utans, elephants, bears and rhinos.

This summer, three different PLOS ONE studies addressed the complex issues surrounding deforestation. Separate groups of researchers mapped forest cover and logging roads, conducted statistical analyses on different uses of land, and investigated how Indonesian and Malaysian villagers of Borneo value and use these forests.

To better understand the troubling state of forests in Malaysian Borneo, researchers in one PLOS ONE study mapped forest coverage and conditions. Tracking the condition of big areas of land is no easy task. To accomplish the feat, scientists imaged forests areas using high-definition satellite imagery, charted logging roads, and did some serious number crunching.

Key to this assessment was the actual condition of the rainforests.  Are they intact, or have they been degraded—maybe severely so—by the effects of repeated logging? Critical damage is done to soil, waterways, and forest structure when forests are repeatedly logged without enough time to regenerate properly. To assess the condition of the residual forest, researchers distinguished between different types of coverage—bare, mangrove, plantation, and various levels of degradation, for example—and charted the number of logging roads created between 1990 and 2009. The image below depicts the forest cover and condition of Malaysian Borneo and Brunei in 2009.

Oct blog Type of Coverage

If one road was built in an area since 1990, the area was classified as degraded. If more than one road had been built in an area since 1990, that area was classified as severely degraded. Researchers charted enough roads built between 1990 and 2009 to circle Earth nine times if placed end-to-end. The image below depicts the new roads constructed in a forested region known as the ‘Heart of Borneo’ in purple.

Oct Blog Roads

Needless to say, a great deal of the forests in Malaysian Borneo was classified as severely degraded. Researchers found that rainforests covered only 22% of land area in Malaysian Borneo in 2009, and of that 22%, only 38% remained intact. What then is the future for these degraded rainforests?

The researchers of a second PLOS ONE study evaluated the role logged forests play in maintaining natural rainforests in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, by conducting statistical analyses on areas designated as protected areas, areas designated for logging, and industrial plantations. Researchers concluded that, when logged responsibly, areas designated for logging, called timber concessions, maintained forest cover just as well as protected areas during 2000-2010. Protecting timber concessions would increase the amount of land dedicated to sustaining larger forest landscapes.

Oct blog 2 Transition

The alternative to returning these logged areas, often considered beyond the point of regeneration, to a state of natural regrowth is reclassification as industrial plantation. Palm oil plantations are economically viable options for Indonesia. However, to make the land viable for industrial planation use, workers must first strip larger trees, burn smaller trees and shrubs, and finally clear the remaining land. These researchers view responsible logging as a compromise in which forests continue to provide economic output to communities, but also are allowed to maintain the veracity of their biodiversity. Rather than being seen as wastelands and turned into industrial plantations, researchers consider timber concessions as valuable areas of tree coverage and biodiversity, which merit classification as IUCN Protected Areas.

However, as researchers from a third PLOS ONE paper state, “Striking a balance between economic development and maintenance of biodiversity is increasingly challenging in the face of climate change, rapid human production growth, and concomitant demand for natural resources.” To address the range of ways the forest is valuable, researchers assessed Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo’s peoples’ perceptions of the values and uses of forests, as well as the factors influencing these perceptions.

Of 1,837 people surveyed from 185 villages in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo, 67% considered the forest to be important for maintaining their good health. The authors state that the forest was generally perceived as a provider of good health. Moreover, natural forest resources, even in those forests degraded by repeated logging, are important for local people. In their responses, participants frequently mentioned using forests for timber, rattan, fire wood, bushmeat and fish, traditional medicine, and forest gardens. Most people reported using forest resources even in areas severely degraded by logging, or where no canopy cover exists. Researchers therefore concluded that considering these areas “wastelands” or degraded beyond the point of use, with the result that these areas are converted into industrial plantations, is not warranted due to the value placed on resources obtained from forests, regardless of level of degradation.

Researchers also found that many believed small-scale deforestation benefitted welfare. 48% of respondents reported small scale clearing for purposes of farming as positive. Respondents were much less supportive of large-scale deforestation.

Initiatives to strike a balance between economic need and maintenance of these diverse rainforests in Borneo are ongoing. Researchers are divided about the most effective ways to conserve Borneo’s important natural forests; whereas the construction of palm oil plantations in place of forests is unquestionably destructive to conservation efforts, the place of logging in Borneo remains less defined. Conserving biodiversity, responsibly maintaining the economy, and valuing the input of local people must all be taken into account when devising compromises for the difficult issue of deforestation. In the meantime, research in Borneo continues to enable a better understanding of Borneo’s complex balancing act.


Bryan JE, Shearman PL, Asner GP, Knapp DE, Aoro G, et al. (2013) Extreme Differences in Forest Degradation in Borneo: Comparing Practices in Sarawak, Sabah, and Brunei. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069679

Gaveau DLA, Kshatriya M, Sheil D, Sloan S, Molidena E, et al. (2013) Reconciling Forest Conservation and Logging in Indonesian Borneo. PLoS ONE 8(8): e69887. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069887

Meijaard E, Abram NK, Wells JA, Pellier A-S, Ancrenaz M, et al. (2013) People’s Perceptions about the Importance of Forests on Borneo. PLoS ONE 8(9): e73008. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073008

Image 1: Flora and Fauna of the Borneo Rainforest by Rainforest Action Network

Image 2: Figure 2 journal.pone.0069679

Image 3: Figure 1 journal.pone.0069679

Image 4: Figure 2 journal.pone.0069887

Should we protect high cost subscription scholarly journals? Why not support scholars instead?

Dana Roth on the GOAL open access list has raised a question about whether subscription journals like the ‘Journal of Comparative Neurology’, with a subscription price of $30,860, would be sustainable with green open access. The subject line is Disruption vs. Protection. Following is my response:

A journal publishing 234 articles per year charging $30,860 for a subscription SHOULD be disrupted, on the basis of price. At this rate it would cost 7 times more to provide access to only the medical schools in North America than to provide open access to everyone, everywhere with an internet connection, even at the rates of a for-profit professional commercial publisher’s very high impact journal. At the rates of The Journal of Machine Learning, aptly described by Shieber as an efficient journal, all of the articles published in this journal could be made open access for a total cost that is less than 10% of a single subscription.


The Association of American Medical Colleges accredits 141 medical schools in the U.S. and Canada alone. If each one of these schools purchased a subscription at $30,860, that would add up to revenue of $4.3 million per year.

$4.3 million would be sufficient to pay open access article processing fees for 1,657 articles at the rates of the professional for-profit BioMedCentral’s very-high-impact journal Genome Biology (U.S. $2,265).

Shieber describes the approach and costs (average $10 per article) of the Journal of Machine Learning on his blog The Occasional Pamphlet:

The question should be how we can protect and sustain high-quality scholarly publishing in an open access environment – not how to protect such mind-boggling inefficiency as journals that charge over $30,000 for a subscription!

Those who think that it is important to sustain scholarly journals so that a surplus can assist with things like education might want to consider whether medical schools should immediately cancel this journal and offer a medical student a $30,000 scholarship instead.

Comparing OA article processing fees with academic salaries

Update September 12: data added from Ayalew’s (2012) research indicating that gross annual salary for an associate professor in Ethiopia is 56,400 Ethiopian birr, or approximately $3,400 US (ETB 16.6 = U.S. $1.00). Assuming that at least the equivalent of $400 is paid in tax, that means that a scholarly publisher charging $3,000 for an open access article processing fee is paying a sufficient amount to cover a full-time salary for an Associate Professor in a country like Ethiopia. My recommendation is that research funders supporting work in the developing world should consider carefully before supporting gold open access article processing fees. Do the math. Instead of paying publishers like Elsevier and Springer $3,000 to make a single article open access, why not require green open access archiving and use the funds to support a full-time academic in the developing world instead? 

My advocacy interests include both open access and sustainable scholarly publishing. One area in need of further attention is the impact of publisher costs (whether subscription or open access) on resources to support academics (salaries and research funding).

One concern that I have with the push for payment of gold open access article processing fees (the RCUK approach) is that publishers are likely to set standards based on the UK approach which then impact scholars around the world, because scholarly publishing is global in nature.

One area of research in need of attention is comparison of open access article processing fees with academic salaries. This is particularly needed in the developing world, but even in the developed world it is worth noting that the $3,000 OA fee charged by some scholarly publishers is more than many adjuncts in the US are paid to teach a course (see for example this table by the American Psychological Association):

Considering the high percentage of voluntary labour involved in scholarly publishing (unpaid writing for research articles, peer review and much of the editing), it is possible to publish using models that involve extremely low dollar costs. See, for example, Shieber’s post An efficient journal detailing how the Journal of Machine Learning publishes at an average of $10 per article. Valuable as open access is, the research and writing needs to be done and we academics should be asking ourselves whether we want universities and research funders to be paying a $3,000 article processing fee, or whether we would prefer DIY at $10 or so per article and directing the funds to support academic salaries and research grants instead.

Results of a research collaboration by the “Laboratory for Institutional Analysis (LIA) from the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow, Russia, and the Boston College Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) in the United States in collaboration with experts from 28 countries around the world” links here finds that even after adjusting for differences in currency using the purchasing power parity (PPP) method, the local equivalent of $3,000 is more than a month’s salary for an academic at the top rank for 7 of the 28 countries studies (25%), and more than a month’s salary at 11 of the 28 countries studied (more than a third). Even the PLoS ONE fee of $1,350 is more than month’s salary at the PPP equivalent at the top academic rank in 3 countries (China, Russia Federation, and Armenia). Method: go to Quantitative Data, download the data for academic salaries (only PPP provided), sort by rank (I used top rank and rank 3).

This is very preliminary data, shared in the spirit of open research and also as an illustration of the kind of research that is needed before global approaches to paying for open access are even considered. This data would appear to suggest that at some countries, not necessarily even the world’s poorest countries, even local equivalents of open access using article processing fees at the rates of PLoS ONE or Springer would cost more than a month’s salary for a top ranked academic.

As a next phase, I’m thinking of looking into the actual data not adjusted for currency differences to compare the actual academic salaries with open access article processing fees.


Ayalew, E. (2012). Salary and incentive structure in Ethiopian Higher Education. In: Altbach, P. ; Reisberg, L.; Yudkevich, Ml; Androushchak, G., and Pacheco, I. , eds. Paying the professiorate: a global comparison of compensation and contracts.  Routledge: New York and London, 2012. [Note: I have access to a copy of this book through the excellent collection at the University of Ottawa’s library. How many academics in less affluent areas would have ready access to a work like this?]

Academically appropriate comments are welcome.

The Springer sub-prime scholarly publishing deal?

Reuters recently announced that a group called BC Partners will buy Springer for 3.3 billion euros. Of this, 2.5 billion is debt – backed by Barclays, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Nomura and UBS. This debt is described as “covenant lite,” a structure that offers little or no protection for lenders via financial tests”.

This makes no sense at all from a financial perspective. Why buy a company whose traditional high profits are based on an outmoded model that currently enjoys revenues at 4-5 times higher than what is necessary for normal profits  in an emerging open access environment for scholarly publishing that is just beginning to open up to competition – including competition on price? Even if it made sense to buy the company, how could it possibly make sense to load the company with debt? If you’re going to take risks like this, wouldn’t it make sense to look for more rather than less guarantees? 

On the surface this looks a lot like the sub-prime mortgage situation – go ahead and lend money even though this obviously makes no sense at all – and appears to involve some of the same companies. Am I missing something here?

The OA Interviews: Jeffrey Beall, University of Colorado Denver

In 2004 the scholarly publisher Elsevier made a written submission to the UK House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. Elsevier asserted that the traditional model used to publish research papers — where readers, and institutions like libraries, pay the costs of producing scholarly journals through subscriptions — “ensures high quality, independent peer review and prevents commercial interests from influencing decisions to publish.”
Jeffrey Beall
Elsevier added that moving to the Open Access (OA) publishing model — where authors, or their sponsoring institutions, paid to publish research papers by means of an article-processing charge (APC) — would remove “this critical control measure” from scholarly publishing.
The problem with adopting the gold OA model, explained Elsevier, is that publishers’ revenues would then be driven entirely by the number of articles published. As such, OA publishers would be “under continual pressure to increase output, potentially at the expense of quality.”
This is no longer a viewpoint that Elsevier promulgates. Speaking to me earlier this year, for instance, Elsevier’s Director of Universal Access Alicia Wise said, “Today open access journals do generally contain high-quality peer reviewed content, but in 2004 this was unfortunately not always the case.”
She added, “Good work in this area by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) has helped to establish quality standards for open access publications. For several years now Elsevier has taken a positive test-and-learn approach to open access and believes that open access publishing can be both of a high quality and sustainable.”
While many OA publishers today are undeniably as committed to the production of high-quality papers as subscription publishers ever were, Elsevier’s 2004 warning was nevertheless prescient.
No one knows this better than Jeffrey Beall, a metadata librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. Beall maintains a list of what he calls “predatory publishers”. That is, publishers who, as Beall puts it, “unprofessionally exploit the gold openaccess model for their own profit.” Amongst other things, this can mean that papers are subjected to little or no peer review before they are published.
Currently, Beall’s blog list of “predatory publishers” lists over 100 separate companies, and 38 independent journals. And the list is growing by 3 to 4 new publishers each week.
Beall’s opening salvo against predatory publishers came in 2009, when he published a review of the OA publisher Bentham Open for The Charleston Advisor. Since then, he has written further articles on the topic (e.g. here), and has been featured twice in The Chronicle of Higher Education (here and here).
His work on predatory publishers has caused Beall to become seriously concerned about the risks attached to gold OA. And he is surprised at how little attention these risks get from the research community. As he puts it, “I am dismayed that most discussions of gold openaccess fail to include the quality problems I have documented. Too many OA commenters look only at the theory and ignore the practice. We must ‘maintain the integrity of the academic record’, and I am doubtful that gold openaccess is the best long-term way to accomplish that.”
When presented with evidence of predatory publishing, OA advocates often respond by saying that most OA journals do not actually charge a processing fee. 

But as commercial subscription publishers increasingly enter the OA market it would be naïve to think that the number of journals that charge APCs will not grow exponentially in the coming years.

Whether this will lead to an overall increase in quality remains to be seen. It must be hoped that as more and more traditional journals embrace OA, so quality levels will rise, and predatory publishers will begin to be squeezed out. 

However, if Beall’s growing list is anything to go by, the omens are not currently very good. Moreover, if it turns out that there is indeed an inherent flaw in the gold OA model — as Elsevier once claimed — then the research community would appear to have a long-term problem.


The interview begins …

RP: You are a metadata librarian: what does your job involve?
JB: As a faculty librarian, my work is divided up into three components: librarianship, research, and service. My librarianship work involves creating and maintaining library metadata in my library’s discovery systems, including the online catalogue, the discovery layer, and the institutional repository, and related duties.
My research component is thirty per cent of my job, and I am devoting it to my research in scholarly communication. The service component chiefly involves committee work.
RP: How and when did you become interested in predatory open access publishing?
JB: I became interested in predatory publishers in 2008 when I began to receive spam email solicitations from new, online, third-world publishers.
RP: What is the purpose of the list of predatory OA publishers you keep, and how many publishers does it currently include?
JB: The lists are part of my blog. I write the blog to help myself develop my ideas and to share what I am learning about scholarly openaccess publishing. The lists are a means of sharing information about publishers I have judged as questionable or predatory.
There are actually two lists, one of independent journals that do not publish under the aegis of a publisher, and one of publishers. There are 38 independent journals and 111 publishers currently on the list.
RP: When you say independent journals do you mean journals published by researchers themselves?
JB: No, I mean journals that exist independently on the Internet that are not part of a publisher’s fleet of journals. An example is the Global Journal of Medicine and Public Health.


RP: Do you have any sense of how fast the phenomenon of predatory publishing is growing?
JB: Yes, the attention my blog has received has inspired academics and others to forward me spam emails they have received and to pass on information they have about new, questionable publishers. In the last couple months, I have been adding 3-4 per week. A new predatory publisher appears almost weekly in India, the location of most of my recent listings.
RP: Is predatory publishing in your view a phenomenon that originates primarily in the developing world?
JB: Yes, and in this I include publishers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. that are run by people from developing countries. They typically set up shop in developed countries and then market their services (vanity scholarly publishing) to the unwary worldwide, especially to those in their home countries.
RP: How do you define a predatory publisher?
JB: Predatory publishers are those that unprofessionally exploit the gold openaccess model for their own profit.
RP: Presumably this implies publishers that charge a fee to publish scholarly papers (Not all gold OA journals do charge a fee)?
JB: By definition, gold openaccess publishers levy an article processing charge (APC).
RP: How do you select publishers to include in your list? What criteria do you use?
JB: As I mentioned, most of the additions to the list result from tips from scientists and other scholars. I have composed and use a criteria document, currently in draft form, that I am preparing for publication on my blog.
Most importantly, I use established criteria, specifically those published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), and the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). There is one statement in COPE’s code of conduct that nicely encapsulates all the criteria into one: “Maintain the integrity of the academic record”.


RP: Can you say what specific things you look for when assessing a potentially predatory publisher: for instance, do you look for evidence of spamming, poor or no peer review, the absence of information on ownership and/or location of the publisher, lack of an editor-in-chief, or editorial board, or what? What are the tell-tale signs of a predatory publisher?
JB: Yes, broadly I look for deception and lack of transparency. These two characteristics can manifest themselves in many ways, including those you list.  One thing (among many) that I look for is publishers that refer to themselves as a “center”,  “institute”, “network”, etc. For example, the Institute of Advanced Scientific Researchis not really an institute; it’s a predatory publisher. This is deception. If you look at their contact address on Google Maps, it’s an apartment.
RP: Is there such a thing as a subscription-based predatory publisher?
JB: No, not according to my definition of predatory publisher.
RP: You mentioned OASPA. OASPA has been accused of doing too little to stem the tide of questionable OA publishers. Would you agree? Could it be doing more? If so, what? On the other hand, might OASPA be the wrong organisation to attempt to control these activities? What is and should be OASPA’s role (if any) vis-à-vis predatory publishing?
JB: Only one or two of the publishers on my list are OASPA members. Therefore, there’s little the organization can do to control the predatory publishers. In fact, most of the publishers on my list lack affiliation with any professional association, and they fail to follow many established publishing standards. It’s not really my role to tell OASPA what it should be doing.
RP: One of OASPA’s founding members, Hindawi, was at one time on your watchlist, but subsequently you removed it. However, your current list of predatory publishers still includes the International Scholarly Research Network (ISRN). ISRN is one of Hindawi’s brands. What do we learn from this?
JB: If you’re a publisher, don’t call yourself a network when you’re not a network.
RP: When and why do you remove a publisher from your list?
JB: I have removed publishers from my list for two reasons. First, if the publisher’s website disappears, I remove it from the list. This has happened only once or twice, and I removed them from the list without saving the names. Second, I remove a publisher from the list when I receive convincing comments from colleagues disagreeing with my having added it to the list.

Legal threats

RP: Have you ever removed a publisher from your list as a result of receiving a legal threat? Have you ever received any legal threats in connection with your list?
JB: My answer to the first question is no. Regarding the second question, yes, I have received two legal threats.
RP: I am struck that at least one of the publishers that you have removed from your list — Dove Press — was formerly a member of OASPA. Dove has been the subject of some controversy, and is no longer a member of OASPA. Why did you remove Dove from your list of questionable publishers?
JB: I removed it based on comments that JQJohnson left on my old blog. He is Director, Scholarly Communications and Instructional Support, at the University of Oregon and someone whose opinion I respect. I took his comments as a form of “peer review” and decided to accept his suggestion to remove Dove Press from the list.
RP: People have said to me that you tend to “shoot from the hip” when listing publishers as predatory, sometimes making your decision on too little information. Would you agree? Have you ever regretted putting a publisher on your list?
JB: In most cases, the decision to place a given publisher on my list is an easy one because the publisher is so clearly corrupt and predatory. Thus, a decisive and resolute action is appropriate, and no, I don’t agree, for I believe I make the decisions with sufficient information.
I now regret having the watchlist on my earlier blog. The feedback I received indicated that the watchlist painted a negative picture of the publishers on that list given the context in which the list appeared (juxtaposed with a list of predatory publishers). I acted on the feedback and now no longer have a public watchlist, though I do maintain one privately.

Conflict of interest?

RP: Others have suggested that you might have a conflict of interest, pointing out, for instance, that you are on the editorial board of a subscription journal. Should such claims be taken seriously? Why? Why not?
JB: Two people have said that. One is Scott Albers, an attorney from Great Falls, Montana and author of  the article, “The Golden Mean, The Arab Spring And a 10-Step Analysis of American Economic History“, a paper published in the Middle East Studies Online Journal. He asked me for advice as he was submitting the same article to a second publisher. I told him the publisher was essentially a vanity press, and he became offended and then contrived the conflict of interest story. The second is Ken Masters, the editor of Internet Scientific Publications’ The Internet Journal of Medical Education. Masters is an assistant professor at Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University, and he took it personally when I put Internet Scientific Publications, a publisher run out of a spare bedroom in Sugar Land, Texas, on my list.
The truth is there is no conflict of interest. I have no financial stake in Taylor & Francis, the publisher of the journal on whose editorial board I serve. In point of fact, my service on the editorial board has enabled me to learn a lot about the scholarly publishing process and scholarly publishing in general. Masters has been trying to bait people on email lists, including LIBLICENSE, with the conflict of interest story, but he has been ignored.
RP: The implication in the above claim, I assume, is that you are anti-OA. How would you describe your position vis-à-vis OA: advocate, sceptic, opponent?
JB: I am not “anti” anything. I am in favourof the best model for scholarly communication, whatever it turns out to be. If that is gold OA, then so be it.
I review science books for Library Journal. Occasionally, I’ll give a book a negative review. That doesn’t mean I’m anti-science. My list is essentially a collective review of gold openaccess publishers. It’s a re-invention of what librarians call “readers advisory”.
RP: Whatever your position vis-à-vis OA, do you think the author-pays publishing model is inherently flawed so far as scholarly publishing is concerned?
JB: It’s too early to tell, so I don’t have a final opinion on this yet. On the one hand, the evidence I see every day argues that the model is indeed flawed. On the other hand, we need to ask, Which is the best model for the future of scholarly communication? It’s too early to eliminate a potentially successful and sustainable model.  

Abused the system

RP: I assume most researchers publish in the journals of predatory publishers without realising that they are dealing with a predatory publisher — and clearly a list like yours can play a useful role in helping them avoid doing so. On the other hand, I have had researchers say to me that they have knowingly paid to appear in a predatory publisher’s journal, explaining that they did so because they were having difficulties being published in a more reputable journal, or simply needed to get a paper published quickly for tenure or promotion purposes. I do not know how common the practice is, but does it not suggest that the research community is conspiring in the growth of predatory publishers, and, therefore, that the phenomenon is likely only to grow?
JB: I don’t think there’s a conspiracy, but I do think that some individuals have unprofessionally abused the system for their own benefit. But that’s why we have tenure and promotion committees. It is the committees’ job to vet the research of their tenure candidates. Tenure and promotion committees must now bring greater scrutiny to candidates’ published works than they did in the past, given the presence and abuse of scholarly vanity presses and the disappearance of the validation function that traditional publishers have so effectively provided.
RP: In the UK recently the Finch Report recommended that all publicly funded research should be made freely available on an OA basis, and by means of gold OA. This, it said, would require UK universities to pay an additional £50-60 million a year in order to disseminate the research they produce. If other countries follow suit, and if the author-pays model does indeed turn out to be inherently flawed, we can presumably expect the research community to find itself in trouble at some point can we not?
JB: Yes, and I am dismayed that most discussions of gold openaccess fail to include the quality problems I have documented. Too many OA commenters look only at the theory and ignore the practice. We must “maintain the integrity of the academic record”, and I am doubtful that gold openaccess is the best long-term way to accomplish that.
RP: What future plans do you have for your work on predatory publishers? Will you be adding new features to your blog, for instance?
JB: One weakness of my list is that it is binary: a publisher is either on the list or it isn’t. I would like to classify the publishers more granularly in terms of their quality, an upgrade that would differentiate among the borderline ones and the really bad ones. I am also in the middle of a research project about library catalogues and inclusion of predatory journals and hope to carry out additional research on openaccess publishing.

Elsevier numbers illustrate – once again – just how much more sense open access makes!

Elsevier today wrote a letter to the mathematics community, hoping to woo scholars away from the still-growing boycott, The Cost of Knowledge, now that Elsevier has publicly disavowed its support for the Research Works Act which would have forbidden the U.S. government from requiring public access to the results of research it pays for. In its letter, Elsevier commits to lowering the costs of articles in its mathematics journals to at or below $11 US per article. This sounds like a pretty reasonable step when you consider that this is just over a quarter of what Elsevier currently charges. However, when you compare this with the potential of open access, you can see how ludicrous this model really is today. If every research library in North America were to purchase a copy of an Elsevier article at $11, this would add up to $1,386 – more than it would cost to pay the PLoS ONE article processing fee for full open access to everyone, everywhere. Or, if an undergrad class of 150 students were required to purchase this article to read for class on a pay-per-use basis, the total would come to $1,650 – that’s $300 more than what is needed to pay for the article to be fully open access through PLoS ONE – for access to just one class. In summary, this move by Elsevier just shows how ludicrous the current model is. Plus – why just math, Elsevier? There are many of us who signed the boycott who are not mathematicians!


In the section on pricing, Elsevier commits to lowering the costs of articles in its mathematical journals to at or below $11 US per article or 50-60 cents per page. 

As a for-profit corporation reporting to shareholders, I think it is reasonable to assume that Elsevier would not make such a commitment unless this cost was sufficient to not only cover costs, but return a profit. Does this mean that the current $37.95 charged for one article in Elsevier’s Advances in Applied Mathematics is close to 4 times more than what Elsevier itself feels is necessary to recoup costs and make a profit? This does seem consistent with Elsevier’s high profit rates.

If every one of the 126 members of the Association of Research Libraries were to pay $11 for an article in mathematics, the total would be $1,386. That’s higher than the article processing fee for a fully open access article at PLoS ONE at $1,350 per article. In other words, a high quality, U.S.-based publisher working out of San Francisco (not a cheap place to live or work, I hear), can provide full open access for everyone in the world at less than it would cost to have one copy of an article at every large North American research library, at Elsevier’s proposed reduced rate which is just over a quarter of what they currently charge. This is yet more proof that this old school business model of Elsevier’s just doesn’t make any sense any more, not even with this little modicum of tweaking after significant pressure from mathematicians like Timothy Gowers.

Another scenario: if an undergrad class of 150 students were required to buy a $11 mathematics article to read for class on a pay-to-read basis, the cost would be $1,650. In other words, the pay-per-view costs for just one class to read an article would exceed the PLoS ONE article processing fee by $300. Multiply that by all the millions of students in the world, and it’s easy to see how the Elsevier model means either outrageous costs or needless barriers to mathematical knowledge, or, more likely (as things stand now) some of both.

The section from the Elsevier letter on pricing:

Mathematics journals published by Elsevier tend to be larger than those of other publishers. On a price-per-article, or price-per-page level, our prices are typically, but not always, lower than those of other mathematics publishers.

Our target is for all of our core mathematics titles to be priced at or below US$11 per article (equivalent to 50-60 cents per normal typeset page) by next year, placing us below most University presses, some societies and other commercial competitors. Where journals are more expensive than this, we will lower our prices, as we already have in recent years for journals such as the Journal of Algebra and Topology and its Applications, among others.

We realize that this is just part of the concerns about pricing -and we will seek to address concerns about the nature and composition of the large discounted agreements, through which most Universities now access journals – but addressing the base line pricing is a necessary first step.