Annual Costs Per Deposit of Hosting Refereed Research Output Centrally Versus Institutionally

SANDY THATCHER: “it’s the peer review that is the most expensive part of the whole process, and arXiv is not in the business of peer reviewing.”
DAVID PROSSER:: “Is that true, Sandy? Can we have a reference please? Tenopir and King back in 2004 suggested that ‘manuscript receipt processing, disposition decision-making, identifying reviewers or referees and review processing’ constituted 26% of the direct costs of producing an article (which they estimated at $1700 on average). Of course, costs may have shifted in the years since then. Which is why a reference would be welcome.”

What Sandy Thatcher said is perfectly correct:

(1) The cost of providing peer review (c. $500 per article — though more efficient online procedures could lower that) is indeed the most expensive part of the process of providing a peer-reviewed article for free (OA) by depositing it in a central repository like Arxiv (or in the author’s own Institutional Repository, IR).

(2) And Arxiv does not provide the peer review. (Nor does any other repository.)

(3) Low as it is, $7 per article just for deposit and archiving is probably an overestimate, because Arxiv needs to do far too much work to process and store all the world’s institutions’ physics deposits centrally: It would cost even less per article for an Institutional Repository (IR) that archives only its own annual research output (and knows all its own researchers, hence need not do the extra generic precautionary controls). (Be careful not to jig the estimate by factoring in the costs of online infrastructure that the institution already has, regardless of whether it has an IR: just the one-time IR set-up cost, the extra server and disk-space, etc., plus the cost per deposit and annual maintenance of the IR only.)

It would be useful to have IRs’ estimates of their annual cost per article deposited — but only from mature mandated IRs that are already well on the way to capturing 100% of their annual institutional output of refereed journal articles. (Obviously the IR price per article will be somewhat higher for IRs that are still only capturing only 15% or less of their annual refereed research output, as most IRs today still are, because they have not yet mandated deposit.)

Another useful comparison would be the cost — in money and time — of doing the unnecessary IR “quality controls” and preprocessing that many IRs think, superstitiously and superfluously, that they need to do. (In this case, estimates from all the immature, near-empty IRs are relevant too.)

At Southampton ECS, the first mandated IR of all (since 2002), we realized within the first year of the mandate that the “quality control” (for the content and metadata of the deposit) was based on a completely unnecessary and dysfunctional misanalogy with library collections and cataloguing, that all it did was create needless work and backlogs for the “quality-controllers” and needless resistance and counterproductive resentment from depositing authors who, having taken the trouble to deposit their refereed final drafts, as mandated, were then denied the immediate satisfaction of seeing their deposits go immediately online and start getting downloaded: instead, they had to go into a quality-control queue, sometimes for days or weeks, as the volume of mandated deposits to “process” grew. We quickly jettisoned the gratuitous process and have seen the IR’s deposits growing happily ever since.

Leave any “quality control” for your institutional authors’ peer-reviewed final drafts in the background. If something is wrong, users will let the author know; if users don’t squawk (or there are no users!), the slip-up probably isn’t even worth correcting. Focus on solving the real problem, which is not “quality control” but capturing the IR’s target content: the institution’s full annual output of refereed research.

And remember that — whilst journals still exist and subscriptions are still paying for their quality control — your IR is not hosting the all-important version-of-record, but merely an OA supplement.

A word to the wise…

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum