The Matthew Effect derives its name from a Biblical parable in the Book of Matthew. The parable is best stated in modern language as, “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”
The Matthew Effect seems to be present throughout the list.
In the year covered (2012-13, as their fiscal year is not a calendar year), Wellcome spent over US$6.5 million on OA publication fees covering a set of 2,127 articles, for an average of US$3,055 per article.
The minimum spent by Wellcome on an APC was US$75, while the maximum APC was nearly US$22,000, which was the APC for an OA book published by Macmillan, the parent of Nature Publishing Group. The highest article APC was US$10,000, which was for a publication called Public Service Review, a magazine apparently geared to policymakers in the UK. The publication may not be available any longer, as its web site is turning up missing. This was noted as well in Research Information, which states that, “it is difficult to find details of this journal and the URL listed for this journal in the Wellcome Trust’s document now appears to be available for sale.” Does Wellcome deserve a refund?
The next most-expensive APC (US$9,500) is for Lancet Neurology, an Elsevier journal. In fact, Elsevier dominates the top APCs, as does Nature Publishing Group. PLOS varies, with high APCs for its selective journals and low APCs for PLOS ONE.
Given all this, it’s not surprising that the publisher that benefited the most from this spending is not an OA start-up or fresh-faced publisher, but rather the largest scholarly publisher in the world — Elsevier — which pulled down US$1.65 million of the total, or 25%. The next biggest recipient is another large publisher, Wiley, which took in US$806,000, or 12%, followed by PLOS, which received US$581,000 (9%). Next was Oxford University Press, which netted US$514,000 (8%) — OUP’s APCs tended to be on the low side, it should be noted. These four publishers accounted for 54% of the OA APCs paid by the Wellcome Trust in 2012-13.
For PLOS, 56% of the APCs it received from Wellcome in 2012-13 went to PLOS ONE, at an average cost of US$1,550. The average revenue per article for PLOS overall was just US$1,880. Elsevier commanded a higher price per article, receiving just over US$4,000 per published article — a 30% premium on the population average, and well over twice what PLOS received on average per article.
These data confirm the belief that the OA business model will reinforce the consolidation that has already taken place in the publishing marketplace, as it rewards scale and size, which are highly correlated. It may also incentivize further consolidation. The acquisition of Frontiers by Nature Publishing Group is a point in favor of this perspective, as is the fact that BioMed Central is owned by Springer.
In fact, if you add Springer’s OA funding from Wellcome to BMC’s, you see that Springer is actually another large publisher receiving a high proportion of Wellcome funding for APCs — a total of US$528,000, putting Springer/BMC ahead of OUP in total.
Add it all together, we have five publishers netting 63% of the APCs expended by Wellcome Trust in one year. Here is the resulting list of the Top 5 recipients:
- Elsevier — US$1.65 million, or 25% of Wellcome’s OA APC spending
- Wiley — US$806,000 (12%)
- PLOS — US$581,000 (9%)
- Springer/BMC — US$528,000 (8%)
- OUP — US$514,000 (8%)
Nature Publishing Group wasn’t far behind, taking US$330,000 in APCs from Wellcome Trust during 2012-13. It’s average APC was US$4,600.
When it comes to journals, PLOS ONE was the big winner, receiving almost as much as Nature Publishing Group in APCs from Wellcome Trust during the same period (US$327,000). The next biggest journal recipient was the Journal of Biological Chemistry, with US$122,000 in APCs from Wellcome. These journals represent major outliers in a study of citable objects done last year in a post by Phil Davis, suggesting once again that OA performs well as a quantity-based business model.
No naming authority was imposed on the file, so entities have a variety of names. For instance, the American Chemical Society is referred to in a number of ways — ACS, ACS Publications, American Chemical Society, and The American Chemical Society, among others. PLOS ONE is listed in a similar variety of ways, as are most of the publishers and journals with multiple entries. A number of articles are listed as the composition vendor, making analysis even more complex. By allowing authors to freestyle the name of the payee, we are creating a very loose data source for analysis.
It’s interesting to contemplate exactly what Wellcome bought with its US$6.5 million, as many subscription journals in the fields covered are subject to 12-month embargoes. One could argue that Wellcome paid an average of US$254 per month per article to make the articles free early. Put even more starkly, Wellcome is now paying the equivalent of US$542,000 per month in aggregate this year to make these 2,127 articles free for the 12 months we’re in, rather than paying no APCs and allowing the articles to be published in subscription journals that honor 12-month embargoes.
One prominent OA journal missing from the list of APC recipients is PeerJ. I don’t know what it means, but active speculation about PeerJ’s future is not encouraging, and this absence from Wellcome Trust’s list of APC payments may add to existing concerns.
. . . given the strong tendency of scholarly achievement to drive the Matthew Effect in funding, in publication, and in impact, it seems that OA publishing’s future will be as likely as not to perpetuate the problem and, if not thought about carefully and implemented judiciously, may actually exacerbate the “rich get richer” predilection of academic institutions, individual researchers, and prominent hypotheses by coalescing around current sources of funding and prestige, and inflating them through its business model.
Judging from these data, it appears that APCs are increasing and finding points of differentiation, with established publishers commanding much higher prices than newer, pure OA publishers — suggesting yet again that the Matthew Effect is absolutely a part of OA’s future.