A venerable Open Access title in medical research has instituted a subscription model for its online journal.
The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI), a prestigious title in continuous publication since 1924, implemented a subscription model beginning with its January 2009 issue. Original articles, however, continue to be freely available.
JCI began providing free access to all online content in 1996. In spite of dwindling revenue from print subscribers, the journal continued to justify free access to its content.
JCI has an impact factor of 16.9, and is the most highly-cited journal within its category of Medicine, Research and Experimental, according to ISI’s 2007 Journal Citation Reports. Its editors reject 9 out of every 10 manuscript submissions.
The journal receives several sources of income from its authors. JCI charges for submission ($70 US), pages charges ($0.22 per word), plus additional fees for each figure ($100), table ($50), supplemental data ($300) and color ($1000). Apparently, these author charges are not sufficient to cover publication costs for a high-quality journal.
Between 1996 and 2003, JCI lost 40% of its institutional subscribers, according to John Hawley, Executive Director of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. Responding to my email on his decision to institute online subscriptions, Hawley responded in practical terms:
The decision to institute access control was not a strained one; there are costs to be met, and this was the one route available to determine if they could be met.
In 2005, another prestigious medical journal, the British Medical Journal (BMJ), ended full free online access, citing hemorrhaging revenue and the desire to fund future product development as justifications. BMJ (like JCI) still provides free access to research articles.
There is a substantial difference between these two journals: BMJ publishes only 4 or 5 research articles per issue — the rest is full of editorials, letters, news, commentary, and other non-research material. In comparison, JCI is primarily a research journal, publishing 15-30 articles per issue with little non-research material. Responding to a question I posted on MEDLIB-L, a listserv for medical librarians, Peter Cole, director of the Aquinas Medical Library in New Jersey responded:
there isn’t enough non-research content in JCI to justify purchasing a subscription
Other librarians responded that they reinstated their institutional subscription, some begrudgingly. At a time when many librarians are attempting to make radical cuts in their budget, this news did not come at a welcome time. Leslie Czechowski, Assistant Director of Collections & Technical Services at the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library responded:
we canceled [our subscription] because of free online access. Another year we might have resubscribed, but in times of declining budgets, it will be a more difficult decision
If new subscription revenue does not meet expectations, does JCI have any recourse (such as increasing page fees for authors)? John Hawley answered soberly,
There’s always recourse.