There has recently been a good deal of discussion of article processing charges (APCs) for Gold open access (OA) journals — what’s fair, what’s acceptable, and what’s sustainable. In the midst of this, eLife has released its 2013 financials, which give an indication of what a premier OA journal article costs to produce.
Based on these financial reports, it cost eLife approximately US$14,000 to publish an article in 2013.
If eLife had needed to cover their costs of publication entirely via an APC in 2013, the APC would have been in line with estimates that have in the past proven controversial, such as Nature’s assertion that it would cost them in excess of US$10,000 to publish an article as Gold OA. As we’ve seen, eLife has positioned itself as a competitor to this echelon of journals.
For those of us in publishing, this may not come as a surprise, as eLife is a sensational-looking online journal with nice experiments, strong editors, and great marketing. In fact, given that eLife appears to be doing the majority of the things publishers do, you’d anticipate their expenses would be on par with the likes of Nature. Unlike Nature and larger OA publishers, eLife has only one journal, so infrastructure and overhead costs (lights, heat, HR, legal, finance) all accrue to that one product. At a nominal rate of 30%, this could explain why eLife’s costs are higher than Nature’s estimate.
The overall gestalt of eLife’s financials (both their audited financials and their 990), combined with a rate of publication in 2014 that is nearly double 2013’s rate, suggests that eLife will be taking large portions annually out of the US$30 million in funding commitments it has received. At the per-article rate calculated above, US$8 million could be drawn down from those commitments this year alone.
Data points like these are worth adding to discussions of APCs and sustainable OA. Given author behavior and what’s emerging on the landscape as various entrants adopt the Gold OA business model, it seems reasonable to think that a wide variety of APCs will develop over time. The market for Gold OA is evolving and maturing, responding as authors vote with their feet and as various approaches to competition and value creation emerge on the market.