Last week marked the annual celebration/marketing event that is Open Access Week, and this year it seemed something of a mixed bag. Open access (OA) is growing into maturity, and has rapidly become integrated into the scholarly publishing landscape over the last fifteen or so years. We have now reached a point where experiments have been in place for a while and results can be analyzed. Early assumptions can now be measured and the move to OA seems to have reached something of a crossroads.

Make no mistake, OA is here to stay, and there is no crisis of confidence, at least as far as the continuing growth in access to the research literature. But the repercussions of the business models and methodologies chosen for OA are beginning to be recognized.

Image via Victor Vizu.

The first red flag during OA Week came on Monday, when Jeffrey Beall announced that he was adding Frontiers Media to his infamous list of predatory publishers. I don’t know quite what to make of Frontiers. They do publish some very reputable journals, yet at the same time, their practices have been widely questioned. Researchers have publicly called out Frontiers’ worrisome peer review practices. Earlier this year, the publisher fired some 31 medical editors who complained that Frontiers’ policies “are designed to maximize the company’s profits, not the quality of papers, and that this could harm patients.” Holtzbrinck, the parent company behind the Nature Publishing Group (now merged to form Springer Nature) invested in Frontiers in 2013, and many public efforts were made to tie the Frontiers brand to that of Nature. In 2014 the two companies officially severed ties and decided, “never to mention again that [Nature Publishing Group] has some kind of involvement in Frontiers.”

This does not paint a pretty picture, and perhaps it exemplifies what many fear about the economic pressures that gold OA brings to bear, the structural incentive to increase the number of papers published (and hence profits).

But have all those aggressive moves from Frontiers paid off?

Frontiers recently published a marketing piece touting their “financial commitment to open access publishing.” While the post is clearly self-serving (I’m not sure what the difference is between their “financial commitment” and what any company faces as far as the costs of doing business), it offers us a rare glimpse into the expenses ledger of a commercial, for-profit publisher.

Looking at the Frontiers blog post, they state expenses of some $20M in 2014, and breakdowns of where that money was spent are offered. Frontiers publishes 54 journals, (decentralized across 55,000 editors, or an astonishing 1,018 editors per journal) and from my calculations, published 11,210 articles in 2014. Frontiers has 4 different author charges, based on the type of article, with levels at $1,900, $875, $250, and free.

Doing the math (and since the expenses include $1.9M for waivers and discounts, I’ll assume these cancel out), it becomes increasingly obvious that if the expense figures are correct, Frontiers ran at a deficit for the year. If as little as a few percent of articles where charged the lower rates (I’ve tried to determine actual percentages of article types but Frontiers search functionality has been “currently not available” for the last week), then it’s hard to get to $20M in APC revenue.

Take this with a grain of salt — financial reports are slippery beasts and there’s much wiggle room in how companies treat things like overheads. But still, this is really worrying. If one of the most driven publishers, one that has taken measures to lower costs and increase revenues that are so extreme that some have declared them unethical, still cannot reach profitability, then where does that leave the rest of us?

Shortly thereafter, PeerJ, which has been widely praised for its innovative membership business model, announced a move back to the pack, adding a standard gold OA APC option for authors. PeerJ does not seem to have reached the levels of scale needed to reap the profits promised by their original model. The announcement suggests that some of the problem lies with authors being unable to spend grant funds on memberships.

I suspect that they also overestimated the importance of cost savings to researchers. In this annual survey, the responses from authors remain consistent — quality and reputation are always among the most important factors in choosing a journal. UK authors strongly prefer to publish in established hybrid journals, particularly those with higher citation impact measurements, which correlates to those with higher APCs.

The PeerJ membership model could offer some savings to authors, but those savings aren’t recognized until a second paper is published. Authors likely think more short term, and want to get the maximum career impact out of this paper, rather than focusing on saving a few hundred dollars on the next paper. Being locked in to publishing in one journal at one level may also have proved unattractive to ambitious authors or those looking to target specific research reports to specific audiences.

The value that researchers place on cost savings will continue to be tested by the new (low) APC. The big question is whether this is a sign that PeerJ‘s venture capital backers are reaching the end of their patience with this experiment.

The APC model in general is increasingly under fire. Cameron Neylon, one of the most thoughtful of OA advocates, recently stated that the APC model may be “completely wrong” and is exploring the question of whether it is sustainable through a series of blog posts. There seems a growing recognition that the goals sought have more to do with the deeply ingrained culture of academia than with publisher practices, and that real change is difficult and slow, and unlikely to be achieved through short term moves meant to disrupt the publishing industry.

One thing that is becoming increasingly obvious is that many have grossly underestimated the costs of high quality scholarly publishing. While some continue to base policy on these unrealistic analyses, real world companies are seeing the actual costs. As stated above, it seems as if Frontiers, despite their extreme measures, is still failing to make ends meet at their current APC price levels. PLOS recently raised their APCs to cover rising costs (though oddly, they raised the price on their one profitable journal, asking PLOS ONE authors to spend even more to subsidize their high end journals which run at a deficit despite a $2,900 APC). eLife managed to gain some benefits of scale in 2014 by more than doubling the number of articles they published in 2013. Even so, they still spent nearly $8,300 per article.

The list of business model problems and unintended economic consequences goes on. The largest commercial publishers seem to be reaping significant profits from OA, likely due to the benefits of much greater scale, further concentrating power (and profits) in the hands of this sector of the industry. Productive institutions are doing their own calculations and realizing that OA would cause them to shoulder a greater financial burden then they already carry. Libraries are struggling with the administrative expense caused by inadequately funded policies. Costly and effort-consuming repositories are increasingly looking incomplete and potentially irrelevant due to networks like ResearchGate and, for-profit, venture capital-driven businesses built to spy on researchers and sell their data to the highest bidder.

And so, this OA Week of 2015 leaves us at a crossroads, or at least a recognition that this is an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one. Evolution takes a very long time, and occurs through variation, but not every variant confers a selective advantage. The ideological hurdles have, in many ways been cleared, and acceptance of OA continues to grow. But as things have moved from the theoretical to the practical, questions of sustainability and cost-effectiveness are making themselves clear. The dominant methods of this early period are being tested in that crucible, and history may or may not look back on them as dead ends.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


61 Thoughts on "Open Access at a Crossroads"

An excellent analysis. The next phase may well be a shakeout, after which the publishing system might stabilize, with little change thereafter. APC OA will have found its place. This is how revolutions typically end, as they must.

Naïve, I am, but an average author cost of $8,300 puts the phrases “open access peer-reviewed journal” and “gold OA” in the lexicons of 1984 and A Clockwork Orange. What a strange business model.

Note that authors don’t pay these costs for eLife. The costs are all covered by the funders behind the journal. But it is indicative of what it costs to run a selective high end journal.

As people constantly need to be reminded here in TSK, this post applies only to journal publishing, not monograph publishing, where the challenges are different as are the business models also. They also are much newer. Luminos just published its first monograph, and Knowledge Unlatched is only a few years old, both of them basing their business model on library support, which raises the question of how sustainable they are over the long term given the pressures on library budgets. Amherst College Press also just recently launched as an OA monograph publisher in the humanities, but using a model of endowment funding, which by definition is more sustainable. Experiments will continue in this OA area as well, and the process will likewise be evolutionary. But everyone needs to bear in mind that what makes sense for journals does not necessarily make sense for monographs.

So what folks are learning is that there is no free lunch and that the markets for research articles are even smaller than thought. In short, who really wants to read what is published in journals except those few with a rather sophisticated knowledge base to read the material.

Regarding books, the direct costs are steep and the price has to be even steeper in order to cover those and the cost of marketing.

Thus, one has to pay for what one wants to read regardless of the funding source.

Thanks to David for an excellent analysis. Does this suggest that journals that continue to offer reasonable subscription pricing and affordable page charges are the ‘new’ model?

As much fun as it is to “Beall-Watch”, I think his list is becoming less and less relevant as most libraries and advisors for scholarly publication are now using more reliable, more nuanced and certainly more sophisticated white lists to make informed decisions on recommending where to publish. I am speaking about and the DOAJ,

More and more institutions are creating APC funds, and the management of payment for scholarly publishing is being recentralised to libraries who can help their institutions work out which publishers or journals they can sponsor and patronise. Libraries handled subscriptions, now they are handling payment of APCs.

Anton, are you suggesting that if a title is NOT listed at OASPA or DOAJ, we should assume that it’s a predatory or deceptive journal?

Hi Rick, Not at all. OASPA has a set of guidelines you can use to judge the quality of governance a journal has. Its a tool for thinking with, rather than a bludgeon.

You asked Anton, and he provided a good answer, but I’ll jump in: we’re nearing the point where, if an OA journal isn’t in DOAJ, an author should look at it long and hard before submitting (esp. if it’s not brand-new and known to the author, or in a niche where four articles per year is acceptable).

So if I understand both you and Anton, you’re saying that there is no need for anyone to call attention to bad actors in the OA marketplace, despite the documented existence of hundreds of such actors there and their documented ability to successfully pump nonsense and pseudoscience into the mainstream media (not to mention their ability to help unscrupulous researchers pad their CVs with spurious but real-looking “peer-reviewed” publications)?

If I’m misunderstanding you, and you do actually think it’s a good idea to call attention to these bad actors, what would be a better mechanism than a well-managed blacklist for doing so?

I continue to question the merits of a blacklist, but if one is useful, it should be journal-level: otherwise, as I think I’ve demonstrated in my posts, you might as well just shut down the whole journal business (except maybe SciELO and Redalyc). (I’m not enough of a Bremb-er-bombthrower to go that far.)

Honestly, my personal dislike of blacklists as a methodology aside, I wouldn’t fight against a well-managed journal-level blacklist–but I think a well-managed whitelist is far more useful. That’s just me.

And, as far as I know, we neither have nor are likely to get a well-managed journal-level blacklist…especially since such a list must obviously include all business models, not say that “pseudoscience is OK if you’re a big commercial publisher.” (It must also allow for transparent redemption: journals do change, for better and for worse, just as DOAJ is being reasonably transparent about its reasons for removing journals.)

As for calling attention to bad *actions*–well, there’s Retraction Watch, among others.

Honestly, my personal dislike of blacklists as a methodology aside, I wouldn’t fight against a well-managed journal-level blacklist–but I think a well-managed whitelist is far more useful.

And I continue to be puzzled by those who insist that the two are somehow mutually exclusive. They aren’t, of course, and we don’t have to choose between them. Whitelists do one thing, and blacklists do another, and as long as both are honestly, consistently, and reasonably managed both can be very useful. But a whitelist will never provide the value that a blacklist offers–nor vice versa.

If such a whitelist is necessary across all journal types, then the DOAJ list is fairly useless since it is deliberately limited to only journals that meet their strict business model and licensing requirements.

Though I’m still amazed at the concept of a researcher submitting their paper to a journal that they’ve never read and don’t know.

It’s only amazing if you assume that the researcher is operating in good faith. If all he’s interested in is a real-looking citation with which to pad his resume and increase the likelihood of promotion and tenure, then this scenario makes perfect sense.

That to me remains a big unanswered question–how many authors in predatory journals are being tricked, and how many are there because it’s the journal of last resort?

My feeling is that a “well managed blacklist” is a dream that is not realizable in this world, because every possible player has an apparent conflict of interest. I do not believe that a fair blacklist is possible, because trust is gone, lost in the science bashing fad. As an alternative I suggest a website that posts reviews and comments on journals, which is how the consumer products industry is handling this issue.

Just curious — where is Jeffrey Beall’s apparent conflict of interest? What does he stand to gain by identifying a publisher as a predator?

I am not talking about Beall, Rick, although he has gained a lot of fame. I am talking about your proposed “well managed” blacklist. You, like Beall, crossed the line when you referred to publishers of last resort. These are not praying on authors, on the contrary they are service providers. If you target them you are engaging in censorship. That is my objection. Keep in mind that “pseudoscience” is an insult that is commonly thrown in legitimate scientific debates. Both Einstein and Newton got it or its semantic equivalent. If you or Beall want to start saying what should not be published then I oppose you.

“Publishers of last resort” was me, not Rick. Nor did I suggest they’re preying on authors–just the opposite. A predatory publisher who deceives an author and tricks them into thinking they’re getting something different than they are receiving is preying on authors. Those who can’t publish their work anywhere else and use such a publisher are getting exactly what they pay for, though one could argue that they are preying on the public trust, as they’re not performing the actual review they claim to be performing.

Your comments on censorship border on the absurd. Is it censorship for a journal to reject an article on the grounds that it is not scientifically sound? Are we now no longer allowed to criticize anything?

It is censorship if you blacklist a journal because you dislike what it publishes.

What if what it publishes is false and dangerous? What if its contents pose a public health hazard?

But not necessarily a bad thing. The medical community has a duty to protect the public from dangerous misinformation. Further, a blacklist doesn’t stop a phony journal from existing, but it can be part of a set of best practices determined by an institution or a community for employees or members wishing to advance their careers.

David, you need to look up the definition of “censorship.” It doesn’t mean criticism, which is what a blacklist (of the type we’re contemplating) is. If someone forcibly takes down your blog, that’s censorship; if someone publishes another blog saying that your blog is a bunch of crap and that you’re not to be trusted, that’s not censorship.

I think the concept of censorship is broad enough to include this case, because we are talking about an organization that claims to speak for science, not some blog. If not then call it censureship. The principle is the same, namely trying to shut down journals that publish content deemed objectionable. The problem is, as always, who does the deeming?

Also, while I can see how an article can be false and dangerous (as David C puts it), but a journal? If enough people believe something to sustain a journal then it sounds like a controversy, not something to be muzzled. Historically, outliers have played an important role in science, if only to keep the mainstream honest. Even cranks can be useful and sometimes they turn out to be right.

Speaking of which you at least need to keep the crank blacklist separate from the predatory blacklist, because these are very different claims.

How can you say you’re not talking about Beall? You said that “every possible player has an apparent conflict of interest.” Beall is not only one of the “possible players” — he’s the only player right now, the only person maintaining a blacklist. You and I may agree that his list is not well maintained, but it seems highly unlikely that what’s stopping him from doing it better is a conflict of interest.

I am talking about the blacklist that you are calling for, not Beall’s.

You’re making less and less sense, David. There’s no reason why Beall couldn’t provide the kind of blacklist I’m calling for; in fact, he could do it more easily than anyone else, since he has the infrastructure in place already. All he needs to do is manage it more transparently and expand its scope to include deceptive toll-access publishers. And if Beall doesn’t want to do it, then there are thousands of librarians and other interested parties for whom providing such a list would pose no conflict of interest whatsoever.

My mistake Rick. I took you for advocating a “well managed” blacklist run by some respected body. Thaj was the design i was working toward. If you are good with Beall then I could care less. I take it that the fact that he conflates predatory publishers with publishers of last resort does not bother you. I consider Beall to be irresponsible at best, but you endorse him. Is that it?

By the way, Rick, I am curious as to why thousands of librarians feel they are competent to judge the merit of scientific journals? It is not clear to me that scientists are competent to make that judgement, given the nature of scientific progress, which is often controversial, much less librarians. Librarians should not be the gate keepers of scientific communication.

David: You seem to be getting a little off track. Beall is not judging the merit of scientific journals … in his words, he is providing a list of:

Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers

This is a list of questionable, scholarly open-access publishers. We recommend that scholars read the available reviews, assessments and descriptions provided here, and then decide for themselves whether they want to submit articles, serve as editors or on editorial boards. The criteria for determining predatory publishers are at:

DZRLIB, I am talking about Rick and David C’s stated quality criteria, not Beall’s. Claims of pseudoscience, dangerous science, resume padding, etc. But Beall also complained about publishers of last resort, at least in his early writings.

David I think I’ve lost track of what you’re trying to say here. First you suggest that we aren’t allowed to criticize any journals because that would be censorship. Then you claim that librarians, whose professional responsibilities include assessing research materials and making purchasing decisions, shouldn’t be trusted to assess research materials. And now you’re taking an offhand comment that it’s unclear how many customers of these journals are being deceived and how many are taking advantage of low standards, and saying, well, I’m not quite sure what you’re saying any more.

I have no problem with every bit of research that is done getting published. But we do need methods for assessing that research. The fact that a piece of research could not pass peer review should be an indicator of its likely quality, no?

It is pretty simple, David. I am challenging the idea of a blacklist of journals based on claims of unacceptable quality. Assessing research materials for usefulness is not the same as assessing journals for truthfulness. In particular I question the criteria that you and Rick have alluded to, because these sorts of claims are characteristic of scientific revolutions (a topic I have studied at great length). Such a blacklist might be a major bar to new thinking.

To sum up then: you feel it is inappropriate to try to steer researchers away from publishers who make false and deliberately deceptive claims about the services they provide. It is okay to spend increasingly precious research funds to line the bank accounts of such deliberately deceptive companies. This is a valuable investment, just in case it leads to new thinking.

You feel it is okay for the legitimate literature to be swamped out by unreviewed and often knowingly false information. It is wrong for anyone to assess research papers for accuracy or truthfulness because that is censorship. If thousands of people die because of incorrect medical techniques or dosages falsely published as legitimate studies, that is okay because maybe we’ll learn something new.

Basically what you are suggesting is that we do away with research journals altogether. Why make any sort of value judgements whatsoever? Asking someone to pass even the slightest version of peer review might prevent a new breakthrough from being recognized, hence we should do away with peer review and best practices altogether.

Yes, I do recognize that this is both a strawman and a reductio ad absurdium. But is it that far off from what you are saying? Aren’t you calling for essentially a deregulation of scholarly publishing?

I consider Beall to be irresponsible at best, but you endorse him. Is that it?

I know simple binaries like this (endorsing or not endorsing) are the easiest to deal with, but unfortunately reality is messier than that and requires more nuanced thinking. In the case of Beall, I’m on the record, quite clearly and repeatedly, as believing that Beall’s List offers a valuable service but needs to be much better managed–especially in the areas of consistency and transparency. I have outlined what I believe a fair and useful blacklist would look like. I see no reason why Beall couldn’t do it; if he doesn’t want to, then there are literally thousands of others who could (given both the desire and the resources). Many of these, though certainly not all, are librarians for whom doing so would create no conflict of interest.

And by the way, the reason that “thousands of librarians feel they are competent to judge the merit of scientific journals” is that doing so is a significant part of our job. It’s what we’re trained to do and what we’re hired to do. You might as well ask why meteorologists feel they’re competent to predict the weather. (Not that either librarians or meteorologists do their jobs perfectly, of course.)

Rick, as a cognitive scientist I would not welcome a committee of librarians, with no training in my field, telling my field what journals not to read. Not subscribing and blacklisting are two very different things. Even a peer reviewed blacklist would be questionable, because peer review is being questioned. See

As for Beall, if you look at his list of criteria they are almost all on the business side. As far as I can tell you are the originator of the proposed quality blacklist.

Regarding Beall, the basic problem is that his criteria list is very long. Many major journals violate one criteria or another, so predation must be based on a combination, but there is no hint as to how that is calculated. In the regulatory arena (which is a field of mine) this allows for what is called selective enforcement. This means choosing who to attack. Blacklisting is a form of regulation.

Rick, as a cognitive scientist I would not welcome a committee of librarians, with no training in my field, telling my field what journals not to read.

Then I have good news for you: if you and your colleagues are not interested in being notified about journals/publishers in your field that are deliberately attempting to deceive you, no one would compel you to pay any attention whatsoever to the blacklist.

Regarding Beall, the basic problem is that his criteria list is very long.

I disagree. I think the basic problem isn’t with his criteria, but with the way he applies them.

Blacklisting is a form of regulation.

No. Blacklisting of the type being proposed here is a form of criticism; it calls public attention to bad actors without imposing any kind of regulatory restriction on them. To call that “regulation” is ridiculous, unless you consider book reviews or the Better Business Bureau to be examples of regulation.

I do consider the Better Business Bureau to be an example of regulation, by which I mean the application of specific rules of conduct. But not book reviews, because those are expressions of personal opinion. In fact the BBB is an example of the form of informal regulation that you are proposing, albeit probably somewhat different. You have not been very specific as to how your blacklisting system would work, or even how it would be organized.

Keep in mind that I am an expert in designing regulatory systems:
My concerns have an analytical foundation.

I am glad that you acknowledge that your characterization of my position is incorrect, very much so in fact. (Hence a falsehood!) I am not calling for deregulation, rather I am objecting to the potential for over regulation, something I have done for many decades, in many industries. I am saying that a blacklist of journals based on claims of poor quality or falsehood is a bad idea. Neither more, nor less.

Thought you’d enjoy my self-aware sophistry. Regardless, I suspect this is a point where we will differ, and that most in the world of scholarly research and publishing will also differ from your viewpoint.

More info about Frontiers out today:

I guess the question your comment raises though, is where those APC funds are going to come from? Given that 80-some percent of articles are still in subscription journals, libraries certainly don’t have a lot of extra money to put toward OA. Most publishers are seeing constant request (and sometimes demands) from libraries and governments for help in meeting these increased costs.

And the follow-up question–if publishing articles in good journals costs $5,000 or $10,000 or even $20,000, is that an effective use of a library’s funds?

I think Beall’s list is excellent and much needed. Nonexperts like me consult it a lot. Of course we need a blacklist. He curates it very well, highlighting the gross abuses of scholarly process (ie no or bad reviewing, inflated charges relative to worth of content, ripping off website content and even papers from other journals, ghost journals, etc. The debate here seems silly. You can check Beall’s list then check DOAJ. Never heard of oaspa.

Simon: The issue is regulatory and judicial process, not scholarly process. Specific charges need to be laid and there must be an impartial appeals process. Beall provides neither. I am also curious about “inflated charges relative to the worth of content,” given that the content provider pays the charges. This looks like just another of the many confusions that infect this issue. But in any case, as I have said several times, my interest is in designing a well managed blacklist, or determining if that is even possible, not in Beall’s list.

I agree with Simonbatterbury and sense that David’s proposal is an excellent example of ‘Perfection is the Enemy of Good’. Beall is providing an important service and I doubt that he is doing this alone, as I suspect that has a small army of readers that help bring OA abuses to his attention.

Yes it is crowd-sourced. And appealing against a listing is by showing you have changed your ways. Several companies have come and gone over the years.

This sounds like everyone accused is assumed guilty, which is not a principle of justice that I accept, although it has been popular at times. As for crowd sourcing, one of the know problems with vigilantism (which this is) is that it is fun, at the expense of being accurate. I might begin (but merely that) to take Beall’s list seriously if the specific charges against each listee were listed.

They re in the blog part. In great detail, with comments below from those who approve or disapprove. I think you are well outvoted in the replies on this page.

When I did my research, I picked a Canadian publisher and tried to search the blog to find the specific accusations. It did not work. In fact the only complaint I found was that their mailing address was an apartment in Montreal. I think you folks are something of a mob, with zero transparency. But I am sure it is great fun, like lynching.

Would you prefer witch hunt? I find the fact that there are a bunch of people doing this rather interesting. For example, Simon mentions disagreements. How are these resolved, in the process of deciding who to list? Now in addition to wanting to know the reasons for blacklisting a given publisher, I want to know the dissents, if any.

What happens when an OA journal goes belly up? Does some angel come along to rescue the published articles?

If the articles have been published with an open licence, then they are much more likely to have been deposited to an Institutional Repository than if they had been submitted to a toll-based journal. In New Zealand our National Library is planning to archive all our institutional repositories, adding another professional layer of preservation. Safe by design, no angels required.

This isn’t an OA versus subscription issue. It’s an issue for all digitally published journals. Reputable publishers OA and subscription have systems in place in the form of either dark or open archives to ensure the material they publish will always be available. LOCKSS, CLOCKSS and Portico are examples of systems that ensure published articles will be available even if publisher as you say goes “belly up”.

True! Hoping someone is going to grab a copy of every article and hang on to it is not an effective archiving strategy, that’s why we need the services you mention. And they are yet another often unappreciated cost of publishing.

Congratulations on a very well written and researched post. I do however disagree with some of your conclusions.

I think the lesson from Frontiers is that bad things happen when publishers focus on short-term profits and throw publishing ethics out the window. The incentives for gold publishers that have integrity and the good sense to focus on becoming stable profitable companies over the long haul are essentially the same as for subscription publishers. That is building and maintaining their reputation by providing quality and ethically sound publishing services including real peer-review that gains the trust and respect of both authors and readers. There are plenty of examples of gold publishers that have followed this path and avoided the problems Frontiers is facing.

It’s interesting that a year after Holtzbrinck buys a majority share of Frontiers the wheels fell off and Holtzbrinck couldn’t run away fast enough. Maybe the problems with the peer review system had been there all along and unfortunately for Holtzbrinck, blew up after they bought in to the company. It would be surprising if Holtzbrinck didn’t check out Frontiers carefully before they bought a majority share. It is not like this is a new industry for them. An alternate possibility is that Holtzbrinck put pressure on Frontiers directly or indirectly to improve the bottom line and it resulted in cutting corners and eventually scandals that damaged the reputation of Frontier. I have no idea if that happened but it seems like a plausible possibility.

I don’t think the new payment option for PeerJ as a big deal. They adjusted to rules that apparently many funding agencies require. Even then it is still about the best deal around for quality publishing and PeerJ does do quality publishing. I say the from my own experience as an academic editor and author as well as a survey of several hundred other PeerJ authors who almost universally said they would publish in PeerJ again. PeerJ is a great deal even if you only publish one article. The average STM article has about 5 authors. How many other publishers provide quality publishing for a $500 APC? If you have a membership, the second, third etc. articles are free, an even better deal but it is still a great deal even if you only publish in PeerJ once. I don’t know if they can ramp up to a level where they can be profitable or at least break even. I sure hope so since it is one of the the best options out there for researchers who are not funded but would like to publish in an OA journal.

eLife is an interesting journal but a red herring if you are using it as an example of what even high end scholarly publishing costs. It is being run by 3 foundations who have for all practical purposes unlimited amounts of money to spend on eLife. They are trying out new innovative approaches to publishing and it is no wonder they are spending a huge amount of money. How many other journals conduct peer review in “real time” digital conferences for each manuscript that isn’t rejected by the editor prior to review? Also, how many journals promise to provide individually written letters of recommendation from the journal editor detailing how the author’s work has impacted the field? Those are just two of the things eLife is doing that are jacking up the cost per article.

“Productive institutions are doing their own calculations and realizing that OA would cause them to shoulder a greater financial burden then they already carry.”

I am on this project and appropriately muzzled but don’t believe everything you read in the “tweetisphere”.

“Costly and effort-consuming repositories are increasingly looking incomplete and potentially irrelevant due to networks like ResearchGate and, for-profit, venture capital-driven businesses built to spy on researchers and sell their data to the highest bidder.”

This phenomena you mention in the quote above is far more damaging to subscription publishers than to green OA given much of the material is the copyrighted version of record. I am kind of surprised the major publishers haven’t done more to go after these companies. Repositories are still useful since at some point the illegal material is probably going to come down. Like reputable publishers, reputable repositories have plans to ensure the content in them will always be available AND it is legal.

I agree APC funded OA have been moving from an experiment to an established publishing model and hitting some bumps along the road. Some of the major funding agencies such as Jisc and FWF have begun to cut deals with publishers based on the total cost of publication that are probably a reasonable deal for both sides and gives the researchers at these institutions access to the material in the publishers’ archives and the ability to publish OA in the publishers’ journals. This is just one aspect of a process that is transitioning mainstream subscription journals to OA. There are hundreds of journals that have spontaneously transitioned from subscription to APC funded OA. Sometimes it has been a push from a society, the subscription model just isn’t working for the journal or the subscription model is working but the APC model just offers a better deal. There are other journals that have found a way to fund publication without charge APCs avoiding the potential pitfalls they entail. These are clearly the “low hanging fruit” so to speak but my guess is the landscape is going to change to make it a better deal for more and more journals. It may never work for a subset of journals, particularly those with large subscription bases outside of academia but I suspect those will be a minority.

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