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Journal Articles: Who’s Going to Pay for Them?

1 April 2013 4 Comments

In this third and final article in a series on the future of the ASA’s electronic publications, we look at a highly visible way in which electronic publications are changing models of delivering information. This sea change is often referred to as “open access.”

For hundreds of years, scientific learning has been communicated through printed journals, which were made available to researchers through libraries and, later, individual subscriptions. In recent years, many factors—the high cost of journal subscriptions, the movement from print to electronic as the primary means of delivery, the exponential increases in the speed of new knowledge development, and the demand from researchers and funding agencies that this knowledge be made freely and quickly available—are leading to changes in thinking about how journal content should be made available. New delivery approaches, however, must result in changes in the cost/revenue structure of journals.

Types of Open Access

Commonly, open access publication is divided into two categories: gold and green. Gold open access means the articles are available to all at no charge on the publisher’s website immediately upon publication (“post-print”). Green open access means that authors may post their original pre-peer review manuscripts (“pre-prints”) in a free public repository (such as PubMed Central or arXiv) upon acceptance, and their post-print manuscripts in the same places (often after a specified period of time following publication in the journal). Hybrids of these categories exist.

The Current Situation for ASA Journals

Electronic access to wholly owned ASA journals is open to ASA members at no charge. The ASA’s journal partner, Taylor & Francis, sells subscriptions to libraries and others. Prices for these subscriptions are set jointly by the ASA and Taylor & Francis and are relatively inexpensive. Revenue from these subscriptions has historically been an important source of revenue for the association.

Authors of articles in ASA journals have the right to post their pre-print manuscripts on their personal or employer web pages and in public repositories. Authors can post their versions (i.e., not the publisher-produced version) of revised manuscripts on their personal or employer websites, and in public repositories such as arXiv, 12 months following publication. All versions should be posted with notice of the ASA’s copyright, the full citation for the published paper, and a link to the journal’s official online version. Authors may post the publisher-produced PDF of an article in e-reserves, provided the article is made available only in the author’s institution. All authors, whether or not they are ASA members, receive free online access to the final, publisher-produced version of their article.

Finally, ASA authors may choose to make their own articles open access by paying a fee to the publisher. This fee is similar to that charged by other open access journals, such as the PloS series.

Thus, in the current situation, articles are available to all free of charge if authors post them or if authors pay the open access fee. They are available free of charge to ASA members, and are available to others via subscription (usually for libraries) or purchase of individual articles. This barrier to open access is sometimes referred to as a “pay wall.”

Requirements of Funders

Since 2008, the policy of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been to require NIH-supported authors to submit their post-print manuscripts to the digital archive PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication. Further, the policy requires that these papers are accessible to the public on PubMed Central no later than 12 months after publication. In other words, the maximum period during which a journal can keep an article behind a pay wall is one year.

A February 22 memo from John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), stakes out the administration’s interest in ensuring the availability of the results of federally funded research “to the greatest extent and with the fewest constraints possible.” The memo addresses aspects of both access and revenue, and directs all federal agencies with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally funded research publicly available free of charge within 12 months after original publication.

Of course, the ASA follows the NIH policy with its journals. Taylor & Francis deposits post-print manuscripts with PubMed Central on behalf of authors. Soon, this will be happening with the National Science Foundation and other funders as well, as they comply with the OSTP guidance.

The 12-month embargo period is a compromise, attempting to balance the needs of science with the needs of publishers, including professional societies. This leads to a discussion of the future of publications revenue.

Revenue Models

Publications revenue is a significant source of funding for the ASA, and for many other professional societies. Revenue from subscriptions has historically been expected to cover the cost of the publications and a little more, providing resources for the association to fulfill other aspects of its mission. To provide a sense of the importance of this revenue, the ASA would have to raise the dues of all regular members by about $110 per year to make up the difference if all ASA journals were made available free to all. (This is a conservative figure; the actual figure could be much higher.)

If subscriptions are not to be the funding method of the future, what will be?

The most common substitute at this point for subscriptions revenue is an author-funded model in which a fee is charged to the author for the privilege of publishing the article. In many instances, “author-funded” is not quite accurate, as the fees can come from the research grants that supported the research. Researchers without such support, however, have to pay the fees themselves.

Of course, this changes the problem from one of being able to afford subscription fees to being able to afford author fees.

Other models are being considered. For example, some have suggested an “iTunes-like” approach that would make articles available at a minimal price, like buying an individual song on iTunes. Yet another model would make access to all articles free, but require a subscription to get supplemental content (such as software code, interactive graphs, or data).

So, What Is the Future for Our Journals?

To some extent, our future will be determined by what funding institutions require and what major publishers do. But we have the opportunity to take our own steps forward in this environment. We are eager for your feedback; that is the entire purpose of this series of articles. Please send comments to ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein at ron@amstat.org. All comments will be read by a panel appointed by the ASA Board to review and summarize feedback.

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  • John Ramey said:

    While the “author-funded” model (e.g., PLoS journals) has its advantages for the end reader in removing the pay wall, the large fee can be a hindering barrier for researchers without large financial support. Furthermore, one might speculate that with such a format, an increase in acceptances occurs to supplement journal revenue — this can obviously degrade the journal quality.

    Rather than paying a large fee after a paper has been accepted, I stand in favor of a similar model, where the fee is reduced and is instead applied to all submissions. This is a format similar to application fees charged by graduate schools during the admission process. This approach should have a nice byproduct of reducing the number of lower-quality papers submitted and of expediting the review process.

  • Jacob AG said:

    I don’t understand why “an increase in acceptances” would occur to “supplement journal revenue” moreso than the current model. Journals make money off of accepting articles today, don’t they? Maybe the pool of articles accepted is already diluted.

    Also, on researchers who wouldn’t be able to come up with the scratch — this will not be a problem to the extent that good research attracts well-heeled donors. If grant-makers are good at picking research worth funding, then the publication fee will only be a problem for research not worth funding.

    And if grant-makers are not particularly good at picking research worth funding, and you have unfortunate situations where researchers struggle to come up with the money to pay for the publication fee, it’s worth keeping in mind that getting published returns to the author a large dividend over the long run. Between tenure, speaking opportunities, notoriety and book sales, etc. etc., it should be worth it to researchers to come up with the money *up front* to pay for the fee, if indeed the fee will pay for itself eventually.

  • robert berk said:

    another model would be to allow authors to self-publish their papers under the aegis of ASA. so ASA would continue to vet and referee those papers it deems worthy of consideration – and then allow the authors to post the accepted articles on a [dedicated] ASA website – accessible FREEly to all. since ASA does not pay referees for their services, this might be a feasible way to disseminate scientific information.