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      Assessing the size of the affordability problem in scholarly publishing

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      PeerJ

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          Abstract

          For many decades, the hyperinflation of subscription prices for scholarly journals have concerned scholarly institutions. After years of fruitless efforts to solve this “serials crisis”, open access has been proposed as the latest potential solution. However, also the prices for open access publishing are high and are rising well beyond inflation. What has been missing from the public discussion so far is a quantitative approach to determine the actual costs of efficiently publishing a scholarly article using state-of-the-art technologies, such that informed decisions can be made as to appropriate price levels. Here we provide a granular, step-by-step calculation of the costs associated with publishing primary research articles, from submission, through peer-review, to publication, indexing and archiving. We find that these costs range from less than US$200 per article in modern, large scale publishing platforms using post-publication peer-review, to about US$1,000 per article in prestigious journals with rejection rates exceeding 90%. The publication costs for a representative scholarly article today come to lie at around US$400. We discuss the additional non-publication items that make up the difference between publication costs and final price.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          PeerJ
          June 18 2019
          Affiliations
          [1 ]Fakultät Informatik und Medien, Hochschule für Technik, Wirtschaft und Kultur Leipzig, Leipzig, Sachsen, Germany
          [2 ]Institute of Zoology - Neurogenetics, Universität Regensburg, Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany
          Article
          10.7287/peerj.preprints.27809v1
          © 2019

          http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

          Product
          Self URI (article page): https://peerj.com/preprints/27809

          Comments

          Dear Giovanni Salucci, thank you very much for your constructuive fedback. We will plug these suggestions into our calculations and see how they affect costs.

          However, the quotes US$400 per article is not a lower bound, it is the upper bound of a representative article, expected to come down with competition and technological innovation. Our current lower bound is less than US$200, which would also come down as certain services we still include would become obsolete with innovation.

          There is one thing I wonder, though: if it really costs US$800-1000 to publish a scholarly article today, how have organizations such as Ubiquity, Scholastica, OLH, Pensoft/arpha, F1000Research, SciELO and all the others been operating with profits in some cases for decades with per article revenue that's lower than the cost you quoted? Shouldn't they all have gone bankrupt by now? Why have some of these organizations openly endorsed our calculations as matching theirs?

          2019-07-01 07:24 UTC
          +1

          You write:

          it's hard to compare costs relating to different quality and services

          They all do what we describe in our paper: take a scholarly manuscript and make it public. Perhaps I can better understand what you mean, if you could provide me with, e.g., two representative DOIs of articles where you think I can easily see why one is worth paying more for?

          2019-07-03 08:01 UTC

          I believe it's hard to compare costs relating to different quality and services; the companies/projects you refer to, are very different in nature, scope and almost none of them is a pure Publisher. The APC fee doesn't reflect automatically costs, or guarantees if a model is sustainable, as the eLife case you certainly know.

          2019-07-02 16:06 UTC

          Thank you for your constructive feedback. In fact we addressed the scaling of fixed cost in dependence of the number of published articles in the two scenarios shown in the table 4: The less articles being published, the higher the cost per article. We also included any internal effort by (production) editors for managing external resources in the figures, see the data in the XLS. The ranges for the cost per articles in the different scenarios (table 3) were derived (calculated) from the granular data shown in the XLS, too. 

          2019-06-27 19:19 UTC
          +1

          I suggest that 400$ as lower costs is unrealistic for a publisher; around 800$-1000$ is more realistic. In your count, you mix insourcing/outsourcing costs and don't consider the administrative and management costs of outsourcing.

          Moreover, if the number of articles decreases, the unit costs increases. I suggest adjusting your calculation with an "inefficiency factor" depending on production's volume and administrative costs. Nowadays "editor" role is not enough; it needs a staff; this is a scaling factor to consider, mainly for smaller publishers.

          2019-06-27 13:57 UTC
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