The sheer scale of hybrid journal publishing

The last few years have seen a significant rise in what are termed ‘hybrid open access journals’, where only some of the articles are freely available to read and a subscription is still required to read the remainder. As many journals require payment from authors to publish in this fashion, then university libraries need to pay subscriptions to read the remaining articles, publishers are in effect being paid twice for the same work.

With recently published data from the Wellcome Trust, the scale of this double charging has become much more clear.

In Oct 2012 – Sept 2013, academics spent £3.88 million to publish articles in journals with immediate online access – of which £3.17 million (82 % of costs, 74 % of papers) was paying for publications that Universities would then be charged again for. For perspective, this is a figure slightly larger than the Wellcome Trust paid in 2012/2013 on their Society & Ethics portfolio.

Only £0.70 million of the charity’s £3.88m didn’t have any form of double charging (ie, was published in a “Pure Open Access” journal) – with this total being dominated by articles published in PLOS and BioMed Central journals (68 % of total ‘pure’ hybrid journal costs, 80 % of paper total).

Top 5 publishers by total cost to Wellcome Trust

Publisher

No. of articles

Maximum Cost

Average Cost

Total Cost (nearest £1000)

Elsevier (inc. Cell Press)

418

£5,760

£2,448.158

£1,036,000

Wiley-Blackwell

271

£3,078.92

£2,009.632

£545,000

PLOS

307

£3,600

£1,139.286

£350,000

Oxford University Press

167

£3,177.60

£1,850.099

£300,000

Nature Publishing Group (not inc. Frontiers)

80

£3,780

£2,696.396

£216,000

Top 5 publishers by total cost to Wellcome Trust – separated into money spent on author charges for articles appearing in hybrid and pure open access journals

Publisher

Journal Type

No. of articles

Max Cost

Average Cost

 Total Cost (nearest £)

Elsevier

Hybrid

402

£5,760

2,443.28

£982,199

Pure OA

21

£3,996

2,541.48

£53,371

Wiley-Blackwell

Hybrid

263

£3,026

2,010.88

£528,862

Pure OA

8

£3,079

1,968.60

£15,749

PLOS

Hybrid

0

£0

£0

£0

Pure OA

307

£3,600

1,139.29

£349,761

Oxford University Press

Hybrid

135

£3,177.6

2,004.14

£270,558

Pure OA

32

£2,184

1,200.25

£38,408

Nature Publishing Group

Hybrid

67

£3,780

2,867.82

192,143.71

Pure OA

13

£2,880

1,812.923

23,568

Wellcome Trust pays nearly £1 million to Elsevier, and pays over £500,000 to Wiley-Blackwell to make articles freely available on point of publication, in journals that a university library will also be trying to find money to also pay subscription fees to. These are outrageously high sums of money! Especially given a recent explosion in the number of journals, and an increase in journal prices, means even well-funded libraries can no longer afford the cost of subscribing to many journals!

Journal articles should be published in a way that means they are freely available – and not just to academics, but also to wider public audiences. And I’m not critical of article processing charges. However, I’m unsure how any publisher can justify charging an academic an average cost of £2,443 to publish in a journal that is already being supported by library subscriptions from not just one university, but many universities around the world. And surely no cost based model should charge more for publication in a hybrid journal with multiple funding streams than in one supported purely on author charges (as appears to be the case with Wiley-Blackwell).

Data

Data source found here

Original data: Kiley, Robert (2014): Wellcome Trust APC spend 2012-13: data file. figsharehttp://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.963054

Enhancements on original data made by Cameron Neylon: https://github.com/cameronneylon/apcs

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