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RE: Looking an open access gift horse in the mouth

This is posted in response to the questions that have arisen about
institutional memberships in general and about PLoS' in particular.

We encourage anyone who has questions or comments on the program to
contact us directly: Helen Doyle, hdoyle@plos.org or +1.415.642.1217 or
Andy Gass, agass@plos.org or +1.415.624.1202.

FAQs about the PLoS Institutional Membership Program

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) announced its Institutional
Membership program in January 2004. Here we answer some of the questions
that have been raised about this program.

(See also
http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org/support/instmembership.html for
more information.)

What is the purpose of the Institutional Membership program? 

The Membership plan was largely motivated by librarians, members of
library associations, and others who have approached us asking how they
can help catalyze the open-access movement. Memberships are intended both
to offset the costs of publication for authors affiliated with that
institution, and thereby provide an incentive for authors to publish in
PLoS journals, but also to explicitly support PLoS' open-access advocacy
efforts. It is not intended to be a cost-recovery program, whereby a
Member receives a certain number of publication charge discounts until
they reach their ceiling.

How do Institutional Memberships differ from subscriptions?

Subscription-based journals generate funds by restricting access,
requiring that institutions pay a certain amount for access to the
content. Our Membership program is NOT a subscription in any sense -- the
content of PLoS Biology (and all future PLoS journals) is and always will
be free online. As stated above, the Membership program was instead
created as another way to catalyze the transition to open-access
publishing by reducing financial barriers for authors and by supporting
open-access advocacy. Institutions that cannot become Members will always
have access to PLoS journals and their affiliated authors can always
submit manuscripts to PLoS journals. But the Membership does provide an
action-oriented way for libraries, universities and colleges, foundation,
research funding agencies, professional associations, and other
stakeholders to support PLoS and to very directly support their faculty
and staff who want to publish with us.

How should an institution determine what Membership level they should be

The Membership levels are structured to accommodate a variety of types and
sizes of institutions and are intentionally not strictly delineated by
institution size or research output. The Membership is not intended to be
based solely on the number of researchers or potential publications, but
rather to be flexible with respect to the institution's ability to promote
open access via this mechanism. An institution should opt for a Membership
level that seems reasonable to them, and we will accept that or negotiate
with them to determine the appropriate level.

Who should pay for an Institutional Membership?

We do not expect the burden of open-access publication charges to fall
solely on the libraries, since this model is not any more sustainable that
the existing subscription-based model. We hope that, beyond the library,
other departments of a university, college, or research institution, such
as presidents, provosts, or deans of research will contribute to the
Membership. We are already seeing a willingness on the part of university
administrators to commit funds to open-access publishing for their

We realize that the Institutional Membership program may be confusing
because it is not a traditional subscription or professional membership.
Initially we expect that some potential Members will have more flexibility
with their budgets or a differing ability to pool money from multiple
sources within the institution. In addition, the program is designed to
accommodate Memberships from foundations, research funding agencies,
industries, and others, not only academic libraries.

Why do Institutional Members receive discounts on publication charges,
rather than complete waivers?

We opted to give discounts rather than full waivers so that the research
funding agencies and other sources can also share in covering the costs of
publication (not just the library or whomever is paying the Membership).
This structure ensures that the cost of publication does not become
invisible to authors (as it currently is in most cases) and that authors,
libraries, publishers, etc., have an incentive to continue to lobby
funding agencies to include publications charges in research grants. As
stated in the above FAQ, the cost of publishing should be spread over
multiple funding sources, including the original research funders, if
possible. We also want the program to be adaptable to the increasing
demand for open-access publishing options and the concurrent growth of
PLoS journals.

How will Institutional Memberships work with consortia of institutions?

We expect to negotiate with consortia to agree on the Membership level
that makes sense and is fair to them and to us. We will compare with other
arrangements consortia have and use data about research output and
publication rates to reach an agreement. We expect that we will
renegotiate Membership levels in subsequent years based on submission and
publication rates and on the changing economic climate in scholarly

How does PLoS determine its publication charges?

We set our publication charge of $1500 based on the best estimate we could
make from existing publishing data. Most studies show that first-copy
costs run between $1500-$3000, including the costs of peer review,
editing, production, ongoing online hosting, robust online interactivity
(such as a variety of download formats, multimedia and supporting
information files, reference linking), etc. Other journals may choose to
have less stringent quality control or functionality, decisions that may
mean less cost to them.