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RE: Looking an open access gift horse in the mouth

A point of clarification on the FAQ's the Public Library of Science (PLoS)
posted about its Institutional Membership program and response from Jan
Velterop:  the last point concerning publication costs was not intended to
be taken as a direct comparison of BioMedCentral's and PLoS's publishing
costs - they were merely a general accounting of PLoS' costs (peer review,
editing, production, XML mark-up, web hosting etc.) and how the
publication fee of $1500 was initially assessed.  With four issues of PLoS
Biology published, we are now able to calculate more accurately the costs
of individual steps in the process and are preparing a "white paper"
outlining these costs.  The "stringent quality control" PLoS refers to has
more to do with copy editing, figure production, layout, and design than
with peer review, as Jan suggests. These post-peer review steps increase
the publisher's costs significantly but are independent of the quality of
the research that is published.  Jan is absolutely correct in his succinct
explanation of how the costs of peer review increase with a journal's
rejection rate, since the rejected papers bring in no income.  The actual
costs of peer review for a given journal are therefore extremely difficult
to calculate and to incorporate into a flat publication charge.  Both BMC
and PLoS aim to charge of reasonable fee for publication - as Jan points
out, some BMC journals will charge more than the commonly quoted $500 for
BMC journals.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jan Velterop [mailto:jan@biomedcentral.com] 
Sent: Monday, January 19, 2004 12:36 PM
To: 'liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu'
Subject: RE: Looking an open access gift horse in the mouth

In explaining the level of article processing charges in PLoS Biology,
and comparing them to lower charges in other Open Access journals,
Rebecca Kennison writes:

"Other journals may choose to have less stringent quality control or
functionality, decisions that may mean less cost to them."

As some BioMed Central journals do charge substantially less than PLoS
Biology, it is important to respond to this statement from the point of
view of BioMed Central.

The difference here is not the "stringency" of peer review, but rather
the level of selection. There is a clear and sensible argument that
journals setting themselves a very high level of selectivity may have to
charge more, as there is clearly a cost involved in refereeing a large
number of papers that will not be published. However, there is also a
need to have Open Access journals available for all scientifically sound
papers irrespective of "impact", "prestige", or "importance".

As BioMed Central publishes many journals with different selection
criteria, we have to charge more for publishing papers in some journals
and less in others. The article processing charges for our Journals of
Biology (when they come into effect this summer) will in fact be at the
same level as those for PLoS Biology now. This, however, does not
suggest that the refereeing in some of our other journals is less
"stringent", but rather reflects the fact that some journals, such as
the Journal of Biology, have to referee many more articles for each one
they publish, and some need to referee proportionally fewer articles.

Maintaining a stringent quality of peer review is essential to all
journals (currently well over 100) we publish at BioMed Central (as it
is for PLoS Biology and the future journals from PLoS). The higher
charges for our Journal of Biology (and PLoS Biology) are the result of
very high selection criteria.

Finally, it is not clear what "functionality" decisions Rebecca has in
mind, and how they relate to the charges. Currently there are no
significant differences in functionality between BioMed Central and

Jan Velterop
BioMed Central