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Comparing Institutional Membership to Per-Article Payment

Comparing Institutional Membership to Per-Article Payment in an Open Access Model
Philip Davis and David Stern
April 14, 2005

Is it cheaper in an Open Access producer-pays model to take an
institutional membership over paying per article published? The results
of this analysis of two research institutions suggests that institutions
could save money if they paid by the article.

This study looked at Cornell University and Yale University, both
institutional members of BioMedCentral and compared the number of article
published in 2004 to the amount their institutions paid for membership. In both cases, each institution could have saved money if they simply paid
their author's publication fees. For Cornell University, the savings was
as much as $3,390.

In order to do this calculation, the authors, Philip Davis and David
Stern, looked at the list of items published by their faculty. In order
to count as a chargeable unit, the item must have been an article,
methodology or review (letters to the editor, posters, retractions, or
poster presentations from conferences were not counted as chargeable
units). Secondly, it had to be published in a journal that is fully Open
Access (several journal published by BMC charge subscriptions for full
access). Lastly, to avoid duplicate counting, the first author had to
come from either Cornell or Yale. The spreadsheet of their analysis can
be found at: http://people.cornell.edu/pages/pmd8/bmc.xls


Of the 32 items listed on the Cornell University list of published items
<http://www.biomedcentral.com/inst/36>, only 7 of them were chargeable
units. If Cornell University paid each author charges rather than taken
an institutional membership, the savings would have been $3,390. Of the
22 items listed on the Yale University list of published items
<http://www.biomedcentral.com/inst/36055>, only 8 of them were chargeable
units. If Yale University paid each author charges, it would have saved
$458 in 2004.


These results are neither an attack nor defense of the Open Access or
producer-pays model. They are merely the results of an evidence-based
collection analysis. For major research institutions like Cornell and
Yale that produce a great deal of published articles, we expected that a
membership model would be more cost-efficient than a pay-to-publish model. This was not the case. If the argument for OA producer-pays journals
revolves around decreased costs for libraries, institutions should
consider revisiting the value they derive from these memberships, since
the savings may be considerable.

Leaving the issue of access aside, a producer-pays model is no different
than a subscription model from the author's perspective. If the
institution is a subscribing member, the author remains desensitized to
the cost of publishing. Yet, memberships to Open Access journals can be
beneficial. In the case of Public Library of Science, an institutional
membership subsidizes but does not subsume all author costs. This has the
effect of keeping authors sensitized to the true costs of publishing,
while enabling institutions to subsidize their authors, many of whom may
be unable or unwilling to bare the full costs.

The question of who will subsidize Open Access producer-pays publishing is
significant if libraries cannot justify their memberships on financial
grounds. This will be especially true for smaller institutions that
publish few (if any) articles. Unlike the subscription model, there is
little risk of losing access if a membership is not renewed. Subvention
from foundations and other sources may be necessary to support the
producer-pays model,