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RE: Taking Our Academic Medicine


Your argument rests on fallacy: that the primary function of publishing is
"dissemination" of information.

As Fytton Rowland has argued (http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue7/fytton/),
the dissemination of information is not the sole or even primary function
of the scholarly journals. Quality control, the preservation of a
canonical archive, and recognition of authors are also important.

If dissemination were the only criteria, then you would be right--authors
should simply send their papers to the outlet that gets them to the most
readers at the least cost. They should also fly Southwest rather than a
legacy carrier; if all you care about it getting there, there's no need to
pay for lunch.

However, what authors want from journals is the rigor of peer review and
the stamp of authority it conveys. And that--despite the OA assertion that
peer review can be done cheaply, perhaps by trained monkeys in a low-rent
trailer in South Dakota--is where the cost, and the value, enters
publishing. "Value" is not low price, as you will find if you buy your
wife's Christmas gift at WalMart rather than Tiffany. For a journal, it is
the cost to deliver quality, authority, and distribution.

I take your statement that " we fully intend to achieve" a status where
revenue covers costs as a recognition that BMC is still a venture in
search of financially sustainable future. Keep in mind that the airlines
that have focused on low-cost "dissemination" of their passengers haven't
as a lot done very well.

Peter Banks
Acting Vice President for Publications/Publisher
American Diabetes Association
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311
FAX 703/683-2890
Email: pbanks@diabetes.org

>>> "Matthew Cockerill" <matt@biomedcentral.com> 11/18/05 8:49 AM >>>

Certainly www.journalprices.com provides the information about price per
artice/price per page/price per citation, measured from the point of view
of an individual institutional subscriber to the journal. One obvious
limitation of that approach is that the cost-per-citation of OA journals
according to that metric is zero. i.e. they offer infinite value!

I was agreeing with Ahmed Hindawi that it is also relevant (in fact, I
would say, much more relevant) to know the total cost per article to the
whole scientific community.

That is because, if you take a step back, what publishers do is provide a
service to the scientific community, to disseminate articles.  You can
argue that the cost to the community as a whole is the best measure of how
to compare the value-for-money of the service being offered by different
publishers to the scientific community.

Publishers who take a small amount of money from the academic community,
in return for each article publication, article download, or article
access, are, other things being equal, offering better value as
serviceproviders than publishers who extract a large amount of money from
the academic community for an equivalent level of dissemination.

To any individual library, the price may be reasonable, in terms of 'what
is a reasonable price to pay for access to this excellent research'. But
from a funders point of view, that's topsy turvy - its researchers did the
research. The amount paid should be proportionate to the service of
dissemination provided, not proportionate to how badly it needs access to
the research.

Article Processing Charges have the virtue of making completely clear how
much is being charged for the service of publication and dissemination.

Certainly, one of the tasks faced by any publisher is to make sure that
their revenue will cover their costs. Since BioMed Central is a commercial
organization, I think you can have confidence that we fully intend to
achieve that. That doesn't alter the basic fact that if publisher A is
charging $1300 to publish and disseminate an article, and publisher B is
charging $5000 for an equivalent level of service, publisher A is offering
a better deal.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Peter Banks [mailto:
> Sent: 17 November 2005 18:49
> To: Matthew Cockerill; liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu 
> Subject: RE: Taking Our Academic Medicine
> Matt,
> You seem to asking for 2 different things.
> First are some metrics on the comparative value per dollar of 
> different journals. I think Bergstrom and McAfee have 
> provided such a service with a spreadsheet that allows 
> librarians (and publishers, funders, and authors) to compare 
> some price performance metrics across journals. If you don't 
> have it, the home page for their work is
>     http://www.journalprices.com/ 
> You can get their data in Excel format here: 
> http://www.hss.caltech.edu/~mcafee/Journal/2005Data.xls 
> The second thing you seem to want is a relative breakdown of 
> the revenue streams (and presumably, the associated costs) to 
> produce an article in different journals. You claim that OA 
> publishers are transparent in this respect, while traditional 
> publishers are not. I find no evidence for such a claim. I 
> have yet to see a transparent accounting of the true costs 
> and revenue for many OA journals--I suspect because it would 
> quickly reveal most of them to be unsustainable, absent a 
> government bail out.