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Re: Taking Our Academic Medicine

I am an admirer of BioMedCentral, but I must respectfully disagree with
Matthew Cockerill's view of the merits of revenue per page and other
metrics for value of research publications. The problem simply is that no
revenue or page or cost or price exists in a vacuum; the figures have to
be anchored in a context. And this is very, very hard to do. Accounting
is a black art. While the devil can quote scripture, accountants quote
the devil.

There may be other business types on this list besides me, but speaking
for myself, I have been amused by the recent discussions of accounting. Perhaps there is yet more to come, perhaps we will soon be regaled by an
application of tax-loss carryforwards or a purchase price adjustment for
recent acquisitions or (drumroll, please) an examination of the relative
merits of acitivty-based allocations. If we do this right, we will
understand less than when we started. We should not let the abstractions
of accounting force us to toss common sense out the window.

Here is one example of why revenue per page doesn't mean anything. A
publisher may try to start a dozen journals before finding one that works
in the marketplace. The cost of starting those aborted journals gets
placed into the cost of the one journal that is successful. Not fair,
someone might say. On the other hand, this publisher is showing more
daring than the publisher who chances nothing. The latter publisher may
have a lower revenue cost per page (because there are lower total costs to
recover), but is actually doing the community a disservice by failing to
take risks.

So let's go back to common sense. Common sense tells us that there are
more desirable publications than many libraries have the money to
purchase. That's the problem: not cost per page or price per bit or
anything else. Libraries therefore commonsensically attempt to lower
their costs. And--this is fundamental--there is no such thing as a cost
that is low enough. Librarians will support those vendors that further
their aims, which may include BMC, and will move away from vendors that do
not. There is little reason to express moral outrage over any of this or
to attempt to document good guys and bad guys. This is the marketplace at

Joe Esposito

----- Original Message ----- From: "Matthew Cockerill" <matt@biomedcentral.com>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2005 11:19 AM
Subject: RE: Taking Our Academic Medicine


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

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

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.