Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Profile of Matt Cockerill and BioMed Central

Jane Dudman, In the eye of the Open Access storm, IT Week, May 8, 2007.  Excerpt:

Matthew Cockerill is in the interesting position of having watched an idea grow from being dismissed as fantasy to its acceptance as fact.

When Cockerill joined BioMed Central as its first employee in 1999, he arrived at the dawn of open access (OA) publishing. “The idea of OA publishing was then pretty much unknown,” he says, “but we wanted to start from the ground up to build a web-based publishing company that would be streamlined without a lot of the inefficient stuff that seemed to have become part of publishing over time.”

Cockerill joined BioMed Central as its technical director, hired by Vitek Tracz, group chairman of the Science Navigation Group, a loose-knit group of companies involved in science publishing and other technology-driven areas. He is now the company’s publisher....

As OA has become accepted across the wider publishing market, the challenges facing BioMed Central have changed. “In the early days, the challenge was to get the scientific community to recognise there was an issue, and that research could be more effectively communicated, but that ceased to be a challenge about 18 months ago. That was the point where I think we realised that OA had grown to have a life of its own.” ...

“Soon, everyone else will be OA too, so there has to be enough extra reason to publish with BioMed Central.” Providing an excellent service to authors is vital.

Naturally, the maturing of the OA market has not been entirely smooth. While open access offers advantages, the market as a whole appears unsure about how to get there.

“One of the points we make is that it is no good spending money on research if the results then get trapped under a bushel.” ...

One of the questions about OA publishing is about how to make money from it. It’s a question that BioMed Central has had to face, and on which it has had to be flexible.

“You do need a different model for open access, given that you don’t have subscription revenue, and there were always going to be challenges in finding the model that works,” Cockerill says.

In the early days, BioMed Central did not make any charges. Its journals still do not have colour figure charges or submission fees. But there is an article processing charge for most of the open access articles published in BioMed Central journals. On average, the charge is between $1,200 and $1,500.

“Our costs are very low if you compare them with other OA and traditional publishing costs, but it is a still a shift,” Cockerill acknowledges....

Cockerill points out that major research funding bodies, particularly the Wellcome Trust, have expressed support for this publishing model. BioMed Central maintains that there is no inherent reason why OA publications supported by article processing charges cannot be sustainable and profitable.

Nonetheless, adapting to changing markets can be painful. In mid-2006, several BioMed Central journal editors expressed concerns about increases in article processing charges, about a new code of conduct and about increasing overlap between existing and new journals. At the time, Cockerill acknowledged that there were issues that needed improving, and said the company was working on them....

Cockerill points out that the policies of fund providers such as Wellcome and CERN have helped the market move forward. “That has made it easier, because we are not the only ones encouraging OA. Overall, we have made huge strides towards getting the OA model right. We have realistic article processing charges and our institutional payment models are also now realistic, so all the building blocks are in place.”

Cockerill says that as a result BioMed Central is very close to breaking even. “That’s not just nice for us as a company, but hugely important in terms of the wider OA market. We are so high profile – we want to show that open access can work in the real world.” ...