Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, December 03, 2007

New data showing that most OA journals charge no publication fees

Bill Hooker, If it won't sink in, maybe we can pound it in..., Open Reading Frame, December 2, 2007. 

First Bill recaps existing evidence (1) that most OA journals charge no author-side fees, and (2) that a larger percentage of TA journals charges such fees than do OA journals.  I'm very grateful to see him hammering on this issue, which I've been doing nearly alone for two years.  But he goes further and adds new evidence:

All of the above got me to wondering what proportion of journals in the entire DOAJ database charge author-side fees (since Suber and Sutton showed that when the dataset was expanded, at least among society publishers, the no-fee percentage went up considerably).

Fortunately, the DOAJ now includes a metadata field indicating whether or not a particular journal charges author-side publication fees. Unfortunately, that field is not included in the downloadable comma-delimited metadata file they make available. Fortunately, it's not a whole lot of work to make a replacement file by copy-and-pasting from the "browse by title" page. Unfortunately, you have to do this from the new "for authors" section, because the front-page browsing interface doesn't include the "fee/no fee" field. What's unfortunate about that, for my purposes (though it's a wonderful thing overall), is that the "for authors" browse does include hybrid journals, in which regular articles are subscription-only but authors can pay extra to have their work made OA. (In fact, even the logo at the top is different; on the front page you are seeing the Directory of Open Access Journals, but in the "for authors" section it becomes the Directory of Open Access and Hybrid Journals.) The front page says 2971 journals are indexed, but if you browse by title from the "for authors" page, the totals add up to 4638, the database having apparently added 1667 hybrid journals.

There's probably a smarter way to do this using the OAI-PMH, but that syntax is as impenetrable to me as Ancient High Martian, so I simply pasted the browse-by-title pages into a text document and imported that (colon-delimited) into Excel. Then I filtered on "publication fees", sorted by yes/no/missing and read off the totals from the row numbers. Horrible hack, but it worked.

Including hybrid journals, we get:

charge publication fees: 2185 (47%)
don't charge pub fees: 1998 (43%)
fee information missing: 455 (10%)
total no. of journals: 4638
Given the DOAJ definition of hybrid journal, those should obviously be excluded and the data reworked. This is where a smart person would have stopped and waited for the DOAJ to autogenerate the numbers, but I went ahead and deleted the hybrid entries by hand. (Shut up. I wanted to know, OK?) That yields:
charge publication fees: 534 (18%)
don't charge pub fees: 1980 (67%)
fee information missing: 453 (15%)
total no. of journals: 2967
The second total should presumably be 2971 and it would make sense for the "missing" totals to be the same in both sets, so either there are some errors in the database or I made a couple myself. In either case the errors appear small and make no difference to the percentages, and anyway did I mention this kept me up to 4 am? Actually I suspect some inconsistencies in the database, because the front-page total does not update as quickly as the actual entries, and because there are in fact hybrid journals which don't charge fees (e.g. Emerald Engineering's model).

So now we have three studies (OK, two studies and one ungainly hack) showing that a (strong) majority of OA journals do not charge author-side fees, and one of those studies further showing that a strong majority of non-full-OA journals do in fact charge author-side in addition to subscription fees.

Now, can we please put to rest the myth/FUD/whatever that there is only one OA model, the author-side fees/PLoS model? While we're at it, let's have a few more closely related ideas go the way of the dodo: that OA journals discriminate against indigent authors (because they charge publication fees -- except that most of them don't); that OA journals will compromise on quality (in order to collect payment for manuscripts -- except that most of them don't); that if most journals went OA, universities would have to pay more in author-side fees (which, remember, most OA journals don't, but most non-OA journals do, charge) than they do now in subscription fees.

I swiped that list of candidates for memetic extinction from Peter Suber, and you should go read his full discussion, which offers a lot more detail, especially on that last point. Me, I'm going to take a nap and go back to my blog hiatus. But the next time you hear someone talk about the "cost" of publishing in OA journals, please point 'em here.