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2010 PLoS Progress Update

Today, PLoS released our 2010 Progress Update which, in addition to summarizing the year’s developments, reports that we covered our operating costs with revenue for the first time–-adding to the growing body of evidence that high-quality open-access publishing is sustainable. We’re also pleased to announce that for the second consecutive year our publication fees will not increase.

Vital to our success over the years has been the tremendous support of the Board of Directors (current and former members) and the broad community of stakeholders who are driving open access to research: the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Sandler Foundation provided the funding that launched PLoS; the many research funders who have developed policies that support open access publishing; the libraries and institutions which have shown unrelenting commitment to open access; and the tens of thousands of researchers who have demonstrated their belief in open access as authors, reviewers and editorial board members of PLoS journals.  Our thanks to everyone involved, and especially to the people at PLoS who have worked so hard to make all this possible.

We look forward to demonstrating not just how open-access publishing can work, but also how creative use of online tools and digital media in innovative projects like PLoS Hubs, PLoS Currents and Article-Level Metrics can drive a fundamental transformation to more open and effective research communication.

  1. I’m giving you a heads-up that I am working on a blog post for obsidianwings about PLOS and the direction of academic publishing.

    I started out planning to write about Aaron Swartz and JSTOR, but I’ve been side-tracked by my astonishment at PLOS publication fees. While your fees are no doubt in line with current publication charges in the sciences, they are *completely* egregious compared to the humanities — where the mode fee is “zero”. These fees make a mockery of “open access”, and I’m very surprised that you haven’t addressed them.

    I’m also very surprised because I am intimately familiar with a completely different, *very* open-source publishing initiative, The Organization for Transformative Works. The OTW is also a 501(c), and runs a website that says gets just about the same traffic as The OTW owns our servers, and the cost of running them is around $10,000 per year — technically-skilled volunteers provide the labor. We also have a peer-reviewed journal that appears twice a year.

    To be honest, I have *no* idea why online scientific publication should be so heinously expensive, when scholars in the humanities — or a well-organized collection of fangirls — can do it for so much less. Phillip Lord suggests that:

    The reason that PLoS one costs so much is because, despite being an innovative idea, they have used an old fashioned publication process — they still page layout articles, even though a web browser can do the same job for free.

    One scientist wondered (pers.comm)

    Could this be an opportunistic phenomenon running wild, one caused by the fact that so much science and engineering research draws funds from external sources?

    This explanation seems intuitively plausible to me, given that you-all refer to costs “including those of peer review, of journal production, and of online hosting and archiving” — when the work of peer review is done for free, online journal production *should* be largely done by the software, and hosting and archiving *should* be costing on the order of tens of thousands of dollars per year.

    I’ll be returning here to link to my full blog post, once it’s up.

  2. Have you considered that most association journals never break even due to their operating costs? I’ve worked in many aspects of publishing over the last 20 years and currently work for a medical journal that has its cost supplemented by its parent non-profit organization’s membership fees. Our operating costs are composed of publishing fees (typesetting, printing, copyediting, proofreading, fees for an online submission platform, journal website, etc.) and salaries (which are very low). Our revenue is generated by a few advertisements and page charges. We have never broken even since our inception. We are considering an open-access model for our journal, but unfortunately that costs money, too. Professional journals are expensive. Plain and simple. And if we did make a “profit,” that money would go back into our association to keep membership fees low, grant travel vouchers for grad students, increase venue size for our annual meeting, etc. You are talking about PLoS, which is an organization that is having a global impact on open-access acceptance. That takes money. Again, plain and simple.

    Regarding, The Organization for Transformative Works–I’ve looked at their web pages, and while their website and journal construct is perfectly in line with their subject matter, I’m sorry to say that you are comparing apples to oranges when you compare PLoS to Transformative Works or even my much smaller employer to Transformative Works.

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