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This month, eLife is announcing that a fee for publication of $2,500 (USD) will take effect on January 1, 2017. All papers submitted from January 1 will be subject to the fee if they are accepted for publication, although authors with insufficient funding will be eligible for a fee waiver.
The publication fee is one element of eLife’s long-term financial strategy, which continues to rely on the generous support of three major biomedical research funders: the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust. For the first five years of our operation, we have used funder support to cover all of our costs, but the strong growth we have experienced in submissions and publications has motivated us to introduce a means to cover a portion of our costs – specifically, the costs that increase in line with our publishing volume.
Our approach to publication fees means that we will be able to publish even more great science, and to dedicate more of the funding that we receive in our second five years of operation to services beyond the publication of high-quality research articles. These funder-supported activities include research and development into new open-source products and services to support broader improvements in research communication, and the provision of magazine content and lay summaries for research articles, for example.
A fuller account of the costs and rate of growth at eLife was given in a recent post. Here, we provide further detail on the fixed and marginal costs of publishing, and how these helped us to arrive at the fee we will charge.
The costs of publishing
As explained in the related post, the costs at eLife can be broadly divided into publishing costs and those associated with technology and innovation. In 2015, for example, 22% of our total costs (£831,000) were dedicated to projects such as the eLife Continuum publishing platform and the development of major redesigns of the eLife website, to be introduced later this year.
Publishing costs may be further categorised into fixed and marginal costs. Total fixed costs remain roughly constant relative to publishing volume (although they might change for other reasons), while total marginal costs increase as we publish more papers. Based on our projected publishing costs (£4.357m) and volume of publication (1,412 research articles) for 2017, we expect the overall publishing cost per article to be approximately £3,085. Of those costs, £1,287 represent the fixed costs, whereas the marginal costs of £1,798 are incurred for every published article (Figure 1).
We have divided the marginal costs into four groups:
- Payments to editors – eLife pays its Editor-in-Chief, three Deputy Editors, 39 Senior Editors and almost 300 Reviewing Editors for their time
- Staff and outsourcing – Staff directly involved in handling submissions and published articles, and outsourced service providers
- Online systems – The cost of operating the third-party systems that process the submissions and published articles
- Waivers and collection costs – We currently estimate that 10% of published papers will have the publication fee waived, so we have included the costs of fee waivers, along with the administrative costs associated with the collection of fees, as a marginal cost
We have assumed a US$ to Sterling exchange rate of 1.30, so the fee of $2,500 will cover the marginal costs of £1,798 and also contribute a small amount towards our fixed costs, for the time being. This will also give us some protection against having to revise the publication fee as the exchange rate moves.
Generally speaking, our expectation is that we will be able to keep the fee at the same level for some time. Our overall costs per article will change based on our publishing volume each year, but the marginal costs per article described here should remain fairly steady.
The eLife publication fee in context
We have set the publication fee at eLife on the basis of our costs, but we feel it is also important to consider the fee in relation to the fees for open-access publication in other journals. Figure 2 shows the broad distribution of publication fees charged in the UK by journals from 10 high-volume publishers.
The open-access fees at the upper end of the distribution are ~$5,000, which is charged by a number of journals (Table 1). There is currently no option to purchase open-access publication in the Nature or Science parent journals.
On the basis of pricing comparisons, we believe that a fee of $2,500 represents very good value given the editorial process that eLife offers to authors, along with the standard of presentation, the unlimited space that is provided to present new research, and the visibility that eLife authors benefit from. eLife Editor-in-Chief Randy Schekman and Executive Director Mark Patterson say more about this in an editorial also published today.
Other costs and activities
The eLife publication fee isn’t designed to cover our fixed publication costs or our investments in new products, services and infrastructure to support more effective publishing. These are covered by the generous support of our funders, which has been secured for the next five years. (See https://elifesciences.org/inside-elife/23767981/research-funders-renew-commitment-to-transforming-science-publishing).
Thanks to this support, we’re developing open-source resources that can be used by any interested party, such as the eLife Lens reader and eLife Continuum, our recently launched open-source platform for open-access publishing. We also support community initiatives such as ORCID, DOAJ, OASPA, and FORCE11 that share our vision for innovation and greater transparency in research communication.
eLife’s publication fee of $2,500 is based on our marginal costs and will help us to become a more scalable publishing operation. In this way, we help ensure that more authors will have the chance to benefit from the eLife editorial process, and that we can publish as much science that satisfies the standards set by the eLife editors as we receive.
Looking to the longer term, our goal will be to continue to attract revenue to complement publication fees so that we can continue to experiment and share new resources, tools and knowledge. We hope that our sharing of the cost information will also encourage discussion about the fees that all journals are charging, and will ultimately help to foster a healthy and effective market for high-quality, open-access journal publishing.