Who is publishing how many open-access papers?
February 8, 2012
How many open-access papers are getting published these days? And who’s doing it? Inspired by a tweet from @labroides (link at the end so as not to give away the punchline), I went looking for numbers.
We’ll start with our old friends Elsevier, since they are the world’s largest academic publisher by volume and by revenue. One often reads statements such as “Elsevier is committed to Universal Access, Quality and Sustainability … Elsevier wants to enable the broadest possible access to quality research content in sustainable ways that meet our many constituents’ needs” (from their page Elsevier’s position on Access). Even their submission to the OSTP call for comments begins by saying “One of Elsevier’s primary missions is to work towards providing universal access to high-quality scientific information in sustainable ways. We are committed to providing the broadest possible access to our publications.”
The most important way Elsevier does this is by allowing authors to pay a fee, currently $3000, to “sponsor” their articles, so that they are made freely available to readers (though we still don’t know under what specific licence!). While that fee is more than twice the $1350 that PLoS ONE charges, it’s comparable to the $2900 PLoS Biology fee and identical to Springer’s $3000 fee. Elsevier have rather a good policy in connection with their “sponsored article” fee: “Authors can only select this option after receiving notification that their article has been accepted for publication. This prevents a potential conflict of interest where a journal would have a financial incentive to accept an article.”
According to the page linked above, “691 Elsevier articles across some six hundred journals were sponsored in 2010. Sponsorship revenues from these articles amounted to less than 0.1% of Elsevier’s total revenues.” (And indeed, 691 × $3000 = $2.073 M, which is about 0.065% of their 2010 revenue of £2026 M ≈ $3208 M.) As Elsevier publishes 2639 journals in all, that amounts to just over a quarter of one open-access article per journal across the year.
I find that disappointing.
In the other corner (I won’t call it red or blue because of the political implications of those colours, which by the way are the opposite way around on different sides of the Atlantic. Anyway …) In the other corner, we have PLoS ONE. According to its Advanced Search engine, this journal alone published 6750 open-access articles in 2010 — about ten times as many as all Elsevier journals combined. Indeed, in the last month of that year alone, PLoS ONE’s 847 articles comfortably exceeded Elsevier’s output for the year. That’s one journal, in one month, up against a stable of 2639 journals across a whole year.
What can we take away from this? Maybe not very much: Elsevier offer their sponsored-article option to all authors, after all, and they can hardly be blamed if the authors don’t take them up on it.
But why don’t they? Tune in next time for some thoughts on that.
And, finally, here is the tweet that started this line of thought: