I would like an explanation for why it costs $585 to email an open-access article

May 23, 2012

My mind was blown yesterday by a tweet from Stuart Shieber:

[Screenshot, for when case Twitter decides the original tweet is too old to be worth keeping around any more.]

At first I didn’t believe it. But I found the relevant article (Reovirus-Mediated Cytotoxicity and Enhancement of Innate Immune Responses Against Acute Myeloid Leukemia) and went through the Permissions process for myself. And sure enough, there it was:

You think I’m making this up, but I’m not. I urge you to verify this for yourself:

  • Go to the article.
  • Note that it is in a journal called BioResearch Open Access.
  • Oh, and note that the journal describes itself as “fully open access”.
  • Click on the Permissions link in the Publication Tools pane at top right.
  • Fill in the repeatedly-reloading form as in the screenshot above: send in an email / academic / full article / no / 1 / USD – $ and click QUICK PRICE.
  • Feast your eyes, gloat your soul, on the $585 charge.

And now consider: is it a better use of your $1350 to email 2.3 BioResearch Open Access articles to colleagues, or to pay the article processing charge for an PLoS ONE article?

I was so shocked by this that I wrote to the Editor-in-Chief, with a copy to the Managing Editor.  (Sorry that this repeats so much of what I said above):

Date:    24 May 2012 00:22
From:    Mike Taylor mike@indexdata.com
To:    jane.taylor@ed.ac.uk
Cc:    sjensen@liebertpub.com
Subject:    Very high reproduction fees for BioResearch Open

Dear Jane Taylor,

First, congratulations on the launch of the new journal BioResearch Open:

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/biores.2012.9011.ed

and on your appointment as its Editor-in-Chief.

I am writing because of a rather surprising reproduction fee for an article in the journal. (It may well be the same for the other articles as well — I’ve not checked.)  To see this for yourself, please go to “Reovirus-Mediated Cytotoxicity and Enhancement of Innate Immune Responses Against Acute Myeloid Leukemia” at

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/biores.2012.0205

Then click on “Permissions” in the “Publication Tools” area and fill in the form as follows:
* I would like to … send in an email
* I am a/an … academic
* I would like to use … full article
* I will be translating … no
* Distribution quantity … 1
* My currency is … USD – $
and click the QUICK PRICE button.

On doing so, you will be informed that the price to send a single PDF of this open-access article to a colleague is 585.00 USD.  (Screenshot attached.)

Can you please explain how your journal justifies charging ANY fee for sending a copy of an open-access article, and why the fee is so astonishingly high?

I will report back when I get a reply.

Update 1 (Thursday 24 May 2012, 9:40am)

A response from BioResearch Open Access editor Jane Taylor:

Date: 24 May 2012 08:54
From: Jane Taylor <Jane.Taylor@ed.ac.uk>
To: Mike Taylor <mike@indexdata.com>
Subject: RE: Very high reproduction fees for BioResearch Open

Dear Dr Taylor

Thank you for your interest in BioResearch Open Access. It has been a very exciting time establishing a new journal – and the first open access journal from Mary Ann Liebert publishers. The costs and prices are set by the publisher and are out of my editorial control; however I will obtain more details regarding the costs and let you know the response.

Best wishes

Jane

And my response:

Thank you very much. If you have an email address that I can use, I would be happy to pursue this with the publisher directly.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Update 2 (Thursday 24 May 2012, 11:50am)

A response from BioResearch Open Access publisher representative Vicki Cohn:

Date: 24 May 2012 11:09
From: Cohn, Vicki VCohn@liebertpub.com
To: “dino@miketaylor.org.uk” <dino@miketaylor.org.uk>
Cc: Jane Taylor <jane.taylor@ed.ac.uk>,
“Ballen, Karen” <KBallen@liebertpub.com>,
“Jensen, Susan” <SJensen@liebertpub.com>
Subject: Fwd: Very high reproduction fees for BioResearch Open

Hello, Dr. Taylor. There must be a glitch in our system–please feel free to send the PDF to whomever you like. We do reserve certain rights but certainly there is no charge to use the PDF in this way.

Thank you for bringing this to the attention of Editor Jane Taylor and myself. I will work with our IT folks to get this fixed.

Susan and Karen, can we meet on Tuesday about this please?

OK, this is promising.  BioResearch Open Access is a very new journal, after all — this is the very first issue — so maybe it really is just technical teething problems.  Hopefully they will fix this quickly.  In the mean time, here is my response (with indentation messed up courtesy of WordPress):

Date: 24 May 2012 12:02
From: Mike Taylor mike@indexdata.com
To: “Cohn, Vicki” <VCohn@liebertpub.com>
Cc: Jane Taylor <jane.taylor@ed.ac.uk>,
“Ballen, Karen” <KBallen@liebertpub.com>,
“Jensen, Susan” <SJensen@liebertpub.com>
Subject: Re: Very high reproduction fees for BioResearch Open

Hi Vicki, many thanks for this swift and encouraging response.

To ensure that readers of your open-access journal clearly understand what rights they have, I encourage you add a page to your site explicitly stating what you mean by open access, and a brief note in each individual paper summarising. As an example of how this can be done well, I offer PLoS ONE’s page:

http://www.plosone.org/static/license.action

and the standard wording used on papers such as

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0037991

saying “Copyright: © 2012 Reilly et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.”

In order to conform to the original definition of “open access” as stated by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI):

http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/boaifaq.htm#openaccess

I further recommend that you elect to use the “gold standard” open-access licence, Creative Commons Attribution, as used by (for example) PLoS, BioMed Central and Springer’s elective Open Choice articles. For a discussion of why this is important, see “Why Full Open Access Matters” at

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001210

I hope these suggestions are helpful; I will be happy to discuss any aspect of this in more detail if that would be of value to you.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Update 3 (Thursday 24 May 2012, 2:35pm)

Brief, but welcome, response from the publisher’s representative:

Date: 24 May 2012 13:30
From: Cohn, Vicki VCohn@liebertpub.com
To: Mike Taylor <mike@indexdata.com>
Cc: Jane Taylor <jane.taylor@ed.ac.uk>,
“Ballen, Karen” <KBallen@liebertpub.com>,
“Jensen, Susan” <SJensen@liebertpub.com>
Subject: RE: Very high reproduction fees for BioResearch Open

Thanks for your feedback–we will take this all into consideration as we wend our way through a new open access friendly publishing environment!

I imagine that’s the end of it, until something changes on the journal’s site.

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11 Responses to “I would like an explanation for why it costs $585 to email an open-access article”

  1. Mark Robinson Says:

    Information super-highway robbery. A few months ago I would have been surprised and shocked by this but now, not so much. Yes, I get that this is different from the publishers’ regular extortionate practices because the article is supposedly OA, but I see it as just another brick in the paywall, merely affirming the rather alarming pattern of behaviour displayed by these “friends of science”.

    However, I was also surprised at how quickly things seemed to have moved with regard to the government (UK particularly) and public funder’s positions on this and that is very heartening. Can’t help but feel that, along with others, you’ve had a small part in getting the ball rolling, Mike, especially the Guardian articles. Will need to see how far the ball actually travels but it’s a good start

    On a side note, lately you seem to be on opposite sides of the debate from people with the surname ‘Taylor’. Is there something that you’re not telling us? Are you, perhaps, the black-sheep of the family? ;-)

  2. Craig Dylke Says:

    Unbelievable. My jaw is dropping at that price. I could buy a whole library of academic books for that from the likes of Indiana or Chicago University Presses (oh wait I have :P).

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Mark, you have a gift for the well-turned phrase. “Information super-highway robbery” is good, but “another brick in the paywall” is particularly quotable.

    Like you I am surprised (and delighted) at how quickly things seem to be moving towards OA. Recent moves by the Wellcome Trust, UK Government, White House, World Bank and others do feel as though they’re part of a coherent shift in the way the world works. Other statements like Harvard’s admission it can’t afford subscriptions, and the investment report warning Elsevier investors about the results of the boycott, feel like part of the same thing.

    No relation, by the way between myself and Graham Taylor of the Publishers Association.

  4. Jan Velterop Says:

    Looks like a failure on the part of the Copyright Clearance Center RightsLink service, or a lack of proper instruction to them by Mary Ann Liebert. OA journals do not belong in CCC RightsLink in the first place, Mary Ann! Usual sad publishing SNAFU, I think.


  5. I claim priority on ‘another brick in the paywall’! See https://twitter.com/stephen_curry/status/203205398281465856 from 6 days ago… ;-)

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    Ah, I take it back, Mark — you’re not clever after all :-)

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    Ah, no, I just checked Stephen’s tweet — another brick from the paywall is not the same thing at all. All clear, Mark — you are clever after all!

  8. Gholson Lyon Says:

    hopefully reaching tipping point on this whole, crazy debate with corrupt publishers, although I am very concerned that Elsevier controls Cell and other key journals, like American Journal of Human Genetics.


  9. Thats racist man.! who z collecting $585 to email an article. As a portion of author processing fee they are collecting some dollars, again they are collecting $585 to email an article.

  10. John Scanlon, FCD Says:

    Glad to see this appears to bear out Napoleon’s aphorism, for once.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    The previous-but-one comment is obviously spam. I allowed it through the filter because I think it’s fascinating what it’s advertising. if you click through the author name “Open Access Journals” (not recommended), you’ll see that it links to omicsonline.org, which likes to present itself as an Open Access publisher. Evidently it’s not one — it’s a vanity farm dressed up as the real thing.


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