Why Mike is interested in Royal Society Open Science, and why Matt isn’t

April 24, 2015

Copied from an email exchange.

Mike:

Did we know about the Royal Society’s PLOS ONE-clone?
http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/about

I am in favour of this. I might well send them my next paper while the universal waiver is still in place.

Matt:

Did not know about it. Their post-waiver APC is insane. How can they possibly justify $1600?

Mike:

Well, I am obviously not a big fan of a $1600 APC; but it’s not a great deal more than PLOS ONE, and much less than PLOS Biology/Medicine.

But I think we’re converging on the idea that you can make a living running journals that charge $500 — see Ubiquity Press at http://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/publish/ – so I think anyone charging more than that has to explain why. In the case of the Royal Society, I assume it’s to fund their other activities; I am assured that I could get a waiver anyway, since I lack funding.

But are you saying you definitely won’t publish there even during the $0 phase?

Matt (with Mike’s previous post quoted):

Well, I am obviously not a big fan of a $1600 APC; but it’s not a great deal more than PLOS ONE

Right, but the direction of change should be down, not up.

and much less than PLOS Biology/Medicine.

Well, is this new journal supposed to a PLOS ONE clone or a PLOS Biology clone? If the former, a lower APC is more desirable. And even talking in such terms is conceding that “prestige” outlets should get to charge more, which does not sit well with me.

But I think we’re converging on the idea that you can make a living running journals that charge $500 – see Ubiquity Press at http://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/publish/ – so I think anyone charging more than that has to explain why. In the case of the Royal Society, I assume it’s to fund their other activities;

I would like to have that demonstrated rather than assumed; I’d like to know the extra dough is actually going to support science rather than enrich shareholders. I’m not very optimistic.

I am assured that I could get a waiver anyway, since I lack funding.

Sure. But just because you could dodge that hammer doesn’t legitimize their swinging it.

But are you saying you definitely won’t publish there even during the $0 phase?

Probably not, for two reasons. First, I don’t want to put on airs but I know that where we publish does influence other people’s thoughts on these things. PeerJ got at least a small legitimacy bump in paleo because we were in it right out of the gate and singing its praises [Or so I’ve heard, from more than once source. – MJW]. I don’t want to lend my endorsement to an outfit that is charging an unjustifiably high APC. Definitely not if the extra money is going to shareholders, and possibly not even if all of it is going to science. A $1600 APC only looks non-insane because the real bastards are charging even more. If we were in a PeerJ/Ubiquity world where APCs were all $500 or less, and a new journal came along that said, “Hey, you can publish with us and donate $1100 to our cause every time!” I’d say “Screw you!” and I assume most other folks would as well. So even if all the extra money is going to a good cause, they’re still promulgating the idea that APCs over $500 are justified. I can’t get behind that.
Second, will they give me everything PeerJ does? Because they are charging a hell of a lot more. Even if I get a waiver, if they’re not going to take care of me as well as PeerJ, screw ’em. The bar has been raised. Are they actually adding value relative to the new, post-PeerJ baseline, or are they in fact launching a journal with 2005 functionality in 2015? I should applaud them for belatedly getting on board?
In short, my authorship is theirs to earn, and so far I haven’t seen anything that makes me think they’ll earn it.

Mike:

Yes, APCs should be pushing downwards all the time now. I agree that the Royal Society coming in at a level above PLOS ONE doesn’t look good — indeed PLOS ONE’s own $1350 is also looking increasingly unfashionable in the light of (A) Ubiquity providing essentially the same service for 37% of the price, and (B) the fact that PLOS now runs at an operating surplus of 27%. To my mind, it’s well past time that PLOS ONE found a way to wind its APC down — really, down into triple figures ($999 would do), though even a nominal reduction of say $50 would send a good message.

You’re absolutely right that Royal Society Open Science is, by design, a PLOS ONE rather than a PLOS Biology: it reviews on correctness alone, not on guesswork about likely impact. So, yes, it’s PLOS ONE’s price-point that’s the correct comparison here.

Where you’re mistaken, though, is in assuming that the Royal Society has shareholders who might be skimming off the cream from the APC. There are none: the Society has nothing else to spend publishing profits on but furthering its scientific mission. (Of course, it doesn’t follow from this that is ought to be seeking to make a profit from publishing at all. It has other sources of income, and presently only 8% of its income is from publishing profits.)

But I hear you on the message sent by acquiescing to a $1600-APC journal, even if that APC is waived. We both want to shift towards a world where there are no journals that charge that kind of money — or at least, that if they do, it’s because they’re the kind of “selective” journal that thinks there’s something praiseworthy about rejecting most scientifically sound submissions. Journals of that kind don’t concern me one way or another, because I just don’t play that game.

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8 Responses to “Why Mike is interested in Royal Society Open Science, and why Matt isn’t”


  1. […] Elsevier’s first attempt, Elsevier’s second attempt, the Royal Society’s Royal Society Open Science). Those editorial criteria have proved their […]


  2. I am with Matt on this one. It is entirely possible to publish a ‘PLOS ONE’ (for want of a better term) style journal for significantly less than PLOS ONE does. At PeerJ, as your thread notes, we have a product and a service which is superior to pretty much any other comparable journal, but at a significantly lower price. In a sane world, why would you pay more for less?

    One of the reasons we have this publication model is to drive costs down (towards zero), not to create a new class of monetizable journal which can sustain an unrealistic price point, just because of something like branding.

    Therefore, I would say that authors need to act like informed consumers and create a competitive pressure in the market. They can vote with their feet by avoiding high priced alternatives (even if they get a waiver…)

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes indeed. PeerJ was of course in my mind as I wrote the above, but I cited Ubiquity because its more traditional payment structure makes it directly comparable to other outlets.

    BTW., are you prepared to disclose what the average total APC is at PeerJ so far? (i.e. price of all memberships that have been paid divided by number of articles published, I guess.)

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    It seems a mistake to even talk about PeerJ finances in terms of APC, because they allow people to do something that was never possible before, which is invest in a membership on the expectation of publishing there in the future. Which is exactly what I did well before the journal was even accepting manuscripts. Dividing current memberships, which include all possible future papers by those members (not including collaborators), by existing papers, seems like measuring the wrong thing.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    I agree completely that the PeerJ payment model is by nature and by design different — and needless to say I’m really happy about this. But it would be useful to have a ballpark sense of how it equates to an APC for the purposes of comparison. Is it, say, only a quarter as expensive as PLOS ONE? Only a third? At the moment, we can’t even begin to say. That may be all right, but it does mean that our favourite journal is excluded from price-comparison discussions such as the one we’re trying to have in the post that this is a comment on!


  6. You can set an upper bound on this question at least. If every co-author on a paper only ever published once with us (unlikely) and paid the $99 Basic Plan fee (i.e. the cheapest option for a single publication), then our income per paper would be ‘average # of authors on a paper’ x $99.

    Also, see our pricing grids at https://peerj.com/pricing/ (scroll down) which attempt to show how our pricing can be compared to other journals.

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    Mike, I agree that the comparison would be useful. But because the pricing structure at PeerJ works the way it does, you set up the maths incorrectly in your first comment: “price of all memberships that have been paid divided by number of articles published”. The price of all memberships paid is the one thing we don’t care about, because it may include speculative memberships from people who haven’t published yet, which clearly has no bearing on what we might call the ‘functional APC’ of PeerJ. For that, we want the number of memberships bought by authors that have already published, divided by the number of papers already published.

    But even this is going to be so skewed as to probably be useless, because all of those authors can go on publishing for the rest of their lives without putting any more money into the system. So the denominator (number of papers) can grow indefinitely while the numerator (number of authors – at least for the set in this snapshot) stays the same. So whatever ‘functional APC’ we measure now is going to the maximum that it will ever be, and it counts down from here for the next few decades.

  8. Ged Ridgway Says:

    I agree that APCs should be much lower, but for me, it is a big plus point that any profit RSOS makes goes to the RS, rather than to shareholders. As I understand it, PeerJ and Ubiquity Press are companies that must answer to their investors rather than solely to academia, so even if their APCs are much lower now, they will face investor-pressure in a way that RSOS (and PLoS) won’t.


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