Paying to read or paying for publication: what do you get?


Currencies to pay for Journal articles

Currencies to pay for Journal articles

Why not simply post your manu­script on your own or your Institute’s web­server, at min­imal cost, fast and avail­able to all? Following Annals of Botany’s decision to reduce our open access charges to be below those of the major on-line sub­ject OA Journals, I have obvi­ously been look­ing at the dif­fer­ent ways Journals are fun­ded and use their rev­en­ues. Whatever the pub­lic­a­tion model, the costs of manu­script hand­ling, review, ‘type­set­ting’ or redact­ory ser­vices, and distribution/printing are the same whether the model is author-pays, sub­scrip­tion, hybrid (both author charges and sub­scrip­tion), or mixed (some papers author-pays, some subscription-only). Over the last few years, all Journals have been look­ing to imple­ment changes to reduce costs and speed up the pub­lish­ing pro­cess, while increas­ing their standards.


At the start of pub­lic­a­tion, mov­ing to on-line sub­mis­sions (mostly based in the US) for peer-review and edit­ing has helped both with costs and speed. Whether a paper is accep­ted or rejec­ted, the cost of review is sim­ilar, although few Journals now charge sub­mis­sion fees; how­ever, a num­ber, not in plant sci­ences, are offer­ing to accel­er­ate the review pro­cess by char­ging authors an extra fee. Alex Holcombe sug­gests on his blog that this will mean research­ers with poor fund­ing will fall fur­ther behind their rich coun­ter­parts, and sev­eral people are ques­tion­ing the eth­ics of this fast-tracking, although one of the Editors of  a Journal with the option also responds to the blog. I can’t see any­thing like this being adop­ted by Annals of Botany. We will con­tinue to aim to pub­lish the best plant sci­ence, and to obtain high-quality reviews as quickly as pos­sible; how­ever, we recog­nize that ref­er­ees both have many demands on their time, and also for some manu­scripts, it takes care­ful thought and some con­tem­pla­tion to give a con­sidered review. From my own review­ing exper­i­ences, I know that chas­ing is needed in some cases, but too intense pres­sure will lead to a super­fi­cial review.

Some journ­als are on-line only, sav­ing dis­tri­bu­tion costs and print­ing and paper for the pub­lisher. My col­leagues mostly admit to print­ing out papers as PDFs before read­ing, although per­haps this hid­den cost was there when the norm was to pho­to­copy the Journal in the lib­rary. At Annals of Botany, we hope more sub­scrip­tions will become on-line only (not least for envir­on­mental reas­ons), but at the same time our pub­lish­ers have been redu­cing our print costs. Printing (often in Asia) with bet­ter presses (for the small runs of a thou­sand cop­ies or so for most Journals, and now with much in col­our), and bet­ter paper (for Annals, Forest Stewardship Council, FSC, cer­ti­fied, more opaque, whiter and thin­ner than 5 years ago) has squeezed costs, although our wide dis­tri­bu­tion in Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Americas mean little more can be done obvi­ously to reduce dis­tri­bu­tion costs and envir­on­mental impact.

So that leaves the middle part of the pro­cess: the redac­tion includ­ing copy-editing and lay­out (now invari­ably HTML/XML-markup and PDF) — some­times seen as the ‘cost to first copy’, and the most expens­ive part of the review to pub­lic­a­tion path­way. The ques­tion I ask is, with world-wide access to your writ­ings only a blog away, why does any­body pay for these ser­vices? As I asked in the first sen­tence of this blog, “Why not simply post your manu­script on your own or your Institute’s web­server, at min­imal cost, fast and avail­able to all?”

I’d be most inter­ested to hear why people think that this model is not fol­lowed much, much more widely. I recog­nize that I have not put as much effort into my own web­site, www​.mol​cyt​.com, as I would have liked to, but many of the key tech­niques we use in the lab., par­tic­u­larly for in situ hybrid­iz­a­tion, are there (www​.meth​ods​.mol​cyt​.com), and I wish that more labs would pub­lish their meth­ods in usable detail in such a format. But I would not use the web­site for primary data pub­lic­a­tion, or even for big ideas. A prop­erly edited, well organ­ized, laid out and fully-checked pub­lished paper (whether HTML or PDF), pos­ted with a per­man­ent DOI to an archived web­site, is very dif­fer­ent from post­ing to your own server. I think most sci­ent­ists have voted by their actions to pay for the ser­vice by Journals and pub­lish­ers, in some cases as authors, in almost all cases as read­ers — and this is the source that is most trus­ted and used.


Editor Pat Heslop-Harrison. ORCID 0000-0002-3105-2167

Pat Heslop-Harrison is Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology at the University of Leicester. He is also Chief Editor of Annals of Botany.

Pin It on Pinterest

Liked this?

Be the first to share this post with your friends!