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to the iPubSci developer and the publishers. If a new journal issue contains, for example, 50 articles, then buying all of them would cost $64.50, a pretty high price for a single journal issue. As with iTunes, users could get a price break on buying an entire issue of a journal. However, it is much more likely that individual article sales will garner virtually the entire market. That’s because science has become so specialized, hardly anyone would want to read every single article, or even a majority of articles, in one particular journal issue. An exception might be a special review issue that is focused on a single topic.
Why is it that journal costs are so high? For too long, scientific journal publishers have enjoyed a virtual monopoly over their content. The publisher’s profit margins, as the British newspaper The Guardian recently reported, are enormous (in the range of 40 percent). How are such lofty profits margins achieved? There are three primary reasons. First and foremost are the enormous subscription costs of the journals themselves, many of which charge libraries thousands of dollars per year. The second reason for their colossal profits is that, unlike most books and magazines, the content they publish is acquired for free. Scientists don’t get paid for writing journal articles, and peer review and editing of many of these articles is often done at no cost to the publishers as well. An analysis of the industry by Deutsche Bank suggested that “the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process.” Finally, the journals have no real competition for any particular periodical. If you want that particular title, you must buy it from the publisher; there are no other sources available.
The economics of open access journals are complex and evolving. A detailed comparison of open access publishing vs. monopoly journals in 2004 laid the groundwork for defining some of the economic factors at work in the science publishing industry. The study revealed that for-profit journals are hugely expensive, on either a cost-per-page or cost-per-citation basis, compared to non-profit journals. Similarly, an analysis of the costs and benefits of library site licenses representing for-profit academic journals revealed that these are not always beneficial to the scientific community compared to individual subscriptions. Biotechs are at a significant disadvantage compared to universities in negotiating these site licenses because they supply significantly fewer readers; this makes it that much harder for them to afford this type of journal access.
The number of open access science journals is still relatively small, but growing at a rate of about 15 percent per year. This far surpasses the 3.5 percent growth rate of subscription journals. Open access journals may eventually supplant the current standard paid subscription journal model. A consortium of three top science-funding organizations has plans to launch an open access journal. Even the Nature Publishing Group has proposed adding an open access journal, Scientific Reports (SR), to its repertoire of other publications. Journals differ, however, in how they allow use of their content. As Sandy Thatcher, one of the founders of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) pointed out, “SR is using a creative commons license that permits only non-commercial reuse of their content, whereas PLoS and BMC impose no such restriction. This, rather ironically, means that neither PLoS nor BMC can reuse content published in SR. This should be a big non-starter for anyone who really cares about open access”.
So what’s the biggest challenge to putting together my vision of iPubSci? Getting the publishers to sign up and make their content available. Disassembling what is essentially a giant, highly profitable cartel run by a small number of companies is not a trivial undertaking. However, this task … Next Page »