Paying for toll access.

In response to the persuasive argument that online and peer reviewed journal audiences have significantly less than 100% overlap, I’m going to start trying to re-publish some of my Open Access writing. I’m considering submitting the draft below as a letter to the editor of Haematologica, in response to this editorial; comments, corrections and suggestions for where to send it are welcome.
In particular, I’d like input on the following: the draft letter is basically an abbreviated version of this post — should I, instead, work the full post (including this revision of Phil Davis’ Cornell study) up into a paper/essay/article and submit that somewhere?
If so, should I include only the self-reported figures for average TA journal author-side costs (see below), or should I pick a number of prominent journals and estimate their average author-side costs as I did in this post?
If the latter, obviously the methodology for the blog post is inadequate for a formal publication — so how would one go about getting a reliable estimate — that is, how many issues would one need to sample? And which journals should I include?
(I’m inclined to think I should just send the letter, because to do the paper properly would be a lot of work. The Davis update should be more than just plugging in new assumptions, it should really be repeated with the latest ARL numbers and new searches in Web of Science and/or Scopus. On top of that, estimating average page number and number of color figures for a single journal, let alone a selection, is an enormous task. So, frankly, it probably won’t get done — although I’m up for a collaboration if anyone out there is interested.)
Finally, one for the statisticians out there: if I do include the update to the Davis study, how would one go about a formal analysis of what is shown in Figure 3 of this post? The question is this: to what extent is high ranking on the list of predicted expenses in an all-OA world predictive of high ranking on lists of serials expenditure, enrolment or articles published? And is such an analysis (some kind of rank correlation, right?) really any better than the simple eyeball explanation I used in the linked post?
—-draft letter—–
Dear Sir/Madam:
last month’s issue of Haematologica featured an editorial entitled “Paying for open access” [1]. I write to point out that subscription-model (“toll access”, TA) journals also impose author-side fees such as page and color figure charges. In fact, in a 2005 survey, a greater proportion of TA journals than of Open Access (OA) journals charged such fees [2]. Recent financial and publishing estimates have made it possible to compare fees across the two models, as follows.
The NIH estimates that it spends $80 to $100 million/year [3] on the publication costs of some 80,000 papers [4], and approximately 5% of research publications worldwide are available through Gold OA with no embargo period [5]. On the overly conservative [6] assumption that the average author-side fee for Gold OA is triple the average author-side fee levied by toll access journals, the average publication charge paid by the NIH to toll access journals is between $909 and $1136 per paper.
Further, OA advocate Peter Suber has pointed out (pers. comm.) that this number is certainly an underestimate since some fraction of those 80,000 articles did not use NIH funds, either because they were published in no-fee journals or because the authors found other ways to pay. Bearing this in mind, the NIH estimate is consistent with the handful of self-reported figures I have been able to find:

journal …………………………… avg. author-side fee
Molecular Biology of the Cell ………………. $1829 [7]
American Physiological Society (14 journals) …. $1000 [8]
Molecular Biology and Evolution …………….. $922  [9]
Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions ………… $1275 [10]

For comparison, the same issue last two issues of Haematologica in which the aforementioned editorial appeared also included 33 original research articles. On the basis of current page and color figure charges (and including submission fees), I calculate that the authors of these papers paid an average of around €600 560 ($840 790) per paper. Though the sample is hardly representative, it seems likely that the average cost of a Haematologica paper is in this ballpark. Such a figure is consistent with fees charged by other Gold OA publishers [6].
Authors considering the affordability of OA fees should bear in mind that they may well pay as much or more in page and color charges at a toll access journal, and should also ask what it is that they are paying for. Readers of toll access journals must bear a further cost, either directly or through subscriptions, whereas OA articles are immediately and permanently free for anyone to read.

Update 090717: corrected the calculation; you can grab the data here if you want to check my work or do something else with it. This is another argument for re-publishing: it makes you check your work! I got things wrong, and forgot to make the data available, the first time around.
I’ve submitted the letter; the full study I suggested is so much larger that I don’t see it as salami publishing to submit that separately, if it ever gets done. Following a suggestion from Heather Morrison in comments, I’m going to try putting it up as a research project on the OAD and try to coordinate a team project. I felt compelled to point out this blog entry, the CCZero license and the fact that, if they accept the letter, I intend to use a CC/SPARC Author Addendum to retain enough rights from their copyright transfer (why does an OA journal need that?!) to offer CC-BY-NC. We’ll see what happens.

[1] Paying for open access. Haematologica, Vol 94, Issue 6, p. 764 doi:10.3324/haematol.11505
[2] The Facts About Open Access. Kaufman-Wills Group, LLC 2005 URL: Accessed: 2009-07-17. (Accessed July 16 2009)
[3] US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property Hearing on H.R. 6845, the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act”. Thursday 09/11/2008 URL: (Archived by WebCite® at
[4] US National Institutes of Health Public Access Frequently Asked Questions. URL: (Archived by WebCite® at
[5] Björk B-C., Roosr A and Lauri M. Global annual volume of peer reviewed scholarly articles and the share available via different open access options. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Electronic Publishing ISBN 978-0-7727-6315-0, 2008, pp. 178-186 (
[6] Comparison of BioMed Central’s Article Processing Charges with those of other publishers. URL: (Archived by WebCite® at
[7] American Society for Cell Biology Newsletter, April 2007: MBC and the Economics of Scientific Publishing. URL: available from URL: (Archived by WebCite® at
[8] American Physiological Society AuthorChoice Frequently Asked Questions. URL: Accessed: 2009-07-14. (Archived by WebCite® at
[9] Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution: Editor’s Annual Report 2008. URL: available from URL: (Archived by WebCite® at
[10] American Phytopathological Society Reports of Publications 2000. URL: (Archived by WebCite® at

3 thoughts on “Paying for toll access.

  1. i think it would be great if this could go in to JASIST (but that is toll access) as whatever they call the shorter articles – brief communication? As for estimating page numbers – Dana Roth has frequently done analysis on relative cost per page. With journals in some areas using article numbers instead of page numbers it is slightly more complicated. I wonder if this information isn’t available from the editorial office – maybe in the handouts they have for potential advertisers. For a project at work I was just looking for ways to compare rankings – there’s gamma.
    With your new job starting up, maybe it’s better to get a letter off now instead of waiting for time to make a more complete article.

  2. This could be a nice research project for a team. Why not post to the Research Ideas section of the Open Access Directory? I did this with a survey study idea on supports for OA among universities across Canada, and ended up with a whole research team with the time, energy and skills to do a much better study than the original team.
    As for publishing, there is a new OA journal with an impressive editorial board to keep in mind for this sort of work: Scholarly and Research Communication [Disclosure – I am the Associate Editor].
    FYI, I’d be interested in participating in such a research team. Like Bill, I’m stretched a little thin so having others involved too would be great.

  3. Christina — not sure a TA journal would publish this, esp if they impose page charges. 🙂 Thanks for the tips re Dana Roth (will look up), information for advertisers (neat idea! hadn’t thought of that) and gamma.
    Heather — really like the OAD/team idea, I’m going to try that.
    I’d almost talked myself into this by writing out my thoughts, and both your comments have firmed up my thinking. The full study is big enough that it’s not salami publishing to send the letter off now and try to co-ordinate a team to complete the larger study. It won’t be easy but I think it’s worth the effort, because cost is made into such a huge issue in discussions of OA.

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