Open access article processing charges: DOAJ survey May 2014

To celebrate open access week 2014, the Sustaining the Knowledge Commons team is posting an early preprint of the Open access article processing charges: DOAJ survey May 2014 )  for open commenting:  http://wp.me/a4L0Lh-49

Please post your comments (or reviews?) on the article as comments to this post. The commenting period is open until November 3rd. If anyone would like to comment but prefers more time please let us know.

Happy Open Access Week! Heather, Jihane, Alexis & Tony.

http://api.ning.com/files/bQfOv76fsJeymkfhtUcyDdpHJXpG1Q2JHrVTt0xOBGxR7M8q26SEwCG2GMXDAlkN9lchchQc0bWtlSj1KRSPea785bNX1-2t/120x240.jpg

Most DOAJ journals using article processing fees charge under $1,000 US

This data from the May 2014 census of DOAJ journals identified as using the open access article processing fee method may be of interest. In brief: the majority (68%) of fully gold OA journals in this sample charge less than $1,000 USD. Only about 1% charge more than $3,000.

Of the minority of journals included in DOAJ at that time identified as using the OA APC approach (approximately 26% of journals in DOAJ) which were confirmed through sampling to be using APCs, a majority of journals charge less than $1,000 USD.

As these charts illustrate, 68% of journals sampled (adjusted for sampling factor, e.g. if one out of five titles by a publisher or in a particular publisher size range was sampled, the results were multiplied by 5) had APCs in the 0 – $999 USD range. Only 1 journal (10 adjusted for sampling factor) was over $4,000. Only 5 journals (18 adjusted for sampling) were over $3,000. That’s a combined total of less than 1% of the total in this price range.

Details forthcoming.

freq by price range 2freq by price range 1 corrected

Updated October 20, 2014: date correction – original post and charts showed May 2015, corrected to May 2014. hm

Update October 14, 2014: the pie chart was updated as the colour scheme in the original was misleading – the colours for low price range were identified as high price range and vice versa. hm

Characteristics of a enduring Common Pool Resource (CPR)

If a common pool resource framework is applicable to a knowledge commons, how simple is it to set up? We need to know the basic ground rules of a CPR first. And here they are.

Seven characteristics and an eight one, in more complex cases, are generally considered to constitute a CPR. As constructed through inductive research by Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom and colleagues, these characteristics are the subject of this entry. We will also discuss pragmatic examples for some of these characteristics listed below.

1. Clearly defined boundaries

2. Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions

3. Collective-choice arrangements

4. Monitoring

5. Graduated sanctions

6. Conflict-resolution mechanism

7. Minimal recognition of right to organize

8. Nested enterprises (for larger systems)

The most problematic behaviour enduring CPRs face is often depicted as free riding. Essentially this is the act of profiting from a resource shared in common without participating to maintaining it. In the case of institutional repositories, for example, this notion must be adapted because digital goods have, in certain instances, zero cost for being shared (copied).

What is a free rider? It’s the roommate that takes dishwashing soap for his dishes and never pitches in to buy any. It’s the neighbour that wants to share a parking space and never shovels the snow from it. It’s the team that stays past their scheduled time on the court. Those examples are not always a pure CPR, but the idea is representative of free riding.

A more abstract definition of free riding is someone, a group, or entity, that profits from a CPR and fails to uphold their responsibility in maintaining it, including taking more than their agreed-upon share. How are CPRs enduring in the face of this recurring and all too common human behaviour? Here is what transpired from decades of observation and analysis:

1. Clearly defined boundaries

What are the commons boundaries. Who is part of it? You need to know this if you are going to keep some people or groups out, and to determine who will need to participate in maintaining the commons.

We will try to take a shared wireless network with limited bandwidth as an example to illustrate those rules. Who has access to your wireless network at your shared apartment, and how much they pay for it every month is the idea here.

2. Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions

Rules respecting specific attributes of a resource contribute to an enduring CPR. Adapt to your environment, resource, people. One solution fits all is a precarious choice here.

Position of the wireless hub, thus varying quality signal around the apartment, may be part of how payment levels and bandwidth usage are negotiated amongst users here. Preferred usage, streaming movies using large bandwidth and needing a low latency for gaming, maybe be parts of arrangements between users as well. Peek usage times may need to be drawn out and agreed upon by the users, along with corresponding payment levels, or usage throttle.

3. Collective-choice arrangements

Involvement of most stakeholders in rule crafting. Helps reinforce previous point as well since participation and information exchange is important in maintaining CPRs.

Everyone, or most people, involved in the shared network should participate in the discussion about rules, usage, and maintenance (mostly payment in this case).

4. Monitoring

Monitors keep tabs on both the resource and its users (appropriators). These monitors can be appropriators, or accountable to them.

Ideally a board would display individual usage (bandwidth) of the network daily for all to see and be aware of. This may be grounds for sanctions or praise for respectful usage of the network, accumulating a form of social status based on that. It may even be transferred to good standings in the apartment in general.

5. Graduated sanctions

This is the point most discussed by Ostrom when describing the successful characteristics of an enduring CPR. Empirical research demonstrates that not only are participants in a CPR monitoring each other, but initial sanctions can appear low to the outsider. Why?

The problem here is that punishment tends to be costly to the punisher, while the benefits of the punishment goes to all involved (community). It seems therefore there is little incentive to apply punishment. Nobody wants to be a sucker. Why would I be the guy who has to invest his time coercing others in participating or respecting common rules while everybody will benefit for free?

The success of CPRs relies in lowering monitoring costs, and including notions of prestige and status in our comprehension of the mechanism for CPRs endurance. A prestige or status gain when a participating individual finds a rule infractor, or loss of prestige and status when one is found cheating, can participate in explaining why low-cost monitoring systems can be efficient.

Not only does self-monitoring of a CPR participate in increased information gathering about rule compliance, it also does it about the condition of the resource and contributes in lowering the cost of the act itself, but introducing notions of social capital, if we wanted to use that term. This is a form of social pressure to the benefit of the CPR.

We can see that a sense of community and trust is very central to a successful CPR.

Coming back to our idea of a shared wireless network: a display board with usage information, per participant, would here be used to determine if someone’s access needs to be throttled, or reduced, for using too much bandwidth, or missing payments. Here the idea is to avoid completely shutting out someone from the network without possibility of returning, tolerating they may need to bend or break the rules from time to time. The cost for breaking the rules may be increasing as bandwidth usage goes over limit (throttling), or as payments get overdue for longer periods (pressure to contribute). A generally recognized good user may get away with occasional breach of the rules in those cases, based on social capital. We already function this way, we simply hardly ever realize it.

6. Conflict-resolution mechanism

Although this may not guarantee success, long-term CPR must include some mechanism to allow participants to make amends or resolve conflicts in a manner that is enduring. This may be very informal. Informal methods of resolving conflicts are perhaps one of the most powerful tools human being have for maintaining social cohesion.

Users of the shared wireless would have the means to resolve conflicts in a way that is acceptable to all, and long lasting. Making amends with extra house-work may be a solution, following a group meeting about a breach of participation agreement, or letting someone off the hook because the group agrees it is in everyone’s best interest, and the costs are absorbable by everyone else.

7. Minimal recognition of right to organize

This speaks to non-intrusion from external bodies, including governments. Minimal recognition of legitimacy over their own capacity to devise their own institutions must be achieved by CPRs to be enduring.

The shared wireless network agreement would have to hold on its own, interdependently of landlord or internet provider interference for example. A landlord demanding a certain provider be used and to control the location of the hubs for aesthetics reasons would infringe on the CPR. Likewise for an internet service provider (ISP) that would throttle the bandwidth of the network, trumping the capacity of the participants to do it themselves. The ISP would then be at risk of punishing all users for the exaggeration of only one of them.

8. Nested enterprises (for larger systems)

Producing a complete and enduring system of CPRs must include be blended in multiple levels of government when they exist. There’s no use making up all these rules if they are trumped easily by another governing body.


Reading those points should elicit a sense that those characteristics reinforce community building, a sense of belonging, participating and benefiting from associating to a CPR. If we look around ourselves, we can begin to see how the ensemble of these general characteristic, working together, contribute to the enduring use of a resource by a community.

Common Pool Resource Theory introduction

The object of this series of posts on common pool resource theory is to generate discussion in the context of knowledge commons. Raising awareness about works on the commons is the ultimate intent.

Sharing resources as a group, is that possible without a catastrophe happening? Is the concept of knowledge commons viable?

Yes, and yes. In fact it is more or less how we function as human beings. We have tendencies to be selfish, of course, and we also hate each other. Despite our slightly narcissistic and xenophobic tendencies, through thousand of years we have always benefited from functioning as a group. How else would language, being cool or bravery mean anything to you?

  • You are able to read this, provided I do a good enough job at being intelligible (communication, information exchange).
  • You understand the social values of the society you live in (institutions).
  • You know people can be valued or ostracized based on their actions in relation to these values (regulation).

You already understand the basics of sharing a common pool resource.

Dare we explore it some more? We, as human beings, rely heavily on communication, information exchange, institutions, governance and rules to function as a group. How exactly do we successfully run a common pool resource (CPR) and how does that apply to a knowledge commons? This is what we will see in this entry.

The study of CPRs started gathering interest in California a few decades ago when Elinor Ostrom began work on her PhD dissertation through a case study on ground water basin management. She, along with her husband and workgroup went on to collect data for decades, culminating with a Nobel laureate a few years before her death. Some of these CPRs have endured for centuries, thus surviving generations of users while providing resources for hundreds of groups and countless number of people.

Ostrom’s studies were so large she and her colleagues had to devise a whole analysis model to incorporate the numerous case studies they were gathering. Once it was all done they were able to craft seven characteristics of a successful CPR, with an added eight in complex circumstances. In the process, they also helped redefine the notion of goods, now usually seen as four types instead of the common two that previously populated the economics literature.

We will explore some of these findings in other posts, but for the mean time let’s stay focused on the pervasive nature of the commons. While Ostrom may have been labeled a pure liberal, she was not providing an anti-government or anti-privatization discourse. The characteristics of the commons she constructed through inductive research, over several decades, are allowing groups to function aside and within governmental or private logics.

These groups preserve their common pool resource and have been for a very long time. This notion of enduring occurrence is important for people wishing to understand the extend at which CPRs exist around us.

Now that we know we have all the required knowledge to form a commons, and there is no waiting for government or private interests to form one, what about knowledge commons?

Though some of the characteristics of a successful commons are transferable to a knowledge commons, some adjustment are needed to apply commons logic to a knowledge commons. The zero cost of knowledge transfer (copying or sharing an idea for example) makes the idea of knowledge commons interesting to conceptualize. Motions of prestige for participation may help us understand how it may work. Ostrom expanded on this in a book on knowledge as a commons.

This is what we will see in future posts, and more, such as a more detailed review of successful commons characteristics, and a brief review of good types.

Fee complexity – an example

It is often assumed that article processing charges (APCs) are a single fee, and a straightforward approach to providing revenue to publishers to offset the costs of publication. However APCs can be a very complex affair. Take the Frontiers fee grid as an example. They publish peer-reviewed Gold OA journals in medicine, neuroscience, health, and related fields. A researcher wishing to submit a manuscript needs to navigate the fee grid to figure out what the APCs would be.  There are two tiers of articles (specialty-level and field-level). Within Tier 1, there are four types of articles, ranging in cost from free (e.g. book reviews, commentaries); to mini-review articles ( 575 euros); to original research articles as a research topic submission (960 euros, unless the corresponding author is a Frontiers Media associate or chief editor- 770 euros); a regular submission (1,600 euros unless the corresponding author is a Frontiers Media associate or chief editor – 1,280 euros); and lastly, clinical trial articles (2000 euros). In Tier 2, ie focused reviews or commentary, there are no fees. There are additional page charges in some categories.

This complexity speaks to the challenges of developing business models in an OA knowledge economy. As OA publishers experiment with new business models, it is interesting to observe the numerous levels, options, and discounts for scientific publishing fees  that are  emerging, such as in this example. We are living in a period of healthy and robust experimentation in publishing, and we can expect to see much more variety and nuance in fee models in the journal industry in the coming years. Researchers will need to carefully compare APC options and publishing venues- and what they are getting for their money.            

About Frontiers – As described on their website:

“Frontiers was launched as a grassroots initiative in 2007 by scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, out of the collective desire to improve the publishing options and provide better tools and services to researchers in the Internet age. Since then, Frontiers has become one of the largest and fastest-growing open-access scholarly publishers: over 20,000 high-quality, peer-reviewed articles have been published in 45 community-driven journals across more than 300 specialty niches in science, medicine and technology, and more than 40,000 high-impact researchers serve on the editorial boards and over 6 million monthly page views”

Articles are published with a fast turnaround time- three months after submission, on average.

Sustaining the Knowledge Commons (SKC) – Selected Bibliography on Open Access

Sustaining the Knowledge Commons (SKC) bibliography is a growing list of scholarly articles, books, book chapters, reports as well as primary publications. What began as a bibliographic list designated to the Open Access Article Processing Charges (APC), a project worked on by Heather Morrison, Tony Horava and Stephen Pinfield, has become a more general folder. It comprises the suite of projects under SKC, a concept aiming to remove barriers between all people, whether poor or rich, and the world’s scholarly knowledge. This  Zotero SKC folder will enable the users not only to access the metadata and abstracts of the sources, but also, when possible, provide links to sources that are freely available on the internet. Users will view, print, search by titles, authors, etc., export or generate a reference list to enable collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

This is a folder in progress and more reference recommendations are always welcomed. Please note that you are free to send us suggestions to improve the folder or to add to it.

OA APC variation: english language editing

MDPI provides a good example and explanation of a variation on article processing charges that reflect the work involved, that is, english language editing services. From the MDPI APC website (August 5, 2014):

For journals with an APC of 500 CHF or lower, a charge of 250 CHF will be applied to articles requiring extensive English language editing or formatting. To avoid surcharges, authors are recommended to carefully follow the instructions for authors and use the MS Word or LaTeX template files available on the instructions for authors page of the journal website. We encourage non-native English speaking authors to send their manuscripts to a professional English editing service prior to submission. If you use a service that provides a confirmation certificate, please send a copy to the Editorial Office. Authors from developing countries should consider registration with AuthorAid, a global research community that provides networking, mentoring, resources and training for researchers in developing countries.

This illustrates an important point about scholarly publishing when viewed as a service rather than as a good for sale: there is an inverse relationship between quality and the amount of work involved, i.e. the higher the quality, the less the work that is needed. This is because publishers do not pay for the largest portion of the work, conducting the research and writing the article. A well-researched and well-written article is less work for a journal at every step, as high quality articles make for easier editorial and peer review decisions as well as less work at the copyediting stage.

This approach provides an incentive for authors to submit articles in much better shape along with clear instructions about what that means, and also points to assistance for authors from developing countries.

One suggestion that fits with this approach is that it may be more effective to shift much of the support work of formatting and copyediting from publishers to the author’s institution. This way, institutions could hire local assistants and pay at rates appropriate for their own country and in their own currency, as well as creating local jobs, perhaps jobs for their own graduates in the case of universities.

For authors and copyeditors, there are advantages to working together over multiple projects. The copyeditor then has an opportunity to learn the terminology and approach preferred by the author, lessening the workload for both parties, as well as an opportunity to observe the growth of the author and research project over time. Perhaps a staff person in this position can help researchers with similar administrative tasks such as filing paperwork for grant proposals. This would free up the time of researchers to focus more on research. Where would the money come from? My suggestion is that in the process of transition to OA, we should not be looking to or funding publishers for services such as copyediting and formatting.

Of the 124 journals listed on the MDPI website, 124 or 85% offer english language editing services, generally at 250 CHF.

As a methodological note: while MDPI listed 124 journals, as of May 15, 2014 DOAJ listed 48 titles for MDPI. Correction August 5, 2014: note that DOAJ lists 104 journals for MDPI; the 48 titles are ones for which there are APCs. Many MDPI journals do not charge APCs, so the discrepancy is much less than I had thought.

I am finding that these large variations in title lists between websites of publishers relying on OA APCs and DOAJ are quite common. Simply collating these lists is proving to be a fair bit more challenging than anticipated.