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.


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