MDPI pricing (thanks to MDPI CEO Franck Vazquez, PhD)

Thanks to MDPI CEO Franck Vazquez, PhD, for permission to re-post his contributions to a discussion on APC pricing on the SCHOLCOMM listserv and my replies. This is useful information and a good model of how transparency can help to advance our understanding of how to move toward sustainability in open access.

Highlights: this post presents data on MDPI’s APCs and an explanation of MDPI’s business practice: new journals are free to publish in, later APCs and APC increases are based on market value. It is important for publishers and funders to understand that there is an essential conflict with funders of scholarly communication, that is, universities and their libraries, and research organizations. For these organizations,  budgets tend to be based on cost with little or no flexibility to accommodate pricing and price increases based on market value. This incompatibility of organizational strategy is equally relevant whether the revenue model is subscriptions, APC, or other production-based support.


Original e-mails:

Sent to SCHOLCOMM April 16, 2018 (as an addition to the research reported on SKC here):

*Subject:* Re: [SCHOLCOMM] Recent APC price changes for 4 publishers (BMC, Hindawi, PLOS, PeerJ)

Adding up the data summary for MDPI to the picture:

•164 journals with numeric data in 2017 (average APC 438CHF) and 2018
(average APC 533CHF)
•107 journals (65.2%) with no change in APC, including 40 journals free
(average APC 375CHF)
•40 journals (24.3%) with APC increase of 6% – 142% (increase range from
100 – 500CHF; average APC increase 219CHF; average percent increase 27.3%)
•17 journals (10.3%) free in 2017, introduced APC in 2018
(250CHF-550CHF; average APC 370CHF)

Original data can be found here:
http://www.mdpi.com/about/apc
http://www.mdpi.com/about/apc-2017

Some Publishers and Journals statistics can also be found here:
https://www.scilit.net/rankings
Please read the “Disclaimer & Notes”.

Hoping this is useful,
Best wishes,
Franck

Franck Vazquez, Ph.D
Chief Executive Officer, MDPI
St. Alban-Anlage 66, 4052 Basel, Switzerland
Tel. +41 61 683 77 34
http://www.mdpi.com

http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7967-3798
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Franck_Vazquez
https://www.linkedin.com/in/franck-vazquez-932a96a8/


My reply April 16, 2018

Thank you Franck this is very helpful.

According to this website, the current inflation rate for Switzerland is .8, i.e. less than one per cent:
https://tradingeconomics.com/switzerland/consumer-price-index-cpi

I see that a quarter of MDPI’s journals have an average price increase of 27.3%. It appears that MDPI is not making decisions about price increases based on such factors as consumer price increase or inflation rates.

List members who are interested in supporting OA through paying APCs could benefit from understanding how this works in order to budget for future needs. Can you explain MDPI’s current and/or projected future pricing strategy?

MDPI is one of the publishers who offers “free for now” publishing in order to attract content for new journals. As an author, I have benefited from this as well as from MDPI’s high quality professional editing and peer review. However, if those who pay APCs do not take this practice into account, they will find themselves short of funds in future when established journals start charging APCs, as 10% of MDPI’s journals did this year by your account

Two other notes / questions from MDPI for this year that I wonder if you would like to comment on?

* new pricing coming in July
* partnership with Knowledge Unlatched – on MDPI’s APC price list that
some journals are
“* free for authors; APC funded by Knowledge Unlatched
<http://www.knowledgeunlatched.org>” from: http://www.mdpi.com/about/apc

best,

Heather Morrison
Associate Professor, School of Information Studies, University of Ottawa
Professeur Agrégé, École des Sciences de l’Information, Université d’Ottawa
Heather.Morrison@uottawa.ca
https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org
https://uniweb.uottawa.ca/?lang=en#/members/706

PS: if CHF is not your local currency, you can find both current and historical conversion rates through XE currency converter: https://www.xe.com/currencytables/


Franck’s reply April 17:

Thanks Heather, I am glad you had a good experience publishing in /Publications/ (and /Data/)!

Our decision to introduce or increase the APC of a journal depends on many factors including the field of research, the reputation (visibility,citation, indexing), and volume (=age) of the journal. It is not always possible to cover the cost of our work directly and from the beginning. The newest journals are free for a few years, typically three years; researchers would not be able to raise funding to cover the APC of these journals. Also, some journals which support research fields in which OA funding remains marginal do not introduce an APC, even after Volume 6 or more, as it is the case for the journals /Publications/, /Arts/, or a few others. Therefore the costs associated with publishing in these journals must be subsided by the APC of established journals.

The “average 27.3% APC increase for 40 journals” we talk about here results in a mild increase in the average APC of these journals. Average increase is 219 CHF, from 802 CHF in 2017 to 1020 CHF in 2018 for these 40 titles. This is on the lower end of APC distribution for international publishers: https://treemaps.intact-project.org/apcdata/openapc/#publisher/

Concerning the planned increase in July:
Eight journals which were accepted for coverage in SCIE in November will have their APC increased, following the reasoning explained before. As usual we give a >6 months notice to authors before the APC increase becomes effective.

About the partnership with Knowledge Unlatched:
We are running this as a trial for 9 journals which normally apply the indicated APC. We are exploring this funding model as a viable alternative for our HSS journals. For transparency reasons and to give credit to KU for their initiative, we decided to list the APC on the website with the note “* free for authors; APC funded by Knowledge Unlatched” rather than erasing the APC from the website.

Best wishes
Franck


My reply April 17:

Thank you Franck.

What you are describing is normal business practice. In ordinary everyday terms, businesses of all kinds often start out with below-cost pricing (introductory special offers for example), in order to attract customers, then raise prices. When average people sell their homes or other goods, the default is to seek market value (the most I can get for this), rather than cost-based pricing.

MDPI’s transparency may be helpful to those wishing to support the APC approach (publishers and payers), as it gives us an opening to talk about an inherent conflict that might cause shock and setbacks, giving an opportunity to prepare and consider strategies to minimize or avoid the likelihood of this happening.

The inherent conflict stems from the desire of for-profit publishers to derive the maximum value from their work, in contrast to the cost-conscious, accountability focused customer (universities and funding agencies). In subscriptions publishing for many decades there has been an inelastic market, with publishers expecting to raise prices beyond inflationary rates year after year while university-customers do not have corresponding revenue growth to support this. In North America in the last few decades the trend has been flat or declining budgets. Hence the serials crisis, periodic breakdown such as Germany’s Elsevier cancellations and France’s Springer cancellations, and strong desire to change the system which is one of the drivers behind the OA movement, although not a motive shared by all.

What could easily happen is that those who wish to support a flip to OA via APCs will under-budget based on current spend and/or current list prices, resulting in shock and insufficient funds when publishers move to pricing more accurately reflecting costs and/or market value.

Another way to express this: when your library has to deal with budget cuts, or, at best, a flat budget (typical in North America), you are not likely to have much sympathy for a publisher raising prices by 27%, regardless of how rational this might be as a business practice.

This is what I mean in that Publications article when I describe the APC model as volatile. The market, in my opinion, is not sufficiently stable for systemic budgeting purposes. Support for this approach should be considered experimental at this time.

There are other approaches to supply-side funding to provide for open access, such as sponsorships, library publishing, and cost-based APC pricing as practiced by UK-based Ubiquity Press. Those who wish to support APCs, in my opinion, are wise to do so through consortia. Hence my interest in your partnership with Knowledge Unmatched.

best,

Heather Morrison
sustainingknowledgecommons.org


The original e-mails are available on the SCHOLCOMM listserv archives.

ELPUB 2018: Global OA APC trends 2010 – 2017

The final paper is now available in the HAL archive at: https://elpub.episciences.org/4604

This June 22 – 24 I will be attending and presenting at ELPUB 2018 on Global Open Access APCs 2010 – 2017: major trends. The slides for my talk on Saturday, June 23 are available here: https://www.slideshare.net/hgmorris/hgm-elpub2018

Abstract

The open access (OA) article processing charges (APC) project is a longitudinal study of the minority of fully OA journals (27% in 2016) that have APCs. The global average APC shows little change; in USD, 906 in 2010, 964 in 2016, 974 in 2017. The average masks currency differences and the impact of a growing market; new APC journals often start with an APC of 0. Traditional commercial scholarly publishers are entering the OA market: the largest OA journal publishers’ portfolios in 2017 were Springer, De Gruyter, Elsevier, and Wolters Kluwer Medknow. However, these are a small portion of OA journal publishing which is still marked by a very long tail and extensive involvement by very small, often university or society publishers. APC pricing shows a wide range and variability. The APC market can be described as volatile.

Keywords: OA, APCs, economics