Knowledge and equity: analysis of three models


The context of this paper is an analysis of three emerging models for developing a global knowledge commons. The concept of a ‘global knowledge commons’ builds on the vision of the original Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) for the potential of combining academic tradition and the internet to remove various access barriers to the scholarly literature, thus laying the foundation for an unprecedented public good, uniting humanity in a common quest for knowledge. The global knowledge commons is a universal sharing of the knowledge of humankind, free for all to access (recognizing reasons for limiting sharing in some circumstances such as to protect individual privacy), and free for everyone qualified to contribute to. The three models are Plan S / cOAlition S, an EU-led initiative to transition all of scholarly publishing to an open access model on a short timeline; the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS), a recent initiative that builds on Ostrom’s study of the commons; and PubMedCentral (PMC) International, building on the preservation and access to the medical research literature provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health to support other national repositories of funded research and exchange of materials between regions. The research will involve analysis of official policy and background briefing documents on the three initiatives and relevant historical projects, such as the Research Council U.K.’s block grants for article processing charges, the EU-led OA2020 initiative, Europe PMC and the short-lived PMC-Canada. Theoretical analysis will draw on Ostrom’s work on the commons, theories of development, under-development, epistemic / knowledge inequity and the concepts of Chan and colleagues (2011) on the importance of moving beyond north-to-south access to knowledge (charity model) to include south-to-south and south-to-north (equity model). This model analysis contributes to build a comparative view of transcontinental efforts for a global knowledge commons building with shared values of open access, sharing and collaboration, in contrast to the growing trend of commodification of scholarly knowledge evident in both traditional subscriptions / purchase-based scholarly publishing and in commercial open access publishing. We anticipate that our findings will indicate that a digital world of inclusiveness and reciprocity is possible, but cannot be taken for granted, and policy support is crucial. Global communication and information policy have much to contribute towards the development of a sustainable global knowledge commons.

Full text:

Cite as: Morrison, H. & Rahman, R. (2020). Knowledge and equity: analysis of three models. International Association of Communication and Media Researchers (IAMCR) annual conference, July 2020.

SpringerOpen 2019 – 2020

By Anqi Shi & Heather Morrison


307 SpringerOpen titles for which we have data on journals that were fully open at some point from 2010 to the present were studied, with a primary focus on pricing and status changes from 2019 – 2020 and a secondary focus on longitudinal status changes. Of the 307 titles, 226 are active, fully open access and are still published by SpringerOpen, 40 have ceased publication, 19 were transferred to another publisher, and 18 journals that were formerly open access are now hybrid. 6 of these journals transitioned from free to hybrid in the past year. An additional 2 journals were not found. An additional 2 journals were not found. Of the 226 active journals published by SpringerOpen, 51% charge APCs. The average APC is 1,233 EUR, an increase of 3% over the 2019 average. 46.5% of the 101 journals for which we have 2019 and 2020 data did not change in price; 13.9% decreased in price; and 39.6% increased in price. The extent of change in price was substantial, ranging from a 50% price drop to a 94% price increase.

Detail – download the PDF: springer open 2019-2020

Data (for DOAJ 2016 – 2019 data for journals that are now hybrid see columns BV – ): Springeropen_2019_2020

Cite as: Shi, A. & Morrison, H. (2020). SpringerOpen pricing trends 2019-2020. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons May 25, 2020

BioMedCentral 2020

BioMedCentral (BMC) 2019 – 2020

by Anqi Shi & Heather Morrison

Key points

  • Open access commercial publishing pioneer BMC is now wholly owned by a private company with a portfolio including lines of business that derive revenue from journal subscriptions, book sales, and textbook sales and rentals
  • Two former BMC fully OA journals, listed in DOAJ from 2014 – 2018 as having CC-BY licenses, are now hybrid and listed on the Springer website and have disappeared from the BMC website
  • 67% of BMC journals with APCs in 2019 and 2020 increased in price and 11% decreased in price.
  • Journals with price increases had a higher average APC in 2019, i.e. more expensive journals appear to be more likely to increase in price


Founded in 2000, BioMedCentral (BMC) was one of the first commercial (OA) publishers and a pioneer of the article processing charges (APC) business model. BMC was acquired by Springer in 2008. In 2015, Springer was acquired by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group in 2015 and became part of SpringerNature. In other words, BMC began as an OA publisher and is now one of the imprints or business lines of a company whose other lines of business include sales of journal subscriptions and scholarly books and textbook sales and rentals. Of the 328 journals actively published by BMC in 2020, 91% charge APCs. The average APC was 2,271 USD, an increase of 3% over 2019. An overall small increase in average APC masks substantial changes at the individual journal level. As first noted by Wheatley (2016), BMC price changes from one year to the next are a mix of increases, decreases, and retention of the same price. In 2020, 67% of the 287 journals for which we have pricing in USD for both 2019 and 2020 increased in price; 11% decreased in price, and 22% did not change price. It appears that it is the more expensive journals that are more likely to increase in price. The average 2019 price of the journals that increased in 2020 was 2,307 USD, 18% higher than the 2019 average of 1,948 USD for journals that decreased in price. 173 journals increased in price by 4% or more, well above the inflation rate. 39 journals increased in price by 10% or more; 13 journals increased in price by 20% or more. Also in 2020, there are 11 new journals, 11 journals ceased publication, 5 titles were transferred to other publishers, 2 journals changed from no publication fee to having an APC, and 3 journals dropped their APCs. Two journals formerly published fully OA by BMC are no longer listed on the BMC website, but are now listed as hybrid on the Springer website. This is a small portion of the total but is worth noting as the opposite direction of the transformative (from subscriptions to OA) officially embraced by SpringerNature.

Details and documentation: download the PDF: BMC_2019_2020_as_hm

Data: BMC_2019_2020

Cite as: Shi, A. & Morrison, H. (2020). BioMedCentral 2020. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons.

Frontiers 2020: a third of journals increase prices by 45 times the inflation rate

Updates June 4:

  1. Frontier’s comment regarding their pricing transparency below is helpful. It is important for those who support gold OA publishing to understand the cost implications of their demands and expectations. Frontiers states: “As Frontiers’ sole source of income, APCs allow us to subsidize new journals and communities with less research funding, to reinvest in our publishing platform, and to offer a fee support program. More than a third of all articles published in 2017/18 received full or partial waivers as a result of this approach, which we fully intend to continue to offer in the years ahead.” An average APC of $2,170 USD could support hosting a whole journal in North America and could be enough to fund a year or partial year of a highly paid researchers’ salary, in less affluent countries. If granting agencies were to directly subsidize local publishing in both more and less affluent countries, this would probably cost less and do more (by supporting local development) than expecting publishers like Frontiers to subsidize APCs.
  2. It has come to my attention that this post happens to coincide with negotiations on a national agreement between Frontiers and Germany in the context of PlanS / cOAlition S. Details about the agreement can be found:

A third of the journals published by Frontiers in 2019 and 2020 (20 / 61 journals) have increased in price by 18% or more (up to 55%). This is quite a contrast with the .4% Swiss inflation rate for 2019 according to ; 18% is 45 times the inflation rate. This is an even more marked contrast with the current and anticipated economic impact of COVID; according to Le News, “A team of economic experts working for the Swiss government forecasts a 6.7% fall in GDP”. (Frontiers’ headquarters is in Switzerland).

This is similar to our 2019 finding that 40% of Frontier’s journals had increased in price by 18% or more (Pashaei & Morrison, 2019) and our 2018 finding that 40% of Frontier journals had increased in price by 18% – 31% (Morrison, 2018).

The price increases are on top of already high prices. For example, Frontiers in Earth Science increased from 1,900 USD to 2,950 USD, a 55% price increase. Frontiers in Oncology increased from 2,490 to 2,950 USD, an 18% price increase.

This illustrates an inelastic market. Payers of these fees are largely government research funders, either directly or indirectly through university libraries or researchers’ own funds. The payers are experiencing a major downturn and significant challenges such as lab closures, working from home in lockdown conditions, and additional costs to accommodate public health measures, while Frontiers clearly expects ever-increasing revenue and profit.

Following is a list of Frontier journals with price increases. All pricing is in USD.

Journal title 2020 APC 2019 APC 2020 – 2019 price change (numeric) 2020 – 2019 price change (percent)
Frontiers in Earth Science 2,950 1,900 1,050 55%
Frontiers in Veterinary Science 2,950 1,900 1,050 55%
Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine 2,490 1,900 590 31%
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 2,490 1,900 590 31%
Frontiers in Energy Research 2,490 1,900 590 31%
Frontiers in Environmental Science 2,490 1,900 590 31%
Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences 2,490 1,900 590 31%
Frontiers in Nutrition 2,490 1,900 590 31%
Frontiers in Physics 2,490 1,900 590 31%
Frontiers in Surgery 2,490 1,900 590 31%
Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence 1,150 950 200 21%
Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 2,950 2,490 460 18%
Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology 2,950 2,490 460 18%
Frontiers in Chemistry 2,950 2,490 460 18%
Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 2,950 2,490 460 18%
Frontiers in Marine Science 2,950 2,490 460 18%
Frontiers in Materials 2,950 2,490 460 18%
Frontiers in Oncology 2,950 2,490 460 18%
Frontiers in Pediatrics 2,950 2,490 460 18%
Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 2,950 2,490 460 18%

The full spreadsheet can be found here:



Morrison, H. (2018). Frontiers: 40% journals have APC increases of 18 – 31% from 2017 to 2018. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

Pashaei, H., & Morrison, H. (2019). Frontiers in 2019: 3% increase in average APC. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

Cite as:  Morrison, H. (2020). Frontiers 2020: a third of journals increase prices by 45 times the inflation rate. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs :