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 Worlddata.info ; 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:

Frontiers_OA_main_2020

References

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 https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2018/04/12/frontiers-40-journals-have-apc-increases-of-18-31-from-2017-to-2018/

Pashaei, H., & Morrison, H. (2019). Frontiers in 2019: 3% increase in average APC. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2019/04/30/frontiers-in-2019-3-increase-in-average-apc/

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 : https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2020/06/03/frontiers-2020-a-third-of-journals-increase-prices-by-45-times-the-inflation-rate/

5 thoughts on “Frontiers 2020: a third of journals increase prices by 45 times the inflation rate

  1. Thanks. I wish we had verifiable numbers on how this affects the number of submissions. I bet that increasing the price actually increases the submissions, because researchers have been brainwashed into thinking that higher price means higher quality. If the equivalent OA journal by Nature charges 3300 $, and you only charge 1900, you must be a pariah!

  2. Dear Heather,

    We would appreciate the opportunity to respond to your recent blog about our article publishing charge (APC) increase. The price change falls in line with our transparent fee policy which is available to read on our website (https://www.frontiersin.org/about/fee-policy). Our pricing structure has five categories reflecting journal maturity, article type, and open-access funding availability in different research communities. It is only when a journal meets a specific set of criteria that an APC is adjusted upwards into a new category.

    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. For the sake of transparency, we publish a summary of our APC expenditures; the latest breakdown is available on our website (https://www.frontiersin.org/about/fee-policy#how-frontiers-apcs-are-spent-section).

    Looking at these numbers, you will see that it is not the case that Frontiers expects ever-increasing revenue and profit. Virtually all APC revenue has been systematically reinvested back into our in-house technology platform and Open Science services, allowing more communities to benefit from high-quality open access. Our AI platform AIRA, for example, is a new tool that is about to become available to all authors, editors, and reviewers, to improve accuracy and efficiency. It requires expertise and resources to develop but ultimately, will serve the scientific community and open science extremely well.

    The new price schedule took effect before the pandemic; and we do appreciate the challenge this emergency poses to the entire research community on all levels. To address this challenge, Frontiers mobilized its staff and editorial boards to build the Coronavirus Knowledge Hub which offers services for researchers, funders, and the general public. Frontiers has committed significant funding to this initiative, waiving all APCs for the hundreds of CoViD-19 articles submitted.

    In the name of transparency, we would also like to clarify the figure is 20 of 79 journals, rather than 20 of 61.

    We do hope this clarifies the reasoning behind the new price schedule and affirms our commitment to open science. We would be happy to discuss this with you further.

    Kind regards, Frontiers

    • Clarification: 61 is the number of journals for which we have APC data for both 2019 and 2020. The data indicates 19 new journals. These are irrelevant to the price trends analysis. Lower pricing for new journals (to attract content) is a common practice and lowers the average in a growing market, obscuring above-inflation price increases for established journals. This is a discrepancy of 1 journal (our data is 80 journals, 61 continuing from 2019). I have no explanation for this, and one more journal would have little impact on the result. I have noticed your approach to transparent pricing. It is important to understand that the concepts transparent pricing, affordable pricing, and fair pricing are 3 different concepts. Thank you for your comment.

  3. Wow! The contrast of APC between 2019 and 2020 is so staggering that the 1/3rd articles receiving waiver/subsidy does not justify the uber profit-motive and greed of such a reputed publisher. It is devoid of any moral reasoning. Hope the Germany government and the cOAlition S pay attention to this. If this upward APC trend continues, an increase of Plan S partners will not make the global knowledge commons more equitable, participating in Plan S will become a profiting strategy for the publishers. Thanks Professor Morrison for your investigative works!

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