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.

One thought on “BioMedCentral 2020

  1. The following comment by Peter Murray-Rust was originally posted to the Global Open Access List here: as well as the SCHOLCOMM list. The comment is reproduced in full below as it adds important substantive information. Permission to copy is assumed as PMR is a well-known advocate of the strongest open licensing including re-use.

    Thank you Heather,

    These are valuable figures that show that “Open Access” does not always bring knowledge justice.

    I was involved with BMC nearly from the start – it broke new ground – showed that “OA” could be profitable and sustainable. I was on the Editorial Board of Journal of Cheminformatics from the start until I resigned (on this issue) . The editors past and present are close friends and colleagues and have been a primary force for innovation in chemistry.

    But the takeover by Springer has been ultra-capitalist and an example of knowledge neocolonialism. From where I was I saw no positive support from Springer. The editorial board were expected to pay all their expenses including travelling to US for a “meeting”, that was inadequately supported by Springer (no minutes were kept). Springer provided effectively no
    support. They may have provided some generic support for IECs, but in my view minimal. I addressed all these concerns and got no reply.

    I guestimate (without evidence) that the “prices” are roughly
    * 30% true “costs” (much larger than they should be because there is no
    * 30% corporate (branding, offices, etc.)
    * 10% philanthropy (waivers)
    * 30% direct to shareholders

    I therefore resigned with as much publicity (not much) that I could generate.

    It is critical to realise that OA does not guarantee:
    * knowledge justice
    * global equality (in fact in companies like BMC it is divisive)
    * innovation (commercial publishers have no incentive to innovate and this
    is holding science/scholarship back massively). The lack of modern
    technology means that data which should be used to validate science is
    omitted or published as bitmaps. People die because of our current
    publication processes.

    It seems clear to me that Editorial Boards and many Editors are effectively
    sidelined by megapublishers, who create tech and processes that benefit
    them, not the readers or the world. The plethora of arcane publishers all
    competing to create different brands effectively destroys much scientific

    This will not be solved by COAS or similar schemes which will perpetuate
    the problems above.

    The immediate answers lie in
    * preprints (organised by trustable organisations, not publishers)
    * in a few disciplines , regulated by scholarly societies but NOT
    commercial publishers
    * national publications (e.g. Ameli_CA, in Latin America)
    * zero price community journals e.g. J Open Source Software, J Machine
    Learning Research).

    This will make us (literally) a healthier world.

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