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.
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)
Some Publishers and Journals statistics can also be found here:
Please read the “Disclaimer & Notes”.
Hoping this is useful,
Franck Vazquez, Ph.D
Chief Executive Officer, MDPI
St. Alban-Anlage 66, 4052 Basel, Switzerland
Tel. +41 61 683 77 34
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:
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
Associate Professor, School of Information Studies, University of Ottawa
Professeur Agrégé, École des Sciences de l’Information, Université d’Ottawa
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.
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.
The original e-mails are available on the SCHOLCOMM listserv archives.