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.

Open peer review of “few open access journals are PlanS compliant”

MDPI’s journal is experimenting with open peer review. Reviewers can choose to make their reviews openly accessible. This recent article that I reviewed has just been published. To read my reviews, click on “review reports” – I am Reviewer 1. If you prefer to skip the details of work that was needed and subsequently done, skip to round 3 for the final review.

Following is the citation and abstract of the article and a portion of my final review that focuses on the work per se, and an update based on subsequent conversation with Frantsvåg. I will publish the copyright statement separately.

Frantsvåg, J.E.; Strømme, T.E. Few Open Access Journals Are Compliant with Plan S.  Publications 20197, 26.


Much of the debate on Plan S seems to concentrate on how to make toll-access journals open access, taking for granted that existing open access journals are Plan S-compliant. We suspected this was not so and set out to explore this using Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) metadata. We conclude that a large majority of open access journals are not Plan S-compliant, and that it is small publishers in the humanities and social sciences (HSS) not charging article processing charges (APC) that will face the largest challenge with becoming compliant. Plan S needs to give special considerations to smaller publishers and/or non-APC based journals.

Excerpt of final round of review:

An open peer review of “Few open access journals are Plan S compliant”: third and final round by Dr. Heather Morrison, Associate Professor, University of Ottawa School of Information Studies, and Principal Investigator, Sustaining the Knowledge Commons, a SSHRC Insight Project. Ó Dr. Heather Morrison, All Rights Reserved (explanation below).

This article presents important research and merits publication; conclusions are basically sound and recommendations appear timely and sensible.

One major substantive point of potential confusion remains. This confusion is evident is PlanS implementation guidance per se which states: “cOAlition S acknowledges that some publishers have established mirror journals with one part being subscription based and the other part being Open Access. Such journals are not compliant with Plan S unless they are a part of a transformative agreement since they de facto lead to charging for both access and publishing in the same way as a hybrid journal does. Funding for publishing in such journals will only be supported under a transformative agreement”. From:

It is not clear what PlanS is referring to here. The most common arrangement that seems to fit what is described here in my experience is journals that publish both in print (generally on a subscriptions basis) and online (on a fully open access basis, required for inclusion in DOAJ). A journal that is partially open access and partially subscription-based in its online form is a hybrid journal, contrary to PlanS advice.

This confusion is reflected in this article (Table 1 row G and results lines 461-467). Since this reflects the original, this should not be a barrier to publication.

Conflict of interest: although I am an open access advocate and my research focuses on transforming the underlying economics of scholarly publishing in order to sustain open access, I strongly disagree with the PlanS policy approach. In my expert opinion, all open access policy should require exclusively open access archiving. This is the best means to ensure preservation and ongoing open access, particularly in the region for which funders have responsibility. Market-oriented policy is likely to continue or exacerbate a problematic market that for decades has been described as inelastic at best.

Update based on e-mail with Frantsvåg: it appears that what PlanS means by mirror journals is an emerging phenomenon. Elsevier’s Journal of Hydrology X is an example. Following is the explanation of how this works from the Elsevier website. This appears to be an evolution in the hybrid journal model (some content open access, some not). This is an improvement in terms of access as it addresses criticism of the hybrid model on the basis that it is difficult to identify the open access content.

Journal of Hydrology X is the open access mirror journal of Journal of Hydrology

Journal of Hydrology X offers authors with high-quality research who want to publish in a gold open access journal the opportunity to make their work immediately, permanently, and freely accessible.

Journal of Hydrology and Journal of Hydrology X have the same aims and scope. A unified editorial team manages rigorous peer-review for both titles using the same submission system. The author’s choice of journal is blinded to referees, ensuring the editorial process is identical. For more information please refer to our FAQs for authors.

Cite as: Morrison, H. (2019). Open peer review of “Few open access journals are PlanS compliant.” Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from