APCs and history

Paying for journal publication pre-dates the open access movement. They used to be called “page charges.”

Paying for publication in a scientific journal… Newfangled revolutionary open access idea, right?

Well actually, no.

In fact, there have been many changes to how we pay for publishing and accessing research. Indeed, at one time not paying for publication—that is, the elimination of page charges (what article-processing charges used to be called back in the print heyday) was the revolution.

Time was that most journals levied page charges that underwrote most of the cost of publication. Subscription charges, on the other hand, mainly covered postage and handling.*

Subscriptions and page charges: Some history

Robert Maxwell, while heading Pergamon Press, pioneered the idea of free publication combined with an institutional, as opposed to personal, subscription fee. And from the 1970s through the late 1980s (until Maxwell lost control of the company, and, eventually, Elsevier bought it and integrated it), Pergamon increased its journal portfolio by a factor of 10. Other publishers, while also expanding their portfolios, adopted this model, and the library-paid subscription, but free-to-publish-in journal, model was born.

So the question is: Which is the “revolution”? The author paying for processing, peer-reviewing, archiving, and typesetting an article, or charging libraries a subscription? Perhaps it’s neither.

Of course, asking authors to pay for publishing their articles, when that hasn’t been the practice in their disciplines for a long time, has raised questions in a world where the subscription model has long been dominant. Particularly, there is a lot of discussion around predatory publishers, more interested in profit than the quality of the research they publish or the editorial services they provide. However, the page charges that used to exist (and still do in some places) didn’t raise these same concerns. Perhaps this is because the journals that charged them were already established, perhaps because the sheer volume of research published was lower then. Whatever the reasons, it’s worth remembering that paying for publication isn’t a new thing, and that the quality of research and the rigor of peer review should determine how people judge a journal, rather than its publishing model.

What has changed with open access is that anyone, anywhere can access the research, including students, researchers in low-income countries, and also, of course, the general public. But the editorial standards, the integrity, the ambitions for quality, still stand, alongside openness, at the core of the SpringerOpen mission.

Marks of SpringerOpen quality

For example, Springer’s very first open access journal (even pre-dating the launch of our SpringerOpen imprint), Nanoscale Research Letters, also publishes about 500 articles per year, an Impact Factor of 2.48, and more than 5,900 citations per year. As an imprint, 24 of SpringerOpen’s journals have Impact Factors, and 4 were recently accepted by Thomson Reuters (with their first Impact Factors coming next year), and more get in each year (most of our journals are young, and it takes time—both for new open access and new subscription journals—to go through Thomson Reuters’ evaluation process). Our overall acceptance rate is still only 43%—far from “accepting everything.”

Each SpringerOpen journal depends on a constant flow of quality submissions—it benefits no one to have submissions we can’t publish. And we know that that submission flow depends on quality and reputation—researchers pick where to aspire to publish based on how that credit looks on their CV’s to their funders and their Deans. We have to be selective, we have to build reputation.

Just like traditional journals.

* Miranda, Robert N., “Robert Maxwell: Fourty-Four Years as Publisher,” pp 77-88, in Fredriksson, Einar H., A Century of Science Publishing: A Collection of Essays IOS Press, 2001. Fredriksson, Einar, et al.: Academic Publishing in Europe: The Role of Information in Science and Technology, p151, IOS Press, 2006

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