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The Costs

Nature, in its current issue, takes a look at the state of scientific publishing. In one article, Richard Van Noorden examines the costs of scientific publishing, both publishing fees and publishers' profits.

With the rise of open-access journals, "suddenly, scientists can compare between different publishing prices," he writes. "A paper that costs US$5,000 for an author to publish in Cell Reports, for example, might cost just $1,350 to publish in PLOS One — whereas PeerJ offers to publish an unlimited number of papers per author for a one-time fee of $299."

Journals, he notes, have different profit margins that may contribute to those costs. Citing data from Outsell, a consulting firm, Van Noorden says that the average cost of publishing a scientific paper likely ranges between $3,500 and $4,000, and the average revenue for the publisher per article is about $5,000. Numbers for specific journals, he adds, are harder to come by, but he writes that Wiley used to say that it had a 40 percent profit margin before taxes on its science publishing division, while Elsevier has reported a 37 percent margin, though Van Noorden adds that some analysts say that percentage may be higher. Open-access publishers, too, make money; he reports that Hindawi made a 50 percent profit last year.

"But the difference in profit margins explains only a small part of the variance in per-paper prices. One reason that open-access publishers have lower costs is simply that they are newer, and publish entirely online, so they don't have to do print runs or set up subscription paywalls. … Still, most older publishers are investing heavily in technology, and should catch up eventually," he adds.

HT: Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline