The Cost of the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Our recent publication of a paper in the Open Journal of Astrophysics caused a flurry of interest in social media and a number of people have independently asked me for information about the cost of this kind of publication.

I see no reason not to be fully `open’ about the running costs of the Open Journal, but it’s not quite as simple as a cost per paper.

The Scholastica platform we use (which is very nice, simple and easy to use) costs $99 per month. That includes professional website hosting with a custom domain, a built-in website editor (so the site itself can be easily customized), integrated PDF viewer, indexing through e.g. Google scholar, fully searchable metadata, and readership analytics. That amounts to $1188 per annum, regardless of how many submissions we receive or how many articles get published.

On top of that we pay for the Peer Review service, which amounts to $10 for each submission (subject to an annual minimum of $250). We pay that whether or not a submission is published. So far we have rejected significantly more than we have accepted. This system provides automated emails, deadline reminders, an interface for searching sorting and assigning submissions to editors, file versioning & blindness control, a reviewer database, metrics to track performance, etc.

The final charge is only for papers that are accepted: we pay a fee to Crossref to register the Digital Object Identifier (DOI). That costs a princely $1.

There are no* other charges, as editors and referees give their services for free. Since all papers are typset by authors we do not use the Scholastica typesetting service (which is $5 per 500 words). If you’re thinking of setting up a non-overlay journal you might want to pay for that.

The actual cost per paper therefore depends on how many papers we publish. If we had 25 papers submitted in a year and published 10 the net cost per published paper would be ($250+$1188+$10)/10= $144.80, but that reduces as the number of published papers increases. For 50 submissions with 20 published it would be ($500+$1188+$20)/20=$85.40, and so on.

Some publishers argue that Open Access publication justifies an Article Processing Charge of several thousands of dollars. I think I’ve demonstrated that it doesn’t. Any charge over a hundred dollars or so is pure profiteering, bearing in mind the huge economies of scale inherent in large organizations.

In reality we have a combination of sources of funding that will be able to pay the annual fee for the foreseeable future. Ignoring this element, the marginal cost per published paper is just $11…

I hope this clarifies the situation.

*As has been pointed out in the comments, there is of course the cost of running the arXiv. The current funding model for that involves a membership program according to which institutes pay a fee depending on how heavily they use the arXiv. The top fee is $4400 per annum, for an entire institution. Some OA journals charge that much as an APC for a single paper!


10 Responses to “The Cost of the Open Journal of Astrophysics”

  1. Bo Milvang-Jensen Says:

    That sounds like a nice operation. What is the Peer Review service you pay 10$ per submission for?

    • telescoper Says:

      It’s basically just the system for inviting referees, collating reports, notifying authors, etc. It maintains a database of referees and an archive of reports as well.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Value for money!

  3. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “blindness control”

    What is blind? Do the referees know the author? Does the author know the referees? (In most cases, the answers are “yes” and “only if the referees voluntarily give up anonymity”).

    • telescoper Says:

      There is an option (which have not yet implemented, but are trying to think of a way to) that authors can submit a paper without identifying themselves to the editor or referees. Obviously this can’t work on submissions posted on the arXiv, but it is possible to imagine a submission that is refereed anonymously and `de-anonymised’ only when accepted.

      There is software on Scholastica to anonymize a submission but it only works on Word files (so far).

  4. to be fair, as I understand it, you then leave it to arXiv to distribute and archive the actual paper – which has a cost, just not one that OJA pays

    • telescoper Says:

      That’s right, so we can only talk about the marginal cost. The cost per paper of the arXiv is however rather small. The annual fee payable to arXiv for one of the top users (e.g. MIT) is just $4400.

    • In this case, the costs are a bit tricky, since most of the papers would be on arXiv in any case (the default is to put it on arXiv then submit to OJA. Since many if not most papers in astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology are on arXiv, and since many if not most people read the arXiv versions, your comment applies to those papers as well. Of course, in comparison to the total costs, the arXiv cost is negligible for many journals.

      With regard to distribution, arXiv does it better and cheaper. With regard to indexing, cross-referencing, etc, ADS does it better and cheaper. Essentially the only thing keeping traditional journals afloat was quality via peer review. Considering that most or all of this is voluntary work, there is a strong case to ask what one is paying for with traditional journals. (That “it’s nice to have them on paper as well” no longer applies since many traditional journals have dispensed with paper versions.)

  5. the institutional fees are volunteer membership contributions – marginal cost of arXiv is about $10 per new paper per year but like most academic institutions it has deferred costs which will have to be paid at some point…

  6. […] These days the necessary software is also available off the shelf from Scholastica. The service costs $99 per month plus $10 per submitted article, and getting a DOI from Crossref costs $1 per […]

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