Monthly Notices goes Online-only

I just heard that the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society which has been publishing astronomy research since 1859, is no longer producing a print edition and instead will be publishing online.

The decision is in response to falling demand for the printed version which has made it no longer economically viable profitable to continue producing it. I choose the ‘profitable’ because the prime purpose of MNRAS is no longer the dissemination of scientific results but the generation of income to fund other activities of the Royal Astronomical Society. Despite the move to the much cheaper digital-only publishing mode, the annual cost of an institutional subscription to this journal is over $10,000. Most of that is goes as profit to Oxford University Press (the actual publisher) and to the Royal Astronomical Society.

Much of what the RAS does with this income is laudible of course, but I don’t think it is fair to inflate institutional subscription costs in order to fund it. University libraries are meant to provide access to research, not to act as cash cows to be milked by learned societies. The Royal Astronomical Society society isn’t the only learned society to use its journals this way, nor is it the most exploitative of those that do, but I believe the approach is indefensible.

My very first research paper was published in MNRAS way back in 1986 and I’ve published many others there over the years, so it’s with a certain amount of nostalgia that I look back on the old style journal. As. Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society I used to get my own copy in the post at a discounted rate but had to stop and dispose of the old ones when I moved to Nottingham as they took up too much room.

My own belief is that it’s not only the print edition that has had its day but the whole idea of a traditional academic journal.

I’ll just take this opportunity to remind you that The Open Journal of Astrophysics publishes papers (online only) in all the areas of Astrophysics covered by MNRAS, and more, but is entirely free both for authors and readers.

23 Responses to “Monthly Notices goes Online-only”

  1. Francis Says:

    Thought it already had gone fully online – haven’t seen a hardcopy version for years.

    I remember going to the library once a month or so with a list of journals to look at to see if there were any articles of relevance to my work. Then filling out an offprint request form and sending to the author to get a copy. (If I needed a copy urgently I would photocopy one).

    • telescoper Says:

      Many libraries cancelled their print subscriptions some time ago.

      I also remember sending out offprint requests. I also got a few, often from far-flung places around the world.

  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    ApJ has been online-only for a few years now.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      But how expensive is it to submit or subscribe to, compared to its hard copy days and compared to OJA? If it is significantly more expensive than OJA, am I right to conclude that people are paying literally for nothing more than the imprimatur?

      • telescoper Says:

        The subscription cost I mentioned in the above post is for the online-only version. It has not reduced with the cancellation of the print edition.

        The Page charge referred to by Shantanu is £50 per page over 20 pages, so a paper of 21 pages costs £50 and one of 30 pages costs £500.

        The only thing that people are paying for in MNRAS that OJA does not offer is copy-editing. And you know very well how much is a reasonable charge for that!

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        “The subscription cost I mentioned in the above post is for the online-only version. It has not reduced with the cancellation of the print edition.”

        Obviously.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        “But how expensive is it to submit or subscribe to, compared to its hard copy days and compared to OJA? If it is significantly more expensive than OJA, am I right to conclude that people are paying literally for nothing more than the imprimatur?”

        I’ve never published there, in part becaue of the page charges, and don’t know how the price has changed over time.

        In some sense, yes, people are paying for the imprimatur, but also for publishing the paper, i.e. making it publicly available (perpetually, at least as far as that can be assured now). Note that if a journal depends on arXiv for distribution but has no say in whether papers it accepts are allowed to appear in the proper category at arXiv, then that does not count as publication in any meaningful sense.

        Anyone is free to set up a journal of comparable quality but at lower price points than the established journals, whereby actual publication is of course an important aspect of “comparable”.

  3. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “I’ll just take this opportunity to remind you that The Open Journal of Astrophysics publishes papers (online only) in all the areas of Astrophysics covered by MNRAS, and more, but is entirely free both for authors and readers.”

    MNRAS is entirely free for authors. I’m not sure if it is still the case, but MNRAS used to give authors a link which could be freely distributed and provided online access to the official version of the paper at the MNRAS website. MNRAS also encourages authors to put (something equivalent to) the final version on arXiv (which not all journals allow). So it is essentially free for readers as well.

    • shantanu Says:

      Its no longer free if paper length > 20 pages

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        How many papers are longer than 20 pages?

        That will perhaps change anyway now that it is online-only.

        Except for review papers (which MNRAS doesn’t publish anyway), how many papers are longer than 20 pages? Apart from that, most people would probably split such a long paper into several to boost their publication count anyway. 😐

      • telescoper Says:

        The rumour is MNRAS will soon charge for all papers.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        Is there a source for that rumour? Maybe a link to some web page?

      • telescoper Says:

        (private communication)

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        Anything to do with Plan S?

  4. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “I’ll just take this opportunity to remind you that The Open Journal of Astrophysics publishes papers (online only) in all the areas of Astrophysics covered by MNRAS, and more, but is entirely free both for authors and readers.”

    As long as there is no guarantee that a paper accepted by the OJA will appear in the astro-ph category at arXiv, and as long as the OJA, as indicated by your comments here recently, is neither able nor willing to a influence arXiv in this respect, it will not be an alternative for many.

  5. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “Much of what the RAS does with this income is laudible of course, but I don’t think it is fair to inflate institutional subscription costs in order to fund it. “

    Presumably the RAS is democratically governed by its members, so this could change if a majority of the members wanted it to change, which apparently they don’t.

  6. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “the annual cost of an institutional subscription to this journal is over $10,000.”

    At 100 people per institute, that is $100 per person, about the price of some “regular” magazine subscriptions, although MNRAS probably provides more pages per year than most “regular” subscriptions.

    One can argue that the profit margin must be much larger because the authors aren’t paid. Maybe that’s the case. An online-only journal has to do more than just post a perhaps volatile link; it has to make sure that the things it publishes are available to future generations, and of course the journal, not a third-party such as arXiv, has to decide what is available and what is not.

    • $10,000 institutional subscription feels very steep; both A&A and ApJ seem to be “only” about one third of that.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        But ApJ has page charges and A&A is supported directly by serveral countries.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        This also shows what is wrong with SCOAP: by transferring inflated costs higher up the food chain, the people involved aren’t as aware of them, but of course in the end it all comes out of one pot. Whatever one thinks about inflated journal costs, transferring them from institutes (or, worse, authors) to national funding agencies makes the problem even worse, at least on the whole and in the long run.

  7. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “Most of that is goes as profit to Oxford University Press (the actual publisher) and to the Royal Astronomical Society.”

    What are the relative fractions?

  8. Phillip Helbig Says:

    While MNRAS is a UK publication, Irish readers might want to consult MickO’PediA for information.

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